Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back to Work

[Cafes in Krakow's Rynek Glowny (main square)]

One thing I have noticed this trip is that the second time around is much easier. Whenever I have arrived in a city that I visited last year, I find that I quickly remember where almost everything I need is. That has made things much more relaxed and simpler; I'm not facing that enormous learning curve I had last year, where I struggled to figure out the most basic things. Now, I'm much calmer.

I'm also enjoying the trip more. Certainly that was true of Prague and Vienna, cities where I had a much better experience this time. In Poland, I found that I'm getting my bearings quicker and I'm less stressed over the language issue. A lot of stuff has come back.

For example, after checking into my hotel, I walked to the Rynek Glowny to get some lunch. I was heading to an ok restaurant I ate at last year when I remembered there was a better one around the corner. It's called Gospoda U Zdzicha. I remembered the mushroom soup was good, so I had that, but instead of the cabbage peirogies, invariably sauteed in lard, I ordered the plum peirogies instead. The soup was as good as I remembered, and the peirogies turned out to be filled with prunes, and accompanied by a vanilla custard-like sauce. It wasn't bad, and I didn't leave feeling bloated or greasy.

Today was a back to work day for me, after all the hiking in Zakopane. I so wish I could find a way of taking students there next year so they can see what is the most beautiful part of Poland, but I can't see away of fitting it into a course. On my bus ride to Zakopane, by chance I had noticed that there was a museum devoted to the Polish Home Army, located just behind the bus station. It's one of those amazing chance things that makes all the difference. I can only imagine what things I'm missing by chance as well.

Now, I wouldn't recommend the Home Army Museum to the casual tourist. First, it's not that easy to get to. You need to head behind the bus station, across some roads, along the side of an overpass, and then you get to the museum. Second, all the exhibits in the museum are only signed in Polish (though there is a small brochure they hand out that summarizes the main points of the museum.

So why did I go there? It was an amazing find for me. I'm working on an article on post-communist Holocaust memorials and here is this museum, opened first in 1991, that commemorates the activities of the Polish underground during World War II. Because it was opened so soon after the fall of communism, it provides an early example with which to contrast the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, opened last year in Warsaw.

As I expected, the museum completely ignores the Holocaust, let alone the behavior of the Home Army during the Holocaust. Instead, it traces the development of the Second Polish Republic between the wars, the invasions of Poland by Nazi Germany and then the USSR in September 1939, and the organization and struggle of the Polish resistance during the war. There are special exhibits on the the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, and the murder of Polish officers by the Soviet Union in Katyn in 1940.

The only references in the entire museum to the murder of virtually all of Poland's Jews by the Nazis, some 10% of the Polish population and representing half of all Polish deaths during the war, consists of a diagram showing the various badges prisoners wore in concentration camps, and various maps of Warsaw during the 1944 uprising that indicate "ruins of the ghetto" through the blanking out of streets that were leveled in the ghetto uprising of 1943.

Needless to say, there's nothing in the museum on the very limited support provided by the Home Army to the Jewish underground, and the refusal by some Home Army commanders to permit Jewish volunteers to join their partisan units (or the evidence that some Home Army partisan units killed Jews when not killing Germans). All these points had been debated in Poland in the ten years prior to the opening of this museum, so they surely were aware of them. However, given that this museum was the first chance to commemorate a group that had been viciously suppressed by the Stalin and the Soviet Union -- who arrested Home Army members, shot some, and sent the rest to gulags in Siberia -- we shouldn't be surprised at the decision to present an account that is wholly praiseworthy. It makes the more nuanced presentation in Warsaw all the more remarkable.

After leaving the museum, I returned to my hotel to pick up my umbrella (just in time, too, as a brief rain storm swept through), and then I headed down to Kazimierz to get a ticket to a klezmer concert tonight. I'm hearing the Lerner Moguilevsky Duo at 7pm in the Tempel Synagogue. This is a beautiful "oriental"-style synagogue that was moderately reform, and is the preferred location for the klezmer concerts during the Jewish festival.

[The ark and bimah of the Tempel Synagogue]

I think I will get a light dinner afterwards.

After picking up some info in Kazimierz, I've decided to change my plans for tomorrow. Originally, I was going to take the train to Bobowa to see the synagogue there, but I've decided not to go. First, I found out that there's a lecture tomorrow at 11:30 at the Galicja Jewish Museum on the plans for the new Museum of Polish Jewish History, of which they just broke ground two days ago in Warsaw. The talk is in English and is by one of the planners of the museum who will discuss their choices in how to organize it. I can't miss that.

Second, there will be a public discussion of a new book on talks between Poles and Jews at the Klezmer Hois at 2 pm. I still haven't confirmed yet whether it will be in English or if not, if there will be simultaneous English translation, but that's too important an opportunity to miss.

Third, this whole trip to Bobowa seems like a fool's errand, 2.5 hours by direct train to get there, all in the hope that the barber in the shop next to it, will have the key to open it up, and then a three-hour minimum return (with change of trains in Tarnow).

Fourth, because I screwed up in my reservations, I have to change hotels tomorrow morning (I thought I had reserved a room for two nights, but only reserved for one night by mistake). This way, I won't be rushed as I check out of one place and into another.

Finally, I would like to say that I have been very fortunate with the weather. Although there have been brief rain storms, I've had none of the hot, muggy weather of last summer. Today the high was 16 in Krakow, less than half of what it was last year at the same time. That makes life so much easier. If it stays like that in Central Europe until July 10th when I return, I will be very happy.

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