Friday, June 10, 2011

Lodz, again

I had told the students to meet me at 8 am and we would go get coffee this morning, but I realized we didn't have enough time. Instead, we went across the street to the bakery, where I picked up juice, some croissants and a donut, and they got bread and other stuff. Then it was off to the Warszawa Centralny to buy our tickets to Lodz.

It's always stressful to buy tickets in Poland. I end up saying something like "To Lodz...five tickets?" Then I get back "Blah, blah, blah, 2nd class, blah, blah." So I respond, hoping I understood, "yes." "Blah, blah, five tickets, blah?" "Yes," I say, as a leap of faith, as I watch the total grow and grow as she prints out tickets. "Blah, blah, credit card, blah, blah, blah." I hand her my card and she swipes it. Eventually, I sign, get the card, and then the tickets. Thank God, they're alright.

Except we have five minutes to get to the train platform before the train leaves. I grab the students and we hurry, find an empty compartment and settle in.

The Polish countryside is always beatiful. Today, however, it is also cold. It's actually 13 C outside, for the first time in the entire trip. I had decided against bringing a jacket, but now I was having second thoughts. Too late now.

I didn't tell the students much about Lodz in advance, in terms of how I experienced it before; I didn't want to shade their own feelings about it. We came in at Lodz Fabryczna station and this time there were maps, though the station really does have a scuzzy feel to it. Lots of small stands; not at all like Warsaw. We walked to the main north/south street and saw many of the same, formerly beatiful beaux arts buildings I had seen last time, though some had now been restored. I wanted to find the students coffee, but I had entered the street just above where most of the cafes were, it turned out, so we ended up walking several blocks.

We finally found a rather nice one, sat down, ordered our drinks, and two of the students also got nice looking desserts. After we rested and refreshed we started our walking tour of the remains of the Litzmannstadt Ghetto. We began with the church where the belongings of those murdered in Chelmno were brought back to be sorted through by ghetto residents before being sent to Germany. It looks like they painted the original ghetto border on the sidewalk a few years ago, but that now it's fading. I showed the students pictures of what the ghetto bridges were like and we continued.

When we passed a bakery, I stopped in and picked up some rolls for lunch. Then it was off to the ghetto hospital. This building was mostly in ruins in 2006 (an arson attack badly damaged it), but it's now being renovated. I read the students the description of how the hospital was liquidated on September 1, 1942, and the patients deported to Chelmno. This was followed by the seizure and deportation of all children under 10 and the elderly over 65 a few days later.

After we walked through some streets that were particularly well preserved from the ghetto period, we headed off to Radogoszcz station. The sky looked threatening, and I thought it would rain on us. That was a very long walk, made even more difficult by the fact that my guide book to the Litzmannstadt Ghetto does not contain a complete map of the ghetto, but only shows small, little sections of it. When we finally reached the station, I was horrified to see that the museum was closed on Fridays. We rested for a while, and then I polled the students to see if they wanted to go on to the cemetery. They said yes, so off we walked. Not so far this time, though.

The outcome was the same, however. We got there at 3:25 only to find that on Fridays, it closes at 3pm. A Polish couple from Warsaw came up and pounded on the gate. Eventually the guard came. They spoke with him, but he gruffly responded and closed the door as I kept asking if we could just use the toilets. The Polish couple told me that they had offered him money to let us all in, but that he had refused.

We had no choice now but to return. This time we took the bus and as it was after 4 pm and we really hadn't had a full lunch, I told the students I would treat them to an early dinner at Anatewka, a Jewish-style restaurant in Lodz. I had really liked it the last time, but not so much this time. The goose didn't taste the way I thought it should (more like brisket this time). Very salty. The raspberry panna cotta for dessert was rather bland. It was still better than the cheesecake one student ordered, that was truly bizarre. At least the Zubrowka vodka was as good as it should be. The waitress gave us some little rabbi figurines, each clutching a gold grosz. I'm not sure if it's anti-Semitic (though I highly doubt it was intended as such).

We managed to avoid a few drunks on the street and make our way back to the train station and from there back to Warsaw. We got in around 9pm, and I went back to the cashier to buy our tickets for Lublin. Another round of: "To Lublin. Tomorrow. 9 hour. Five tickets?" I had dropped the students off at a coffee shop first so they could have something nice while waiting and I joined them there. The mall near the train station is clean and has some nice food shops. If only the current construction didn't make it so difficult to get to.

We got back a little while ago. The free computer was taken, as usual, but I bought some time on the pay machine next to it. Now, to try to update some of the earlier entries.

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