Monday, July 10, 2006

My Ur-doktor vater (July 10)

Well, this will be my last blog from Poland (at least for this trip) as tomorrow I leave for Prague and the Czech Republic (a 6:44 hour train ride).

After posting last night's entry, I went out and watched the last half of the final of the Mundial. The city put up a large plasma screen tv in the Rynek Glowny and with the speakers you could basically here and watch it a block away (which is about the length of the Rynek). There were many supporters of Italy (including someone waiving an Italian flag), but I think there were probably more French supporters, based on the cheers or groans. The game was 1-1 going into the half and 1-1 at the end of the second half, and at the end of the first overtime. At that point, I decided to walk back to my hotel and watch the finale there while I packed up. The game continued tied through the second overtime, and ended (the way many of the games at this World's Cup have done) with a shoot out.

This morning I came to Wroclaw (formerly known as Breslau). It was very hot when I got off the train (certainly low 30s C -- which means low 90s F), and I searched for the tram/bus line that would run to my hotel. No luck. So I started walking, figuring I would find it eventually. In the end I found out that there are no trams or buses because they have entirely torn up the street leading to the hotel for about a block. It's only a 15-20 minute walk, but in this heat my shirt was soaked and I was dripping on to the counter as I filled out the forms. I took a quick shower and changed, but was sweating before I even left my hotel room.

I made my way to the Rynek. This is another one of those large public squares around which medieval Polish cities were built, though this one still has three blocks of buildings in the middle, so you don't get the full scope of the size of the square the way you do in Krakow. Another thing that has surprised me about Poland is how brightly colored many of the renaissance buildings are. Perhaps because so much of the films I see are in black and white, it's a bit of a shock to see so many yellow, green, red, and gold building surfaces.

I had lunch in a vegetarian restaurant on the Rynek (mushroom crepes with mushroom sauce -- not bad, actually), and then I went in search of the synagogue. Today being Monday, all the museums in town are closed, so there was little else to see (part of the reason for stopping here was to see the synagogue and cemetery, the other reason was to break up what would otherwise be a 10-hour train ride). I walked past it the first time because it is tucked away in a courtyard. This is the only synagogue building to survive the Nazis and it is undergoing extensive external restoration.

I walked inside, and found that none of the interior decorations have survived. There were a series of posters on the side about the history of the Jewish community of Wroclaw, prepared in 2003, but these had been moved out of the way to make room for the festival of asian culture performances that are being held there.

I went looking for the Jewish community offices, which are in the building adjacent to the synagogue. The wooden staircases looked like they are in urgent need of repair (they looked as if they might give way), and when I made it up to the floor in which the office is located, it was locked with no sign of when it's open (except for a phone number).

Now you might be wondering, why don't I just call them, but, in fact, I have a phobia about calling people in non-English languages. It is a little stressful, but manageable, to call people in Hebrew or German, but my Polish is virtually non-existent, and there's no way for me to communicate over the phone. I would much prefer to send e-mail.

From there I made my way to the Jewish cemetery. This in itself was a bit of an undertaking in order to find the right tram. I ended up walking a fair way but eventually I found it. Like other Jewish cemeteries, it was damaged during the war, but since Breslau was part of Germany, it didn't undergo the same violence of conquest that Polish cemeteries experienced. Instead, much of the damage came in 1945, when the cemetery was the scene of significant fighting between the Soviets and the Nazis.

I bought my ticket and a guide book and went in. Thankfully, there are many trees, so much of the cemetery is shaded. I ignored the suggested walking tour and went right to the grave of my ur-doktor vater, Heinrich Graetz. In Germany, the chair of your dissertation committee is known as your doktor vater -- the father of your doctoral degree. Well, my doktor vater is Prof. David Myers, and his doktor vater was Prof. Yosef Yerushalmi, who holds the Salo Baron chair in Jewish history at Columbia, and Prof. Salo Baron studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau, whose first professor was Heinrich Graetz, making him my urdoktor vater.

Graetz popularized the study of Jewish history. When he began to write his History of the Jews in 1853, just a few hundred people read Jewish history. When he died in 1891, the number had grown to hundreds of thousands, in great part due to his writings. I wrote my dissertation on the reception of his history, and I wanted to visit his grave here in Breslau (Wroclaw) where he taught.

I had no trouble finding it. The marker had been restored in 1991 based on earlier photos of the grave. I saw a long line of stones that previous visitors had placed, and I put my own up there and then said kaddish. I felt it was the least I could do. Then I walked around and looked at the various types of funereal ornamentation used in the cemetery. In many ways, it reminded me of a much smaller version of the Weisensee cemetery in Berlin.

After about an hour I left and made my way back to the center of town. In a little bit I'm going for dinner in the hotel restaurant. A local guide describes the restaurant (and my hotel) as a quaint unrestored treasure, built in the 19th century. I'm hoping it lives up to the billing. Then a quick trip to the train station to get my ticket for tomorrow. And then, I hope, it will be cool enough to sleep.

No comments: