Friday, June 30, 2006

The Disadvantages of a Room With a View (June 30)

There are advantages and disadvantages to staying in a room with a view. The advantage is, of course, the view. My room is in a garret on the fourth floor of a building opposite the renaissance town hall (redone in the late 19th century into pseudo-Gothic) and the town square. That means I can take a very short walk and sit out in any of the large open air pubs that line the square.

The disadvantage is that I'm quite close to the open air pubs and the city hall building. I found out last night that last call is around 3 am (that's when the straggling, staggering groups of drunk 20-something men, slowly and noisely made their way home -- apparently, they've decided to show that the Anglo-Saxons don't have a monopoly on public drunkeness).

As for city hall, I have my own personal alarm clock. I succeeded in sleeping til 6 am this morning (mostly because it is overcast and raining), but then at 6 the city hall bells began to ring out the time (accompanied by a distorted tape of a short carillion).

Breakfast in my room arrived an hour later. Tea, a nice-sized roll, butter and blueberry jam, a small bowl of cereal and a large bowl of hot milk. I used some of the milk in the tea and then poured the cereal into the bowl of milk (I suppose the large amount of milk is more for the people who drink coffee).

Last night I had my most expensive meal in Poland. My guide book recommended a restaurant off the main square and I went there. Very red walls, and red tablecloths, and an elderly gentleman in a booth looking like a vampire. Really. At first I thought he was a manekin; he was very grey. He had pale grey skin, grey/black hair, and a grey jacket. He looked like he was in his late 70s. Then he moved slightly and realized he was alive. He had a glass of something in front of him. I never did find out who he was.

I ordered the seasonal strawberry soup and the roast duck with apples, cranberries, and puff pastry. The waiter told me in English that the price was by weight, but I didn't pay attention to the warning. Boneless duck in puff pastry at 28 zloty/ 100 grams -- how much could it cost? After I was served the soup, however, I began to worry.

This was by far the best and most generous strawberry soup I've had so far. A large bowl, with not only soup, but I would guess half a pint of fresh strawberries. Then the duck came. Not boneless, I guess about half a duck. The puff pastry was the dessert, filled with apples. It was all very good, but the meal (with tip -- which was too generous, but I didn't have any bills smaller than 20 on a meal that came to 130 zloty). Total: about $45. Actually, a rather good meal, but more than I intended to spend and left me feeling so bloated I could plotz.

Despite the rain this morning, I decided to go to Tarnow. Thankfully, it stopped even before I made it to the train. I took the local, which stopped at every little hamlet along the way, including the town in which my great-grandfather was born, Sedziszow Malapolska. I figured it would be a dinky little hamlet, but it was pretty substantial. According to the books, somewhere near the town is the Jewish cemetery and synagogue, but in the end, I didn't feel like tramping all over town looking for it.

Tarnow is a rather substantial town. Like Rzeszow, it is in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. In the case of Rzeszow, it's more like the pinkies of the Carpathians: hills gently rise to the south, but that's about it. South of Tarnow, on the other hand, I could make out some subtantial hills, followed by a valley, and taller hills beyond. Like Rzeszow, Tarnow was half Jewish, and the town was geographically divided between its Christian half and its Jewish half. Unlike Rzeszow, however, there has been much more of an effort to preserve and identify Jewish sites.

I happened to meet the man responsible for that: Adam Bartosz. He established the Ethnographic Museum in Tarnow in 1998, making it the first museum in the world dedicated to the study of Roma (Gypsie) history and culture. I had just arrived at the museum and he was taking photographs of the exhibits for a book, I think. He asked me why I came and I explained that I while I teach Jewish history, I was very interested in the Roma and heard that his museum was the only one in the world devoted to the subject. He corrected me and said that there was now a new museum in Brno, Czech Republic, but that his museum was still the first.

He also encouraged me to buy his guide to visiting Jewish sites in Tarnow. In additional to running the Ethnographic Museum, he also runs the Regional Museum, and the Committee of Preservation of Jewish Culture Monuments in Tarnow. He told me that if I wanted to visit the cemetery, I could pick up the key to it at his other museum, but that I would also have to leave a refundable deposit. He also said that if I was interested, there was a new gypsy restaurant in town (though he didn't vouch for their quality).

The displays on gypsie history and culture were fascinating. Like the Jews, the gypsies lived outside the traditional feudal structure, were highly mobile, and specialized in certain occupations. Unlike the Jews, the gypsies had a primarily oral culture and were not based around a particular religion. The museum lays out the enslavement of gypsies in Eastern Europe (ending only in the middle of the 19th century), and then their persecution and massacre under the Nazis (he estimates that between 300 and 500,000 gypsies were killed by the Nazis, about half the European population.

They only had it slightly better under the communists who feared their mobility and forced them to settle. Even today there is significant discrimination, and he has charts posted concerning positive/negative views. I was surprised to see the high negative opinions still held of Jews by Poles, since I have not experienced that, but the gypsies were viewed even more negatively. He has photographs of racist anti-gypsie and anti-semitic graffiti, some of which (the anti-Jewish ones) I have seen before. Not often, but particularly in cities where there is a lot of gang graffiti, there are sometimes anti-Jewish remarks (e.g., "Jews to Israel," which I saw from the train in a rural town). In Lodz, which has a lot of gang graffiti, the city organizes an annual event when college students whitewash all the graffiti in town.

The other half of the Ethnographic Museum consisted of folk religious art, but in the back room I found an exhibit in the works on contemporary Jewish life in the Ukraine.

From there I went to the town hall but it was closed for some political symposium. That was really my only disappointment of the day, since they have one of the best collection of art work reflecting samartism in the country. Samartism was a bizarre belief that the Polish nobility was descended from Asian Samartians (this was based on a cartographical error in some renaissance maps). As a result, many adopted the clothing and hair styles of Central Asia as part of this invented heritage. What makes it particularly interesting for me is that I think there may be a connection between Samartian fashions and Hasidic garb. I had always heard that Hasidic clothing -- the kapote, the shtreimel -- were based on the clothing of Polish nobility, but when I was looking at the paintings of the royal families, they always look like Western European nobility, so I thought maybe in these Samartian paintings, I might find more evidence. It will have to wait for another trip, however.

Blocked but undaunted I went to the regional museum, which had a new exhibit called "Times of the Hasidim." The exhibit opened last week during the annual Jewish memorial week, coinciding with the first massacres of Jews by the Nazis in Tarnow. Several articles on the events and exhibitions had been printed in the local newspaper (in Polish, of course), and it looked as if Tarnow Jews and their descendents from Israel had attended.

The exhibit gave a nice primer on the history and beliefs of Hasidism, incorporating part of the museum's permanent collection of Judaica. I later learned that the synagogue display came from the last prayerhouse in Tarnow, which was closed in 1993, with the death of its last member. It's not a big museum, so when I was done, I went to lunch.

I decided to give the gypsy restaurant a try. I was the first one there and at first I couldn't tell if they were open. I didn't speak Polish, so the woman yelled "Shandor," and her son (?) who had gone to the University of Chicago came in and gave me an menu. I had thought about the peirogi but they weren't ready yet, so I ordered the gulasz and the grilled turkey. The gulasz was good and tasty, though a little oily, and the grilled turkey was a little like shishlik and surprisingly spicy. Not uncomfortably so, but I had become used to the more bland and tame Polish cooking.

After lunch I went to the ruins of the old synagogue (built in the early 17th century, burnt by the Nazis on 9 November 1939). Only the brick bimah with its four pillars and canopy remained. Then I went back to the museum to get the key and began to follow the path laid out in the guidebook. They did a really nice job, but I was even more surprised when I reached the cemetery. Unlike the other Jewish cemeteries I was in (many of which were guarded with dogs), this one was protected only by a gang of stray cats. That being said, the cemetery was very well preserved. There's no question of the time and effort being placed into clearing the weeds, uprighting the stones, and marking out the more prominent graves.

Within the cemetery there is a guided path tracing out the most interesting graves. It begins with a monument established for the victims of the Holocaust in 1946, just one year afterwards. It has to be one of the earliest monuments I have seen in Poland. From there the path led to some of the earliest graves in the cemetary, from the early 18th century (though the cemetery is some 150 years older). It was quiet, with the only noise being the chirping birds, the buzzing mosquitos, and the crunch of my shoes on the snails. I hadn't expected either of the latter and so was woefully unprepared without bug spray. As a result, I avoided some of the more distant graves, but got a pretty good sense of the place. While the Warsaw and Lodz graveyards are certainly larger, the Tarnow cemetery was one of the best laid out and explained that I've seen in Poland.

After that it was a leisurly stroll back to the train station. I caught the express train back to Rzeszow but was unpleasantly surprised to find the train full to overflowing. I'm not sure if all the families with small children were on their way to Przemsyl (where I'm going tomorrow) or whether they are continuing on to the Ukraine, but the train was more than full. I stood for half the way in the corridor next to the smokers. I opened the window for air, much to the distress to the grade school teacher who kept making unpleasant faces at me and indicating she wanted to the window closed. I ignored her. Thankfully, I found a spare seat for the last half hour. Just in time as my legs were starting to go numb.

Tonight I think I'm having a light dinner and then will watch the Germany-Argentina game tonight (I think they're playing Argentina). This has to be the most sports I've ever watched in my life.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

When the Learning Curve Becomes a Loop (June 29)

I mentioned yesterday that there is a steep learning curve when arriving in Polish cities. Well, today I discovered while trying to leave Zamosc that that curve can sometimes become a loop.

There are four basic types of transportation I've been using in Poland. The first are my feet, and I've been doing a lot of walking here. The second are the trains. They can be slow, overcrowded, and sometimes late, but they do have a published schedule available over the internet. The third are public buses, both local and intercity. They also have posted schedules, but only at stations and stops, not on the internet. Local buses have a lot in common with Israeli buses (except the air conditioning): they tend to careen across the road, lurch, come to sharp stops causing elderly passengers to sway dangerously across the aisle. Finally there are the new private intercity bus lines. These are really large vans run by new start-up companies. Sometimes they have the routes and schedules up on signs near their stops.

Now I've always known I was going to have some trouble today. The southeast corner of Poland is the least developed and the most rural. To make matters worse, I needed to travel from a part of Poland that had been ruled by Russia prior to 1918 to one ruled byAustria prior to 1918. What difference does that make? Well, you can still pretty much make out the partion borders by looking at the rail network in Poland. It's thick and developed in the Austrian and German zones, but thin and mostly absent in the Russian zone.

There's only one direct line (it curves like an "s" but one doesn't need to change trains) from Zamosc to Rzeszow, but it only runs during the summer months. That's why I rescheduled my route in Poland so that I would be travelling this part of it this week when that train started to run. Nevertheless, it still takes 4:45 hours to make the trip, so I was looking for something shorter.

I saw at the tourist office that one of the private van lines had a Rzeszow route leaving at 10:10. Great, I thought, I can eat a leisurely breakfast, mail some postcards, and then catch a quick bus that will get me to Rzeszow in half the time. I arrived at the private bus lot with plenty of time and started looking for a bus stand for my bus. No luck. Nor is my bus on the main posted schedule, but then, I thought, it might be too new.

As the minutes ticked by I began to get nervous. I tried asking one of the van drivers but none of them spoke English, German, French, Hebrew, or Spanish (the languages I tried). When the bus was twenty minutes late I began to get very nervous. I tried other waiting passengers, but only one spoke English but she wasn't sure about the schedule. One suggested I take a van to Tomasow Lubelski and that I would have better luck finding a connection there, but I decided that was too risky as I didn't know for sure if there would be anything, so I went back to my fallback option of the train.

I still don't know what happened to my bus. My best theory is that the schedule is for a departure from Tomasow Lub., and that I was expected to make my own way there, but that's just a theory.

The train I was taking today was exactly the same train I took yesterday to Belzec. This gave me an opportunity to see the site one more time from the train. According the pamphlet put out by the museum, there are differences in shading in the cinder stones, marking off the mass graves of the camp. I hadn't seen them yesterday, probably because of a combination of being too upclose, the rain, and the overcast sky. Today I had no problem making them out. I also saw the stack of railway ties near the entrance. The rails were taken from the rail lines near Treblinka (the ones near Belzec are still being used by normal train traffic such as the train I was on). I think they are supposed to abstractly represent the bodies of the dead or the pyres on which they were later burned.

Before arriving in Belzec, the woman in the compartment next to mine tried to tell me something. She had tried to speak to me earlier in Polish but I told her that I didn't speak Polish. She lived in Belzec and wanted to point something out to me as we approached the station. It turned out to be an old wooden church. Wooden prayer houses were typical for this part of Poland, and there used to be large, beautiful wooden synagogues, however, the Nazis burned every one of them. Nonetheless, from this small church, I had a sense of what they must have looked like.

From there, the train headed to the Polish-Ukranian border, passing through mostly wooded hills, separated by small valleys dotted with family farms. Eventually we past south of these hills into a wide hilly expanse of farms that is Galicia, and finally we reached Rzeszow.

Rzeszow is quite different from Zamosc. Zamosc is prettier but Rzeszow has a lot more people and is a lot more lively. I wasn't able to book a hotel room in advance here, but I was able to get a room at my first choice: the Pod Ratuszem (it means "beneath the city hall"). In fact, I have a view of the old city hall building from my fourth-floor walk up room. It's only 120 zloty a night (or $36.70) and includes breakfast in my room (I requested the vegetarian option).

I walked around the town in the late afternoon and found the two synagogues. The old synagogue was built in the late 17th century and burned by the Nazis in 1944. It is not open to the public and is now used as to house the town archives. Right next to it is the new synagogue, built about a hundred years later, also burned by the Nazis, but open to the public. Unfortunately, not as a synagogue. The lower levels are used as an art gallery and the upper level is a coffee house. I went in, but there's no sense of what the building actually was like before the war.

Across from both is a park built on what was originally the old Jewish cemetery, but used by the Nazis as a concentration camp, and later as a deportation point for Rzeszow Jews who were then sent to Belzec for extermination.

My grandfather was born here but I don't feel any sort of connection to the place. No sense of what the Germans would called "Heimat," or homeland. On the other hand, I wasn't expecting any such feelings.

Tomorrow I head for Tarnow, which has more Jewish sights, then to find Sedzisow, which the shtetl my grandfather's family came from. All the woman at the tourist office could say is that few people go there (and that it's only 7 km from town). Then on Saturday I'll head to Przemsyl and Lancut.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Rain and Thunder

There's always a steep learning curve when I arrive in a new city, particularly a Polish city. I have to quickly find out where I am, how the buses work, which bus I need to get to my hotel, how to buy and validate the ticket, and which is my stop. Today I did almost all of those right, but I missed my stop by one (again, as in Lublin, stops are not identified by name with signs -- then again, neither are bus stops in Los Angeles).

I arrived at my hotel around 9:30, and my room was not ready yet. Thankfully, they let me store my luggage in it while the maid prepared the room. In the meantime, I mailed some postcards (including a birthday postcard for my mother). I finally realized I should be requesting air mail, so these might actually arrive in time). Then I went to the tourist information office in the main square.

I should add here that Zamosc (where I am now), is a beautiful renaissance town. It was designed by an Italian architect from Padua in the late 16th century, and features a wide piazza, a large imposing town hall (reputedly the most photographed building in Poland), and many fine merchant homes. The only difference with Italy is that there is no large baroque fountain in the middle, nor are there many tourists. In fact, the town is surprisingly empty.

From there I went to the former synagogue. Damaged by the Nazis during the war, the building was turned into a library by the communists. In the last few years, however, the synagogue has been restored and is now a museum. This is part of a wider project throughout Southern Poland of restoring damaged synagogues. While I was admiring the early 17th century ceiling a Polish tour group came through. I could hear the guide pointing out the Aron Hakodesh as the place where the torah scrolls were kept (at least that's what I think she was saying). The synagogue also features a display on the former Jewish community of Zamosc, several of whose members became quite famous (such as I. L. Peretz and Rosa Luxemburg).

Then it was time to get to the train station and catch my train to Belzec. I had a bit of a shock as I approached the station for as I turned the corner I saw two brown bares almost a stone's throw away. Then I saw the moat and realized I had found the town zoo. There was no cafe, so I bought some rolls, cheese, an apple, potato chips, and a large bottle of water, and made a picnic. The train ride was through some of the prettiest countryside I've see in Poland. The further south I got, the more the terrain changed from rolling plains to forested hills separated by small farms. There were green fields separated by fields of yellow mustard or bright red poppies.

As I neared Belzec I could see it was going to storm. I was prepared today and brought my umbrella. It cleared long enough to reach the death camp (located a 10-minute walk from Belzec train station) and then began to pour again. Actually, I was a little afraid as it was thundering and the last thing I needed was to become another dead Jew at Belzec.

As I approached the site at first I thought it was a large quarry or perhaps there had been a fire. Then I saw that what they had done was cover the entire site with volcanic rocks. Before I went to the memorial, I went into the new museum. Both the memorial and the museum were opened just two years ago. The museum is quite good and has clearly been influenced by the Holocaust Museum in D.C. There is some good video testimony, supplemented by findings from the archaeological digs carried out on the site five years ago. They found some of the stone disks given to victims as vouchers for their belongings, as well as star of David armbands, and keys. There were also signs from the camp, a model based on the one survivor's testimony, and information on the perpetrators.

The exhibit ends with a map showing Jewish communities and their liquidation. It appears as a map filled with bright lights, each light representing a community. At first I thought it was broken, as it doesn't light up when for each month communities were liquidated. I then realized that what it does is shows the various lights going out. As it reaches June, August, and September, 1942 (the camp was closed for July for expansion of the killing facilities), suddenly more and more of the map goes dark, as the lights are extinguished. I thought it was both informative, as well as moving.

From there I went to the memorial. Since the Nazis decommisioned the camp in 1943 (it had served its intended purpose of killing the Jews of Poland), they then leveled and razed it to the ground in an effort to hide all traces of the camp. They also did this at Treblinka and Sobibor, which poses a difficult problem for creating a memorial. Unlike Majdanek, here there is no single item or place that can become the locus for historical memory. All you are left with is a green field, which in itself is misleading since that represents the intended Nazi camouflage.

At Treblinka, the Polish government in the 1960s made the decision to cover the field with sections of raised stones, each stone bearing the name of a murdered community. Here they went a little different route. The field has been covered with an inclined hill of black volcanic rock, mostly pumice [the guidebook I bought -- which appears to have been translated into English by use of an imperfect computer program -- describes them as cinders]. It gives the effect of land after a volcanic eruption, where all life has been wiped out. Around this rock, are twisted pieces of metal, giving the impression of a barbed wire. Cutting through the rock is a path way. Around the perimeter of the field are the names of communities murdered in Belzec (about 500,000 people is the current estimate).

As I walked down the pathway, the walls on either side grew higher and higher, cutting off more and more of the sunlight, until it felt like I was walking into a tomb. It was quiet, with the only sounds being my own echoing footsteps and the distant thunder. Finally, when the walls on either side (of roughly shaped concrete, protruding in places) reached 2-3 stories, I reached the memorial. On the side facing the path it is a large white block with the words from Job: "Earth do not hide my blood and do not let my cry be stopped." On the opposite wall are a series of names in alphabetical order. They are the most common first names used by Jews (there was a similar monument at the Umschlagplatz in Warsaw).

I made my way up the stairs and began to trace the list of destroyed communities (in chronological order by month, in alphabetical order within each month). When I reached Nowy Targ, from whose ghetto my great-grandmother was taken to this place and killed, I placed a stone by the name. Then I went back to the museum and bought a memorial candle. Since I didn't have any matches, the guard lit it for me and I went back to the memorial and placed it on the ledge beneath her name: Gitel.

I'm out of time right now, so I will update this entry later.


After I put the candle down, I said kaddish for my great-grandmother. There was a small group of Polish tourists there, so I said it quietly, not wanting to feel like I was performing for them. I saw that someone else had put down a candle. A woman who I had chatted with briefly in the museum in German was there and she had put it down. A few minutes later, another group of Polish tourists arrived and they too put down a memorial candle.

I chatted again with the woman. Although we chatted in German, she was, in fact, Polish. She was trained as an historian, and had originally focused her research on 18th-century testaments (I'm not sure whether she meant legal documents in general, wills, or possibly the partitions of Poland -- my German was a little weak here). Now, however, she was working at an institute in Warsaw dealing with original documents of the Holocaust. I pressed her a bit on the nature of her research, and she talked about using documents to trace individuals within them. I got the impression that she is more of an archivist than the sort of historian who writes articles or teaches students.

We talked about my trip, and she asked if I had been to the old cemetery in Lublin. I told her I had only been able to see it from the outside since the gate was locked and I didn't know where the gatekeeper lived. I had the address but didn't know where the street was. It turns out she used to live quite close and recognized the street address from my guide book. She said the old cemetery was amazing and it had the oldest gravestones in Poland. I told her that I hoped to see it next time I was in Poland, when I will make all the proper arrangements.

We were both taking the 15:25 train, so we walked back to the train station. She was staying one stop away in the town of Susiec. On the train, we passed first through beautiful fields and then into the woods and hills nearby where she was staying. I commented to her on the beauty of the countryside and the horror of the history. Yes, she said, but that's the way it is. I asked her if she had been to Israel and she said yes. I asked her if she thought there were similarities between Israel and Poland, and she said she thought there was among the older generation. Maybe, she said, they brought some Poland with them to Israel. The younger generation, on the other hand, was quite different. I agreed and said that I thought many of the "pensioners" I see in Poland remind me, in their appearance and dress, to the same sort of people I saw in Israel.

Back in Zamosc, I visited the cathedral on the edge of the old town. Like the rest of the town, it was designed during the renaissance and is quite beautiful. The town museum, featuring the history of the town, including many of the Armenians who were among the most prominent of the town's founders, was unfortunately closed when I got back. I was hoping to see it this morning, but I'm taking the 10:10 bus today to Rzeszow.

Much of the historic section of Zamosc is under reconstruction right now. Not the houses, which, unlike the population of the town, came through the war mostly unscathed, but the streets are being repaired. They are in the process of replacing all the cobblestone streets in the historic core. That means navigating the area becomes a bit of an obstacle course. I ended up having dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town (located in the priciest hotel). I walked into the dining room and said "ahhh" -- there was air conditioning. I ordered the special strawberry soup with pasta stars and the sliced roast pork with vegetables and strawberry sauce. Strawberries are in season right now, and every day I see people carrying baskets and buckets of fresh strawberries. Lots of restaurants have special strawberry menus for the occasion (though one place in Warsaw served defrosted frozen strawberries to me in what I felt was a blatant bait -and - switch). The whole thing (plus an ok chocolate mousse cake) with tip came to 56 zloty (or about $17.15).

As I was leaving I glanced through the doorway into the hotel proper, where I could see a large tour group was just arriving. The tour leader, a woman in her late 40s, was yelling at them in Israeli-accented English. I asked her in Hebrew where they were from and she said Pittsburgh. She went back to directing the group of 30-40 people, and I heard her say "this is supposed to be the most expensive hotel in town and they don't even have air conditioning?!" At that I felt much better because I had been thinking that I should have stayed here and then at least I would have had air conditioning, but now I know I made the right choice. Luckily, it did cool down enough last night for me to sleep until 5:45 am when the sun woke me up (I had gotten up around 3 as the sky began to lighten but forced myself to go back to sleep).

I chatted with an Israel-American woman about Poland. Like me they had been in Lublin the day before, but they had gone to Majdanek around 2pm, and the woman complained about how hot it had been. I asked her where else in Lublin she had been and she mentioned the yeshiva (which I had seen from the outside). I told her that that part of Lublin very much reminded me of Israel. She looked at me sort of funny, as if she wondered what I could possibly mean, but I told her, you know, like the area around the central bus station in Tel-Aviv. Oh yes, she agreed. The only difference, I said was that you don't see dud shemesh [solar water heaters] on the roofs here. Yes, she laughed.

Meanwhile, there was a large crowd by the elevator waiting for it to come back down. One woman was complaining about the line so I told her she should be grateful there was an elevator. Only the first two hotels I've been to in Poland had elevators, I told her, and in the rest you just have to climb the stairs. With that I went back to my hotel to see if I could find out the weather for today and watch the Italian and German music channels. I watched "A Series of Unfortunate Events" dubbed into Polish for a while but then gave up.

Anyway, it's off to Rzeszow this morning. I'm taking a private bus, so it should only take 2 and a half hours (as opposed to the 5 hours it would take by either train or public bus). I don't have a hotel reservation there so I'm just going to play it by ear and hope for the best.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Crows, Flies and Tears (June 27)

This will be a rather emotional posting.

This morning I got up, had breakfast, and headed by city bus to Majdanek, which was a Nazi concentration and extermination camp located in a suburb of Lublin.

I had trouble telling what stop was the one I wanted because 1) someone had defaced the poster on the bus explaining how many stops there were on each street; 2) I had trouble telling what street we were on; and 3) bus stops in Lublin (unlike other Polish cities in which I've been) don't have signs posted indicating what the name of the stop is. As a result, I got off a stop early and after asking for directions, began to walk towards the camp.

I had to gasp when I passed a residential building and suddenly saw the barbed wires, guard towers, and prisoners' barracks across a wide field. It really is just outside the city. I made my way towards the entry gate. This consists of a metal fence in the shape of melted metal, abstractly referring to the barbed wire of the camp fence. Beyond it is a tall, concrete sculpture, which appears to abstractly embody numbers? I had trouble figuring out what it was intended to signify. Certainly not a menorah, since at most one can discern six separate verticle shapes. Squat lights with bases that are shaped into the years the camp was in operation, line the walkway towards the large sculpture. A plaque indicates that this sculpture is a memorial to the peoples from many nations and nationalities who were imprisoned, enslaved, and killed by the Nazis in this place. In between the entrance gate and the sculpture is a long gash lined with boulders as if from a quarry.

To enter the camp, you can either go through the sculpture and climb down the steps, or you can walk down the steep steps into the gash and make your way through a rough narrow passage. I chose the later.

From there I walked to the corner of the fence where I saw a wooden structure and signs. One pointed straight ahead to the crematorium, the other to the right to the gas chamber. Since it looked as if the entrance to the main part of the camp was to the right, I turned that way. As I approached the barbed wire gate, I saw a cobblestone parking lot and a sign laying out the basic structure of the camp. It was divided into several sections. I had passed several out buildings, used by camp guards. Within the camp proper, there was first a set of barracks used for the storage of items taken from prisoners and those killed in the camps, as well as the early gas chambers used in the camp. To the left of all of these structures stood the prisoner sections of the camp. These were subdivided into six "fields," the barracks of only one of which survive intact.

I had heard there was a museum in the camp, but as I walked through the camp, I didn't see it (it turns out that I had arrived too early and the museum section didn't open until 9 am -- I saw it on my way out of the camp). The first structure I entered after passing through the gate was the men's bathhouse and gas chamber. From out the outside, the entire building seems wooden, and the first room maintains this illusion. There were shower heads on the ceiling and it seems that this room was used for hot showers (though no soap or towels were provided, since, as you will see, this was not the intent of the room). The room served a dual function, to calm the prisoners before extermination and to quicken the extermination process by opening the pores.

The next room, which was lined with concrete, was the experimental gas chamber, where the Nazis practiced how to gas people. That was followed by the storage chamber for the Zyklon B gas cannisters, followed by the first of two gas chambers. In the first chamber, the Nazis killed people with cyanide gas; in the second, they used carbon monoxide gas. Next to the second chamber, you could see the carbon monoxide cannisters and the tubing that carried it into the chamber. Throughout all these rooms, the only sound was the incessent buzzing of flies, which seemed omnipresent.

I quickly left the building and made my way to a barrack that was opened. As I entered, I noticed an odd smell, and with my sun glasses on, all I could see were tall, dark shapes. As I took my glasses off and my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized what I was seeing: shoes. A series of bins, the ones on the sides being about three feet high, the two in the center being six feet tall, ran the length of the barracks. I couldn't see the end of them as they disappeared into the darkness. These were not the shoes the prisoners wore in the camp. These badly worn, and in many cases torn and damaged shoes, were what the prisoners wore when they arrived in camp. They were taken from them to be sorted and shipped back to Germany.

From there I saw a gate in the fence leading to the prisoners' barracks. All this time I was the only person, other than grounds staff, in the camp. The only sound was made by the flocks of noisy crows, cawing, hopping, and flying about. This portion of the camp has a model of a castle built by prisoners. I had thought it would lead to the barracks, but that portion was sealed off by the barbed wire fence. I finally found the proper entrance and walked through the double rows of barbed wire into the entact compound. One reason it is intact, is that the Soviet NKVD used it after the war to house members of the Polish army who were later deported to the gulags in Siberia.

Only a few of the barracks are open for viewing. The first shows what the barracks looked like early in the camp when it was used as a slave labor camp. The barrack looked like a stable for horses, with the prisoners sleeping on grey mats on the ground. The second barrack shows what they looked like during the middle period of the camp. Three-tiered wooden bunk beds were added, allowing the Nazis to place 800 prisoners in each barracks. In the final barrack, the Nazis narrowed the bunks and added some rudimentary plumbing (though I couldn't see any sign of it).

From there I headed out of the barracks, turning right onto the road leading to the crematorium and the mauseleum. The latter was a large round dome shaped building I could see from the entrance sculpture. It was built in the 1960s, at the same time as the entrance sculpture, and houses the ashes of some of those burned in the crematorium. The mound is two stories tall.

At that point I was joined by a tour bus of almost all Israelis (there was one man from Holland who I spoke with later who asked what books I used in my class in the Holocaust). The guide was addressing them in Hebrew and I sort of tagged along. I chatted with a few of the people who told me they had spent the night in Lublin, and I could tell from his talk that they had already been in Auschwitz. As we approached the crematorium, he explained that this was the later gas chamber in Majdanek. He noted that wooden exterior, but pointed out this was merely camouflage, since wood is porous and doesn't make a good gas chamber.

As we approached the building one woman in her 60s or 70s cried out (in Hebrew) "the smell! the smell!" I didn't smell anything in particular, other than a faint unpleasant odor that I think was coming from whatever they treated the wood with to keep it from decaying. The first room after the wooden entry way was the dissection room. The guide explained that sometimes prisoners sought to hide valuables by swallowing them. The Nazis were aware of that and so would put the prisoners in water (I had a hard time understanding this part of the guide's talk) and depending on their buoyancy, they would mark them for later dissection. After the gassing, the bodies were placed on a large concrete slab table and cut open, as well as removing any gold teeth.

The next room was the gas chamber. This had a low concrete ceiling and as I stood there with all those people in the mostly dark room, I had to shudder to think what it would have been like in complete darkness and crammed full. From there we moved into the next room, which was used as a morgue where bodies were put while waiting to be either dissected or burned. There was a large sarchophagus in the middle of the room holding the bones of those killed here, surrounded by memorial wreaths and markers.

That room led immediately to the ovens. When I walked in and saw the 7 or 8 ovens with open doors I started to cry, eventually uncontrollably. Even now as I write this some 10 hours later I'm tearing up. A man I had talked to earlier, an Israeli in his late 50s with a ponytail came over and told me that it was all right, that I was alive and had my own country. I felt uncomfortable sobbing so loudly in front of everyone so I quickly made my way back out of the building.

After a few minutes I went back in. By then there were only a few people left in the room and my crying had mostly stopped. I talked with some of the people about the place and how none of my family had died there, but at Belzec. We walked outside talking. From there we went to a section of trenches behind the mauseleum, which were marked with a matzevah, which explained that on two days in November 1943, the Nazis shot 18,000 Jews in these pits and buried them. This was part of their horrifically named Erntefest (literally "harvest festival") which was the code name for the liquidation of the remaining ghettos and slave labor camps in Poland. After that, the only ghetto remaining in Poland was Lodz. The Jews brought here were the last Jews from the Lublin ghetto, after which the Nazis demolished the entire Jewish quarter of the city.

I asked the guide about the museum at Majdanek and he told me where it was. I said goodbye to the group as they prepared a ceremony. Some people had brought a portable tapedeck and were singing songs as I walked off (the man who had tried to comfort me earlier said "am yisrael chai").

I made my way back to the museum and toured it. I had earlier mentioned to several of the members of the group that it bothered me that there were so few mentions of Jewish prisoners at Majdanek (the matzevah -- put up a few years ago -- was the only place I saw a reference to Jews in Majdanek). At the museum, I saw that they now prominently mention that Jews made up 48% of those killed in the camp (the second largest group being Poles). They also include a series of displays on Jewish religious items taken from prisoners, though the most heart rending were the dolls and toys taken from children brought to the camp. There was a barrack building on children in the camp, but I'm pretty sure it was closed and at that point, I couldn't take any more. I left Majdanek.

I wanted to get away from Lublin, so I had planned to go to Kazimierz Dolny. This is a renaissance-era town, about 45 kilometers away. It was about 50% Jewish before the Holocaust and the town is well preserved. I had to take a train and then change to a bus, and when I made the change, the skies opened up and it began to pour rain (of course, I had left my umbrella in the hotel). Not that it would have made a difference; it was so humid that I was soaked just sitting on the bus.

At one point, the woman seated next to me, in her 60s or 70s, asked me a question. I told her in Polish, "I'm sorry, I don't understand. I don't speak Polish." She asked me if I spoke German and I said yes, so we talked in German. She was on her way to Kazimierz Dolny to meet with her sister to sell off her father's things (he had died there three years ago). She lived in Wroclaw, and she's going to Berlin in a week, where her two daughters live. She then told me sotto voce that she's going to work there to earn a little extra money. She said, I think, that she remembered Kazimierz from before the war when it was a half Jewish city. She also told me how angry it makes her when she's in Germany and she sees German posters or listings referring to her city by its old German name of Breslau. I mentioned to her how I had seen a rather fancy train in Gdansk, where the placard on the side read: "Berlin -- Danzig -- Koenigsberg" (referring to the latter two by their old German names, not their present names of Gdansk and Kalingrad). As we got off the bus, she told me that Kazimierz was a very beautiful city, but that the people there are not very nice.

I made my way to a restaurant for a very late lunch. According to my guide book, this is one of the best Jewish-style restaurant in Poland. I've had mixed luck with such restaurants. The ones in Lodz and Tykocin were very good, but the one I ate at last night was pretty bad. Of course, when the menu said that stuffed cabbage was a dish traditionally served at Shavuot, I should have known not to trust the food (Shavuot is traditonally a dairy holiday). It was ok, but the sauce was just tomato sauce covered in fresh dill.

The restaurant in Kazimierz, on the other hand, turned out to be one of the good ones. I ordered the tzimmes, which was prepared with thinly sliced carrots, prunes, honey, and a little bit of cinnimon (though I would have added more). Also, I'm not sure, but I think it may have had some schmaltz in it. For the main course, I ordered the cholent. This was made with yellow lentils, barley, carrots, and roast goose. They served some schmaltz on the side as a gravy, but I did not avail myself of it. It was delicious, but the portion was too large. I only at the goose and as much of the cholent that came with it, but I left a lot of the lentils and barley over. Even now, 7 hours later, I'm not really hungry for dinner (and it's nearly 9pm).

After that it was threatening rain again, so I quickly walked the kilometer out of town to find the local Jewish graveyard. I had read that they had an unusual memorial. Since the Nazis had destroyed most of the cemetery and used the tombstones for road material, in the 1980s, as much of the broken tombstones as they could find were gathered together and made into a wall in front of what remains of the cemetery. About two thirds of the way down the wall there is a jagged gash, which forms the entry way. According to my guidebook, and I think they're right here, it's meant to symbolize the radical rupture of Nazi Germany into Polish Jewish history.

Afterwards I went back to town and found the Jewish market square with the 18th century synagogue (turned into a carpentry shop by the Nazis and a movie theater by the communists). I saw a Polish tour group come by and I could make out the guide telling them in Polish that this was the Jewish market, and describing the synagogue.

After that I just wandered about a bit. It really is a beautiful town, situated on the Wisla river. This is the third (or if you count Malbork, fourth) time I've seen the river, and in the course of my trip, I've basically been following it upstream to its tributaries.

Anyway, time to go to dinner and then pack for Zamosc in the morning. I still haven't figured out how I'm getting to Belzec, but I know for certain I can get a bus to within 8 kilometers of the camp, and from there I may just take a taxi.

Monday, June 26, 2006

No Seer in Lublin

I made my connections this morning to Lublin, although I have to say it is maddening to spend the last 25 minutes creeping along at under 5 mph.

The weather today is rather hot (31 C or 88 F) and a little muggy. Although my hotel isn't air conditioned (the restaurant I ate dinner in last night was the first place with AC I've found in all of Poland), it has a nice view and is centrally located right in the middle of the Stare Miasto. This is the first Stare Miaso (old town) I've been in that wasn't reconstructed after the war since it survived relatively unscathed.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Jews of Lublin, one of the most important Jewish communities in Poland. I bought a guide book to trace the various Jewish sights in Lublin. I found the old cemetery (from the 16th century), but it was locked. After much difficulty I found the new cemetery, where there was a caretaker who let me in. Much of the cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis, with the Communists trying to finish the job. They've begun to do some restoration work, however.

From there I went to find the former yeshiva and the Jewish hospital, both of which survived the war (unlike their inhabitants). I also found the only active synagogue in town, but according to my guidebook (post 2001), they don't have enough members to form a minyan.

I made my way back to the main square to find this internet cafe. Along the way I passed two "Jewish" themed restaurant, one of which had Israeli music playing. I don't know if I'm going to eat dinner there tonight.

Time to go.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Unusual Encounters (June 25)

Yesterday was a day of very unusual encounters. I caught the bus to Tykocin, which was quite slow (1 hour to go 40 kilometers). It dropped me off in a mostly deserted small town square. I asked a woman where the synagogue was and she pointed in a direction. As I was walking, I passed a house where there was a wooden star of david in the window, have boarded over. Then I turned the corner and saw the large synagogue in its own square.

The Great Tykocin synagogue was built in the 18th century to replace a wooden synagogue that had burned to the ground. It was brick and built in the baroque style. While damaged by the Nazis, the building survived (unlike most of the more famous wooden synagogues in Poland, all of which were burned), and was recently restored. Inside, there was a large elaborate bimah in the middle and a matching baroque aron hakodesh. On the walls, various prayers, mostly versions of the kadesh but also one verson of lecha dodi, were painted in frescos. Many had elaborate decorations of small animals and plants.

In the women's gallery, there was a short history section, focusing on a Tykocin Jew who survived the Holocaust (shortly after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Jews from Tykocin were marched 4 kilometers to the forest and shot), and included some of his family pictures. Then there was a scale model of the what Tykocin looked like at the turn of the century. The other part of the museum was an exhibition of children's pictures on biblical or Jewish themes done by either Russian or Byelorussian school children.

As I left I checked my watch and saw that it was only 11 (i.e., I had 3 hours to kill before the bus back to Bialystok). I decided to look for the Jewish cemetary. I asked the woman at the synagogue where the Jewish cemetary was and she said at the end of the street, so I started walking.

As I was going I noticed someone following me. He was dressed in long pants and a long-sleeve shirt and was carrying a camera case. I wasn't sure who he was, but as I stopped at the end of the street and got out my guide book to find which meadow the cemetary was in, he asked me in English if I was looking for the Jewish cemetary. I said yes, and he pointed to it. His name was John and he was from Houston, Texas. It turns out that one of his grandfathers had been Jewish and was the son of Jews who immigrated from Bialystok. He was visiting Poland tracing his geneology.

We walked around the cemetary, which was mostly meadow with tall grass and weeds, with little lumps of rock sticking barely above ground, some of them with barely readible Hebrew letters. John couldn't read Hebrew, so I did my best to translate the more legible tombstones. John, on the other hand, had brought a book on Jewish sites in the Bialystok area, and had a lot more information on the fate of Tykocin Jews. We decided to pool our resources.

After about an hour of climbing around the cemetary we decided to grab some lunch at one of the two restaurants in town. Located in a basement near the synagogue, it features "Jewish" themed food items. I had the cymes (tzimmes) and the kugel, John had the chicken. The cymes was pretty good; the kugel tasted odd, almost as if it had been on a grill.

Afterwards, we walked towards the cathedral and across the Narew river to get a few of the town. There was some church festival for St. John (not clear if they meant John the Baptist or John the Evangelist), and small choir groups went up on a stage between the church and the river to perform.

We caught the bus back at 2 and he promised to show me in Bialystok where the great synagogue had been located if I would show him where the ghetto memorial was. We walked from the bus stop through one of the few streets in Bialystok that still is predominantly wooden houses, to get an idea of what the city looked like before the war. From there we found the first of the three synagogues to survive the war. I had walked past it twice two days ago looking for it, but there's no sign at all. It now houses the Zamenhof Center for the study of Esperanto (Zamenhof was born in Bialystok).

Around the corner was the memorial to the Great Synagogue in Bialystok. There are several memorial plaques (one of which has historical errors on it), but the main one, a sculpture in metal of the dome of the synagogue, partily melted, is quite moving. In June 1941, shortly after capturing the city, the Nazis put about 1000 Jews into the building and then set it on fire.

I am out of time, so I will have to update this entry later.

Well now that I'm safely (if damply) in Lublin, let me finish this entry.

I should back up a bit and tell you a bit more about John. He's in his late 30s to early 40s, and is an aeronautical engineer working for a company that contracts with NASA. He's quite soft spoken and is often mistaken, he says, for German in his appearance (though most of his family comes from Norway). He was taking lots of black and white photos and recording address in a notebook for his geneology research.

From the ruins of the great synagogue we headed out to find traces from the ghetto. We were trying to find a particular building when two passersby volunteered to help us. They helpfully put us on the right direction. A few minutes later we reached the plaque. It was dedicated to a resistance fighter in the Bialystok ghetto who through acid in the faces of some German soldiers. He escaped capture but the Nazis threatened to kill 1,000 Bialystok Jews unless he turned himself in, which he ultimately did, and he was hanged at this spot. This was not an ideal threat, by the way; on several occasions in other ghettoes, the Nazis did massacre thousands of Jews when resistance fighters would no turn themselves in.

As I was translating the plaque from the Hebrew, a homeless drunk wandered over and started asking us for money. When I used my stock line -- "Ja nie mowie po polsku" (I don't speak Polish) -- he mumbled in German "kein [he probably meant to say klein] Gelt." I shoed him away.

I have seen beggars in every major city I've visited on this trip, including Paris, Vienna, Budapest, etc., even a rather persistent woman in the Czech town where I had to wait 2 hours for my train connection, but in no place have I encountered such belligerent beggars as in Bialystok. And yet, in no place have I met so many helpful strangers. It really is a strange mix.

From there we found one of the other remaining synagogues in the city (now an art gallery), and from there we made our way to the ghetto cemetary. John's guidebook gave more information about the monument. The obelisk, which records the burial of 125 fighters and martyrs from the ghetto uprising, was put up by returning survivors after the war. They also buried the 3,500 victims who were killed by the Nazis in the ghetto, and put a cemetary wall up around their graves.

In either the late 1960s or early 1970s, the Communist government, as part of an anti-semitic purge following Israel's victory in the Six Day War, blew up the obelisk and destroyed the cemetary. Following the success of Solidarity in the 1980s and the end of communism, the obelisk and the cemetary plaque were restored in the 199s.

As we were leaving the cemetary (which is mostly a public park), I pointed out to John an old wooden building that almost certainly stood in the original ghetto. I told him that when I had been there two days before, the people in the building had acted suspiciously when I photographed. He stood several yards a way from me and took the picture while I slowly walked towards the street. I thought everything had gone well, but a man in the park (who looked unemployed and acted as if he was slightly drunk) started yelling at John.

John began to move one way while I continued to walk towards the street, with the belligerent man in between us. I don't remember this but John told me afterwards that I said to the man "we don't speak Polish," at which point he began to come towards me. I continued to make my way out of the park while he continued to shout at me in Polish. As he got close to me, I made the mistake of saying "I don't understand," but since I don't know how to say that in Polish, I said it in Russian by mistake. That set him off into yelling "Ruski!" at me.

By now he was trying to block my path, and when I evaded him he grabbed my arm. I yanked it free and continued to move towards the street, now yelling at him in English. He grabbed my hand and yelled "Nie! Nie! Nie! (no no no) in an ever louder voice (while continuing to move out of the park). This was not a particularly large park by the way (really just one square block of flat land with some trees and benches populated mostly by women in their 50s and 60s, except for the one group of drinking men from which he had emerged). My plan at that point was to draw attention to myself by raising my voice, thereby dissuading him from using any additional force. It seems to have worked, since his friends called him back, allowing John and I to make our escape.

We don't really know why the man was so belligerent. My initial thought when I saw them eye me suspiciously two days before, was that they feared I was a long-lost landowner returning to claim property. Some people we had dinner with last night (I'll come to them in a moment) also thought the same. It was also possible that the man wanted money from us for photographing his house. John was going to meet with a Polish tourguide today and promised to ask him/her if s/he had any ideas.

Well, with that excitement past, we had one last sight to visit: the old Jewish cemetary in Bialystok. John had not taken a bus yet, so I explained the odd way to validate your ticket (you literally punch it in a small punch machine at various places in the bus). We made our way to the cemetary and as we entered we saw a group of four people in their late 20s and early 30s. They turned out to be a group of graduate students, half German and half Polish. Two were from Frankfurt on der Oder and all were studying in the social sciences. One, Felix, was working on issues involving the Polish/Byelorussian borderlands, looking at the process of russification among Poles and Byelorussians in Grodno. One of the Polish women was looking at the opposite question of the polonization of Byelorussians in the Bialystok area. We didn't have enough time to really chat since their taxi had arrived, so we all agreed to meet for dinner at a trendy pizza restaurant in the center of town.

That left us some time to wander through the cemetary. Later at dinner, Felix told me that he and the girls were debating the condition of it: he thought that there was some effort shown to tend it (the gate was opened at some times and closed at others), while they saw it as overgrown with toppled tombstones. I came down somewhat in the middle. While it was not as well maintained as, say, the Warsaw or Lodz cemetaries, it was nowhere near as bad as the cemetary in Tykocin, where unless you knew what to look for, you might just think it was an abandoned meadow.

After walking around we headed back to town, and I returned to my hotel to shower and change. As I walk into the lobby, I see some people checking in, one of whom is wearing a shirt that in Hebrew says "bitachon" (security), so I asked the man (in Hebrew) if he really was in security. He turned around surprised to hear anyone speaking to him in Hebrew and answered in a heavy Polish accented Hebrew, that no, it was just a shirt. I would guess he was in his 40s and he had a blond, almost handlebar mustache. I asked him where he learned Hebrew, and he replied Israel, where he had worked three years.

After changing for dinner I returned to the center of town. I had hoped to visit the internet cafe, but I realized I only had one bus ticket left and I needed one more for Monday morning to get to the train station. The problem was that the normal places where you buy bus tickets in Bialystok -- kiosks and small market stores -- were all closed now. I finally found one off the main square that stayed open late, but had to wait in a long line of 18-24 year-olds all buying half liter cans and bottles of beer.

Dinner was ok. I had qualms about ordering pizza in a country where it is often prepared with ketchup, but I had been assured this pizza was good. They didn't use ketchup, but I think they used barbeque sauce instead. We had a long conversation about holocaust memorials in Poland and Israel. Felix had been to the one at Treblinka and we discussed our impressions. He felt it was very much a product of its time (it was built in the 1960s under the communists) and that of course there was no museum to speak of (what's there now was prepared as a children's project).

We talked about the new memorial in Berlin, and he thought it had a similar idea as Treblinka, namely a field of cemetary-like stones.

After talking about ways of teaching the Holocaust, several of them, particularly the Poles, mentioned how the Jewish groups who bring high school students to Poland, create in the students a hatred of all things Polish. Since the Jewish students never meet any actual Poles, and are, in fact, accompanied by body guards, they get the impression that Poland is a place where there was and continues to be omnipresent hatred and violence against Jews. I agreed with them that I thought the way these trips is organized is a mistake, and that I think it is very important to meet living people and not just study the horrors of the past.

Pretty soon it was 10pm. They were off to a concert (some Polish music group), and I had to get back to my hotel to pack up. I caught the penultimate bus and made it back in plenty of time. Thankfully no party in the hotel last night so I no trouble getting to sleep.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Primeval Forests (June 24)

Today I took the early bus (actually the only direct bus) from Bialystok to Bialywieza, a village on the Belarussian border and the entry point to one of the most amazing national parks I've ever visited.

The Bielowieska National Park is one of the only undeveloped, unlogged, untouched forests left in Europe. It became the private hunting ground of the Polish kings starting in 1409, who permitted no development. This was carried over by the Russian tsars and the land became a national park in the early 1920s after Poland reemerged.

You cannot visit the park on your own; you can only go in small groups, on foot, with an official guide. I asked for an English-speaking guide, and split the additional fee with two other west Europeans who didn't speak Polish. We saw and heard numerous types of birds, including several different species of woodpecker, finch, and robins, not to mention the common white storks I can see all over the place here.

Since the forest has never been logged, it has a mix of trees, ranging from new shoots to trees over 500 years old. There were a few pine, but mostly linden, ash, elm, maple, and spruce. It was incredibly green. Really, a magical experience. The three hours went by in a flash.

I had hoped to see the famous European bison, but the bison reserve turned out to be a 5 km walk from town, and after walking an hour through the picturesque village (mostly wood homes, some quite old) and the forest, I still hadn't reached the reserve and was afraid that I would miss the only direct bus back to Bialystok.

I had an odd encounter at the bus stop with a homeless-looking man who kept trying to talk to me in Polish. We mostly communicated in sign language as I counted down the 10 minutes before the bus finally came. When I told him I was going to Tykocin tomorrow he asked if I was Jewish. I said yes, and he said he didn't like the politics of Sharon. I shrugged. He said he had visited Auschwitz and Majdanek and that he had gotten goosebumps. He was trying to explain to me how all there is at Sobibor is tall grass and chirping birds when the bus finally came.

After 5-6 hours of walking I'm ready to crash. Time to go to sleep.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nearly Half Way (June 23)

Today marks four weeks since I left the United States for Europe, and I have to say, I've been very pleased with the way the trip is going.

I wasn't sure if I was going to either bring too little with me or too much, but I think I hit the right balance. Every time I pack up to move to a new city, I thank God I didn't pack more and buy a bigger suitcase. Between all the stairs I have to climb (under the street, over the street, through the train station, up to the train, etc. -- virtually none of Poland is accessible for the disabled), I am quite happy with my small provisions, and often wish I could have brought less, though I know that wasn't possible.

I've also been quite happy with what I did bring. I have used virtually everything I brought with me. The only exception, believe it or not, is my book on learning Polish. I keep intending to study from it, but rarely can find the time. Last night, instead of studying, I watched the last half hour of the game between Croatia and Australia (by game, you should know that I can only be referring to the World Cup). I lost track of how many players got yellow and red carded in the final 10 minutes of play.

Thankfully last night the drinkers weren't partying (perhaps because England lost). I woke up at 6 am, showered, packed, and had breakfast. I wanted to catch the 8:19 train to Bialystok. I managed, though the weather didn't help (humid downpours). Soon enough I was on the train to Bialystok.

Bialystok is one of those places where I had had second thoughts about the amount of time I'm spending here: three nights. Of course three nights really means just two and a half days. Half a day to see the sights in the city, then one day to the Bialowieska national park, and a half day in Tykocin to see the restored 18th century synagogue (supposedly one of the finest in Poland). While I was a little disappointed to find out how far out of town my hotel turned out to be, and disappointed, but not surprised, to find it is unairconditioned (virtually none of Poland is airconditioned), my views have changed since lunch.

I went to a place recommended by my book called "New York Bagels," and I was looking so confused at the board that a young Polish man asked me in English if I needed any help. We got to talking and it turns out that Patrick (his name) just finished his BA in Poli Sci, and will be attending Kingston University in London in the fall to get his MA. We talked for quite a while and he gave me advice on what to see in Bialystok. I asked him if he could recommend a place where I could get my hair cut (I had the woman at the hostel write out for me what to say, including "not too short"), and he offered to walk me to a good place.

On the way, he told me that his family had come from Lvov after the war, when the Russians deported them to Szczecin. After that they wandered a bit before settling in Bialystok. We talked about American and European Union immigration policies and finally we arrived at the barber's. The hair cut was good, cheap, and quick. Patrick had to go back to work (as a local rep for Cargill) and I thanked him profusely for his assistance. He explained that many people had offered him similar help in England and he just wanted to return the favor.

From there I made my way to the memorial (just one block away) to the resistance fighters in the Bialystok ghetto. Bialystok had been a major Jewish city before the war. Not a city with a large Jewish community, no, it was majority Jewish (70%). The Jews were ghettoized and when the Germans tried to liquidate the ghetto the resistance led an uprising. There was a memorial for two mass graves. One was for 3500 people buried during the ghetto, the other was for 125 people killed during the uprising: in the words of the memorial "75 heroes and 55 martyrs" who were buried together in a mass grave.

Afterwards I found the tourist office and made a reservation to visit Bialowieska park tomorrow with an organized group (the only way to see the restricted area with the bison). To see pictures of it, go to:

My hour is almost up, so I'm going to sign off. Since I won't get back from the park til quite late tomorrow evening, I may not post again for a day or so.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Limits of Imagination (June 22)

Before the heavy discussion of today's topic -- my trip to the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Treblinka Death Camp -- a minor continuing gripe about my hostel.

The hostel in which I am staying really is the best in Poland. The staff is unvariaingly polite and helpful; they provide free internet service (although there usually is a heft wait), and the rooms are clean and comfortable, facing a quiet courtyard. The only problem the last two nights has been the other guests. In particular, a contingent of brits, scots, americans, and aussies who come back from the bars at 11 pm with a truck load of beer (one of which I found this morning exploded in the freezer) and party it up in the room over my head. This morning, they woke me up with cheering and screaming around 3 am. If they start again tonight I'm going to take it up with the staff.

End of venting rant.

Today I took a hired tour of the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Treblinka Death Camp. The driver and the guide met me at the hostel at 9am. My driver was a Polish woman in her mid-30s who spoke only Polish; my guide, Alex, spoke both English and German (as well as Polish). Over the course of the day, I teased out details of Alex's life. He was born in Poland in May 1930, making him just 6 months younger than my father. His maternal grandmother was Jewish and he defined himself as someone of Jewish descent. His family came from Zywiec (pronounced "ZHVI-etz"), a town in Upper Silesia now most famous for producing a popular Polish beer. I just checked on the map, and in fact, the area where he is from is quite close to where my grandmother's family was from. I only mention this because when I saw his face in profile, it looked remarkably similar to my father and grandmother. Not head on, but from the side, particularly the eyes (which were the same blue-grey color), the eyelids, and the way he smiled. As his mother had married a Christian, no one in the town knew of his ancestry, and while his family suffered significantly during the war (his father was wounded as a partisan), he did not face the threat of extermination. He did tell me, however, that he remembers seeing one group of Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz being marched through his village after the evacuation of the deathcamp. He said he was particularly struck by their wooden shoes in the freezing cold.

After the war, Alex did well in school and ultimately went to university in the Soviet Union where he trained to be a nuclear physicist. He said he was encouraged to join the Communist Party, but never did. Late in life, he decided to pursue an interest in history in general and Jewish history in particular, and that's how he ended up leading tours such as mine.

Our tour began with what turned out to be for me, the most emotionally powerful part of the entire day: one of the few remaining remnants of the ghetto wall. The Warsaw Ghetto, created by the Nazis is the autumn of 1940, occupied a wide swath of one of the poorer neighborhoods in Warsaw. Within its walls, over 450,000 Jews were imprisoned, enslaved, and starved for two and a half years. The ghetto was divided into two parts: the larger ghetto in the north, and the smaller ghetto in the south. These were linked by a series of bridges. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, the entire northern ghetto was leveled to the ground, and almost no traces of it remain. By that point, however, the smaller ghetto had already been liquidated, and while much of it was leveled in the general Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, some parts of it survive, including several meters of ghetto wall.

The wall was two to three times my height and made of brick. There are a few gaps in the bricks, where two or three were removed for display in various holocaust museums. To see what this section of the wall looks like, go to:

When you look at this section of the wall, you are seeing it as those within the ghetto saw it (i.e., the side that faced in to the ghetto). Standing at its base, looking up at its insurmountable height, I thought I felt a fleeting glimpse of how it must have been to be trapped within these walls with no possible escape. For the 450,000 Jews within the ghetto, the only way they left those walls was either in a hearse to the cemetary (and 20% of the population did, in fact, die of starvation and starvation-related diseases in those 2 and half years), or when they were rounded up and sent to the umschlagplatz for deportation to Treblinka.

As we were looking at the wall, an elderly man came out from the neighboring apartment and from what I could gather, he was the one responsible for preserving this portion of the wall (he planted flowering plants in front of it). He was sent by Stalin to Siberia for three years.

After the wall, we went to visit Janusz Korczak's orphanage. Korczak was legendary in Warsaw for his work with orphans and his building survived the war and is still used as an orphanage today. As we were looking, an orphan (it's hard to write that word and not sound Dickensian) came up on his bicycle and offered to help us get into the main hall. He did so and so were able to get into the main room in the orphanage, with its memorial to Korczak. When the Nazis rounded up his orphans for deportation to Treblinka on August 5, 1942, Korczak insisted on accompanying them on the train, even though he was offered an exemption.

After that we drove to the Jewish cemetary. Located outside the ghetto, but still separate from the rest of Warsaw, this is where Jews who died in the ghetto were buried. At one point, we came to two large areas of depressed ground. The circumference was marked out indicating these were the mass burial pits for poor Jews who had died in the ghetto. Unlike Lodz, where they know precisely where everyone who died was buried, in Warsaw, the dead were given an anonymous burial.

Many famous Jews who had lived in Warsaw were buried in the cemetary, so we visited the graves of such luminaries as Y. L. Peretz, the pre-eminent Jewish short story writer of the middle of the 19th century, who is buried with An-Sky, who wrote probably the most Yiddish play: Der Dybbuk. I also found the grave of Chaim Zelig Slonismki, who edited the first Hebrew journal dedicated to the popularization of science (about which I hope one day to write an article).

Then we drove to the memorial to the ghetto fighters. This is a famous statue/memorial, on one side of which shows the heroic fighters, larger than life, and on other, twelve passive Jews (one for each of the tribes) on their way to the gas chambers with downcast faces. This dichotomy -- between armed resistance versus passive acquiesence -- is one I find quite troubling. Nearby is a more interesting memorial created in 1946 by those surviving Jews who returned to Warsaw. It is in the shape of a sewer cover, and referenced those Jews who escaped the burning ghetto through the sewers.

Next, we went to the site of Mila 18, where the main resistance bunker was located. It consists of a tall mound, the height of the rubble left in the street after the bunker was destroyed. Finally, we drove to the site of the umschlagplatz, where over 300,000 Warsaw Jews were rounded up between July and September 1942, and shipped in boxcars to Treblinka. The buildings adjacent to the square were the original buildings, though a marble enclosure marks the spot where Jews were forced to sit waiting for trains.

After that, we got back in the van and headed to Treblinka.

As people are waiting to use the computer, I'm going to post this part now, and add to it later.

(Updated: 4:oo pm -- Polish Time)

Here's why you never want to drive in Poland. There are virtually no freeways in the country (the only one run almost from Krakow to the German border, but there are gaps). That means that most intercity roads are one lane in each direction with a shoulder on each side. There are two types of vehicles on the roads: 1) slow ones and 2) fast ones. In the slow category there are the trucks and the 2-cylinder cars (mostly Fiats). Everyone else is in the second category. About one third of the vehicles, however, are in category one. That means you spend most of your time trapped behind a slow moving car or truck trying to pass.

In order to pass, the slow moving vehicle moves on to the shoulder, while the faster car passes in either the main lane or in the opposing lane. But since everyone is constantly passing someone, what happens when there is oncoming traffic also trying to pass? Since one's car may not be fast enough to pass the slower car before you hit the oncoming traffic, oncoming traffic must also drive on their shoulder to allow you to finish passing. Since Polish traffic is therefore often driving on the side of oncoming traffic, as you can imagine there is a very high accident rate.

As we got out into the country side, it quickly became rural. I asked Alex what percentage of Poles still live in farms and small villages and he said 35%, which I think is a remarkably high number. As we got further out we started seeing nesting storks (bochani in Polish). He asked if we have storks in America, but I said I didn't know. As we would drive, Alex would point out a small town, and then say how before the war it had a large Jewish community, but that they were all sent to Treblinka.

Not counting our stop for lunch, it took us a little more than an hour to drive to Treblinka. The camp itself does not exist any more. After the revolt of the prisoners, the Nazis obliterated all signs of the camp, plowed over the ground, and set up a former guard as a farmer on top of the land to conceal what had happened here. What that means is that there is virtually no remnant to see and the visitor must try to picture the horrific scenes with his/her imagination.

From the parking lot, we approached the limits of the camp, marked out by large standing stones. Concrete blocks laid horizontally signified the tracks leading to the ramp. At this spot, some 900,000 mostly Polish Jews were unloaded out of the rail cars (about 10-20% usually died in route). The Jews were then marched into an enclosure where men and women were first separated and then undressed, with the women's hair being cut. From there, they were literally funneled into a conduit of barbed wire (usually the wire was mostly camouflaged with branches and leaves that led directly into the gas chamber. This was known in camp slang as "the way to heaven." They were then gassed with carbon monoxide gas, and once they were dead, their bodies were burned in open pits and their ashes scattered. Those who were too ill or weak to walk, were taken aside to a different area of the camp and shot in the head.

When you stands on the area of the ramp, however, you cannot see any part of the former camp. Instead, a new path leads directly to the site of the gas chamber, marked with a large stone monolith. As you approach the monolith, there are large unhewn, rough stones, the larger of which have the names of cities and towns inscribed on them. They refer to the Jewish communities murdered in Treblinka, the most prominent of which is Warsaw, from where one third of all the victims at Treblinka came in the spaceof two months. The only individual name on a stone marker at Treblinka is that of Dr. Janusz Korczak, who accompanied his over 250 orphans when his orphanage was liquidated on August 5, 1942.

Beyond the monolith lies a large rectangular space marking the place where the bodies of the victims were burned. It is covered in pieces of what look like either blueish-black basalt or melted plastic. It is artificial and designed to mimic melting. Past it is a large arc of more stone monoliths. That trace a path back to the entry way.

I found the entire memorial strangely unemotional. On the one hand, I knew that terrible, truely terrible things had happened in this place. I have taught how the camp operated, the way people died, and yet to see the vast open spaces, the green fields and trees, and the blue sky, it was impossible to stand there are see the way it was.

So what did I "get" out of it? How did being there change or impact the way I view Treblinka? First and foremost I was struck by the isolation of the space. It really is in the middle of nowhere. The only village is several miles away. The only way you can visit Treblinka is by tour because there are no public buses that pass within miles of the place, because there is nothing else there. It was quite isolated while we were there, with an Israeli group arriving just as we were leaving.

This isolation isn't accidental; the Nazis picked a place as isolated as possible to conceal what they were doing, and for the first several months they were able to maintain the secrecy. It wasn't until the early summer of 1942, when the extermination process, begun at Chelmno in November/December 1941, had been in operation for over 6 months, that the first word began to leak out.

I was also struck by how complicit the bureauracy was in the killing process. I was intellectually aware, of course, that the Holocaust was only possible because the active participation of numerous sections of the German bureaucracy. But standing there, trying to imagine the process of unloading people from each train (100 or so from each small box car), I was struck by the unreality of it all. Each day, two or three times a day, trains with new victims arrived, were unloaded, killed, and burned. And yet each day was a regular work day for the Germans and their collaborators. Again, it struck me as almost unimaginable that people accepted, even embraced it, as their everyday job.

Afterwards, we drove back to Warsaw and I asked Alex to drop me off at the Nozyk synagogue, the only active synagogue in Warsaw. Located on the edge of the smaller ghetto, it was not destroyed but used as a stable by the Nazis. The building survived and after much restoration work in the 1980s, it is used as a synagogue today by Warsaw's small Jewish community (which Alex told me was about 2000). They have a small kosher canteen in the synagogue for community members who keep kosher, and they also operate a Jewish middle and high school. In the synagogue (which has a women's gallery), I saw pictures from a grade school outing, so obviously the community is not limited to elderly survivors. As I was leaving, the person who admitted me to the synagogue (in his 20s), was joined by two friends (one African) of similar age. It was getting quite late and he was closing up (also I can't really speak Polish) so I didn't have a chance to chat with him about Warsaw's Jewish community today.

Then it was back to the hostel for dinner and to pack up.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hostel Life (June 21)

There are plusses and minuses to staying in a hostel.

When I first planned this trip, I had not intended to stay in any hostels, but circumstances in Gdansk and Warsaw required it. I was quite pleased with my experiences in both places and began to wonder if I shouldn't have booked a hostel in Krakow as well. Then last night I got a reminder of the drawbacks to living here.

The plusses, of course, are easy to enumerate: plenty of English speakers to chat with and get advice from, laundry service, free internet service (although there is usually a line of people waiting to use it regardless of the hour). There are some drawbacks, however. Last night about 20 "anglo-saxons" (as they call them in Israel), i.e., brits, aussies, canadians, and americans, went out drinking in the pubs. As beer is incredibly cheap here, they came back around 11 pm with several six packs in tow, and proceeded to rearrange the tables in the dining room.

As it happens, the dining room is right over my room, and I couldn't figure out why I was hearing all this noise of heavy wooden tables and benches being pulling across the floor. Then the screaming and chanting started. I found out later they were doing drinking games. Finally around midnight, they shut the windows and so I could finally get some sleep.

I did sleep, by the way, all the way to 7:20 (a new record for me on this trip!). At breakfast, I got into a heated conversation with a woman from Vermont traveling with her son through Lithuania and Poland. When I mentioned that I was studying the Holocaust she asked me if I was going to Lithuania, and I told her not on this trip. Then she mentioned that Jews were responsible for torture in Lithuania, a fact, she claimed, that not many people knew about and she was trying to learn more about. I told her I didn't know what she was talking about, since no Jews actually collaborated with the Nazis (within the standard meaning of the term, meaning to have goals in common).

After much confusion, it turns out she was talking about Jews assisting the Soviets to torture Lithuanians. Then another person asked whether I thought Israel's treatment of the Palestinian was similar to the persecution that Jews were subjected to in history. That led me to make several heated responses about being careful with language and how much of the conflict has been the failure of the Palestinians to embrace peace. In the midst of this heated conversation, one brit, who appears to have been hung over from the drinking games of the night before, asked us if we could keep it down. I realized afterwards that I should have told him that turn about is fair play.

I went to Pawiak prison in the ghetto. This was the central prison of the Gestapo in the ghetto and both Jews and Poles were imprisoned there. However, you couldn't tell that from the display. As the Germans retreated in late 1944, the dynamited the building, but part of the prison has been reconstructed as a memorial. As you walk into the courtyard there is a statue of a barren tree, covered in death notices for people executed in the prison. Virtually all of them bear crosses.

Inside, there you can see the cells where prisoners were held, hear excerpts of letters and diaries kept by prisoners, and then see a scale model of what the prison looked like. There is then a main room with a series of displays about the history of the Nazi occupation and items relating to the prison. One section refers to the ghetto and the uprising, but none of the displays about the prisoners, their treatment, the items they created, or their spiritual life, includes anything about Jews. In fact, except for a few stray references in the midst of other texts, you would never know Jews were ever imprisoned in Pawiak.

After that I walked back to the Stare Miasto to eat at the cafeteria I visited yesterday. This time I got the schnitzel with hot sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Then I took the bus to a suburb of Warsaw to visit the Palac Wilanow (that's pronounced "PA-watz vee-LAH-nuv" in Polish, by the way). This is the Polish version of Versailles: originally a summer retreat, it was developed into the summer palace of the Polish monarchy in the 17th and early 18th century. I took the tour of the internal rooms, which mostly contain the major portrait collections of the Polish nobility. While the palace was damaged during the war, most of it survived.

One of the nicest parts of the palace, by the way, was simply walking through the green, tree-covered park outside it. The shade from the trees really cooled the air, and there were song birds. I don't remember ever hearing song birds in American parks.

I came back to town and took care of some financial matters, including getting rid of my last Hungarian forints. I went to the Jazz Bistro around the corner where I tried to order the strawberry soup I had had two days ago at their other location, but by accident I ordered the chlodnik instead (a cold borscht soup with cream, and hard-boiled egg). It wasn't bad, but I sort of had my heart set on the strawberry (since both are strawberry yoghurt colored, I didn't realized til I tasted it that it wasn't what I had meant to order).

For the main course I ordered nalisniki (which are crepes) with asparagus and "firey chicken" (which they mean spicey) in a cream sauce. It was quite good. Then I decided to go for the special strawberry dessert. While the menu described it as cheese cakes with strawberry sauce, the waitress said it was different. I told her that was ok. It turned out to be two small crepes with a fresh strawberry puree. It was very good.

Then I rushed by tram to the opera to get my seat for The Magic Flute. It turned out to be a rather avant-garde production. It was set in a mid-century school, where the singers wore large paper-machet heads to look like school children. Sarastro was now the director of the school. Given the enlightenment message of the libretto, it was not inconsistent. The playbill had pictures of Columbine, so there was some reference to school violence, but I'm not sure what was intended.

Tamino appears wearing a black head with stylized cornrows and wearing red silk basketball shorts. Papageno looked like Dennis the Menace. The Queen of the Night looked like the evil queen in Snow White, only wearing poisonous green trousers under her red cape, and wearing her hair in two red points, each at least two feet tall. Her three ladies in waiting were equally bizarre: one looked like one of the ugly stepsisters from Cinderella, wearing purple robes and with equally purple hair; another looked like one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence; and the third was made up to look like a dominatrix elf.

The music was good and the bizarre staging actually worked when it came to the various tests Tamino and Pamina must face at the end of Act II. This never really worked for me before, but now the test of fire involved two priests wearing klan robes burning books while a slide projector cast images of burning crosses. Tamino and Pamina had to extinguish the fire and save the books. The ordeal of water, on the other hand, seemed to be a reference to water boarding, but I couldn't figure it out.

The real star of the opera, however, is the character of Papageno. He gets most of the best lines and best arias, and is always the audience favorite.

When I came out of the opera, I was shocked to find it was drizzling (when I went in, it was hot and sunny). The forecast for tomorrow is 31 (low 80s F) with thunderstorms, so I will take an umbrella with me for my tour of the ghetto and Treblinka.

One last comment. I was confused a few days ago to see a statue of Charles de Gaulle in front of the former Communist Party headquarters. No one cold tell me why, but it turns out he helped Poland fight the Soviet Union in 1920. Opposite him is a large palm tree in the middle of the circle. It can't possibly survive the summer, but one of the women at the hostel explained that they bring in new leaves every year. She wasn't sure why though.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Echoes of Israel (June 20th)

Since I arrived in Poland last week, I've noticed every now and then things that reminded me of Israel. It's hard to explain. It's not that the scenery is like Israel, or the food, or the people; rather, it's as if I'm hearing faint echoes.

Maybe another analogy would work better. Growing up, I never noticed my father's accent. As far as I was concerned my father didn't have an accent; he just spoke the way he spoke. It wasn't until my senior year in college when there was an Israeli down the hall from me that I began to recognize elements of his accent in the way my father spoke. It's like that here. I'm sensing here things that remind me of Israel.

Sometimes it will just be the way a frumpy middle-aged haus frau, dressed in a cheap-patterned dress, her skin and hair with the faint sheen of humid sweat, stands at the bus stop holding on to her purse that will remind me of similar scenes in Israel. Often its the postwar construction, with the same plain charm-free archictectural designs that are so typical in both Israeli buildings of the 1950s and 60s, and Polish buildings of the same time. Perhaps the archictects studied in similar schools, or perhaps the sparseness of the designs was driven by the same lack of resources.

Last night's dinner was quite good. I went to a cafe recommended by my guidebook, and was a little put off when I found it empty after 7pm (I won't say at night, since the sun doesn't set til after 9pm). I decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised by the food.

I ordered the barszcz (borscht in English), which was better than the one I had before in Poznan and came with little meat-filled dumplings. For the main course I had the roast duck with apples and cranberries. You get a choice of sides, so I ordered "grandma's potato dumplings." The duck was good and tasty (though, as always, I find it an overly fatty dish), and the dumplings were similar to Austrian spaetzle. About an inch long and a quarter inch wide.

I decided to skip dessert and head back to the restaurant where I had lunch to get their fresh strawberry tart. It comes on a custard base, accompanied by homemade vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. The service was much poorer than earlier, in part, I think, because the restaurant was twice as crowded with the same number of waitresses, in part because they also had a jazz band playing inside.

I slept very well last night, waking up at 7:20 (the latest I've slept in weeks). I bought some cherry juice and butter to accompany the breakfast provided by the hostel (they provide bread, jam, margarine, tea and coffee), but was a little disappointed with the tastelessness of Polish butter. Then I headed off to the Jewish Historical Institute and Museum.

As you enter there is a large map of Poland on your right with a computer terminal. As you type in the names of Polish cities or towns, the place lights up on the map, and the computer gives you information on when the earliest record of the Jewish community in that place is, where they died, and what remains within the town today.

The main exhibit is just up the stairs where there is a half-hour film on the 912 days of the Warsaw Ghetto. The film is screened in either Polish, English, Hebrew, or German (you tell the staff person which language you prefer). After I watched it in English, a large group (about 15-20) watched it in Hebrew.

The film is very effective and very emotional. The film makers take a few historical liberties, but only people who teach the holocaust would probably notice (e.g. Czerniakow, the head of the Judenrat, is quoted in the film as leaving a suicide note, but no such note survived, and it remains a rumor). The film recounts the conquest of Warsaw by the Germans, and the imposition of more and more restrictions on Warsaw's Jews (who made up about a third of the population of the city), culminating in the creation of the ghetto.

The film then describes the progressive starvation of ghetto inhabitants, leading to more and more deaths. Using archival film, they include extensive footage of naked, skeletonish bodies being loaded onto carts to be buried in the cemetery. Very hard to watch. They also include footage shot by a German propaganda crew shortly before the ghetto's liquidation, along with reading excerpts from Czerniakow's diary concerning how the Germans staged the scenes.

They play a little with special effects, so that as a diary entry is read describing how a mother was cradling a dead child, the still photo of a mother and child is modifed to show the child disappearing. In other cases, the shadow of a child who has died is shown walking through the rubble of the ghetto.

The film becomes most intense when it describes the liquidation of the ghetto beginning on July 22, 1942. Over the next three months, some 300,000 Warsaw Jews were deported to Treblinka, where they were gassed on arrival. Someone reads a diary entry written by a woman describing the panic in the streets as the Germans sought to fill their quota of 5000 a day; people hearing rumors that a particular block was to be seized, grabbing their belongings and fleeing through the streets looking for a place to hide. That was very hard to watch.

After the so-called "big aktion" stopped, there were only 60,000 Jews left in the ghetto. 30,000 were "legal" the others were "wild," living in hiding. The film then culminates in the uprising the following April and the consquent destruction of the ghetto.

I decided to buy a dvd of the film to use in class, as it has a lot of material that I hadn't seen before depicting life (and death) within the ghetto.

From there the main exhibit is in some ways redundant of the film. It goes over exactly the same material, only with artifacts and photographs, as opposed to film. All the exhibits are bilingual in Polish and English.

The next floor up is devoted to the work of Polish Jewish artists. There is a small sanctuary with an ark, torah scroll, and decorations rescued from various cities, mostly in Poland, but a fair number from Greece. Then there is a large room of 19th and 20th-century Polish Jewish artists. I recently examined a text on the history of Jewish portraiture to check its historical accuracy, and many of the artists featured in that text were on display in the museum.

On the way out, I stopped to talk to an Israeli man who also was buying a copy of the dvd. He wanted to get his whole family together when he went back to Haifa and have them watch the film together. His father had lived on a small farm near Lublin and had gotten out just before the war began. I also talked with two Chabadniks from Canada. I told them my impressions of Lodz and the one who had been there agreed. He asked if I visited the Jewish community center there, and I told him that I tried but it was closed the day I went. He asked if I remembered the building across the street from it, and I told him yes, that I was struck by this empty, completely decayed, building that at one point had been a rather elegant theater or embassy, but was now completely vacant.

From there I went to the Rynek to visit the Museum of the History of Warsaw. I had heard from two Australians at breakfast that there would be an english-language film on Warsaw at 12:00. The film was good, though somewhat duplicative of the material at the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. It covers the Warsaw ghetto and the uprising, though its primary emphasis was on the Warsaw Uprising.

The museum then covers the history of the city from its founding in the medieval period to the present day. Most of the material is in Polish only though some also has english. Jewish Warsaw barely appears in the exhibit. Prior to 1914, only two paintings include Jews. No texts do. Even the breakdown of the population by religion only includes Christians. Finally after 1914, there is an armoire-sized display of Jewish ritual objects, accompanied by a text and photographs that describes (in Polish only) that Jews made up some 29% of the city's population (as I type this the music teacher in the girls school next door is teaching someone how to play "Hava Nagila" on the piano). How Jews went from 0 to 29% is not explained. There are virtually no Yiddish items on display, even the one exception -- a poster in Yiddish calling on Warsaw Jews to support the new Polish state -- is in Polish and Yiddish. No mention of the immense Yiddish-language press, theater or film.

With the outbreak of WWII, the material on Jewish Warsaw is much larger, with several displays on the persecution of Warsaw Jews and the Ghetto uprising. After that its back to Polish Warsaw. Even though the film describes those who died on either side of the wall as all Polish citizens, the museum display, by excluding Jews from its narrative on the development of Polish Warsaw, implies that Jews were not Polish.

After the museum, I grabbed a late lunch at a "milk bar" recommended by my guidebook, which was just north of the newly rebuilt barbican. The way it worked was I ordered my food at the cashier, paid her, and then gave the receipt to the cooks. I had wanted to order krupnik (barley soup) but they were out, so I got mushroom soup instead. I also ordered the peirogi and some mineral water. The soup came first. It needed some salt, but was pretty good (and there was a lot of it). The peirogis came later and I was surprised when they were filled with something purple in a cream sauce. I figured they were beet, but they turned out to be blueberry (or current -- I'm not sure), and the cream sauce turned out to be vanilla.

On the way back to the hostel I bought a ticket for tomorrow night's performance of The Magic Flute at the National Opera. They were almost sold out and my only choices were the 20 Zl and the 50 Zl ticket. Remembering how cramped I was in Budapest, I ordered the 50 Zl ticket (I actually, wanted to get an even more expensive ticket, but it wasn't an option). Even so, this only puts me back some $17 American.

Now its off to do some editing work on a paper and then go to dinner.