Auschwitz (Oswiecim) Poland

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Auschwitz (Oawiecim) Poland

“At a mass meeting in Berlin, Adolf Hitler shrieked, “And who is responsible for all our troubles?” Ben Cohen shouted, “The bicycle riders and the Jews!” Hitler looked up, astonished. “Why the bicycle riders?” “Why the Jews?” replied Cohen.” Leo Rosten.

We start our day at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim (Oshpitzim in Yiddish), a small town in southern Poland 31 miles west of Krakow .http://ajcf.pl/en/ The town went from anonymity to being known by its German name Auschwitz.The word Auschwitz has become synonymous with the worst things human beings can do to each other.

As with other parts of Poland, there is an old synagogue (that was returned to the Jewish community)  and a museum about Jewish life in Oscwecim over the last hundred years and no Jews.

The Center is used a lot by tourists and schools to promote dialogue about Polish Jewish life, xenophobia and the Holocaust. The Museum Of Jewish Heritage that I am traveling with was responsible for helping to create this Center. It does not have local community or government support.

Maciej Zabierowski our wonderful  guide for the Jewish quarter in Krakow works there. As with our other guides, Maciej’s quiet honorable manner makes you feel hopeful that there are more like him than the Nationalists in this country. Tomasz Knncewicz  tells us some of the history. We ask about the law passed earlier this year which criminalizes false attributions to Poland’s responsibility in the Holocaust. I have read that Auschwitz  guides have been accused of downplaying the fact that 74,000 Poles were also killed in Auschwitz. He mentions that there are pressures being exerted on Holocaust and Jewish Museum directors and Auschwitz guides due to the wave of hate.

I think about it on the short drive to the Auschwitz Birkenau Camp.  On one hand, the government is right. It is a distinction without a difference and a horrific thing. But, the Jews were killed because of racism. Many other victims were also deemed by the Nazi’s racial ideology  as unfit to live such as gypsies, homosexuals and the handicapped. The Poles and people from other German conquered countries were killed because of power.

The Holocaust happened at a time in the present to people like you and me. How did a civilized society do this? At what point does the Nationalism and hate rhetoric we are hearing in the world today, take a turn like this?

We pull into the very busy Auschwitz car park along with many buses and cars. There is train whistle in the distance.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Things That I Have Learned In Jerusalem

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Things I Have Learned In Jerusalem

“I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.” Neil Armstrong in Jerusalem

Jerusalem has been conquered many times. Some of the conquerors were Persians, Romans,  Ottoman Turks and the British Empire. No Arab power in history has ever claimed Jerusalem as its capital. Other than the Crusaders, the rulers made their capitals in Caesarea, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo and Constantinople.

The Old City has over two thousand important archaeological sites. Jerusalem was founded as the City of David in 1010 BCE, but there’s evidence of settlements there going back all the way to 4500 BCE.

The Old City is divided into four quarters, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian.

The length of the walls of the Old City is 4,018 meters (two and half miles).  Their average height is 12 meters (39.37 feet) and the average thickness is 2.5 meters (eight feet). The walls contain thirty-four watchtowers and seven main gates open for traffic, with two minor gates reopened by archaeologists.

The Jaffa Gate is the westernmost gate of the Old City. It was so named as the starting point of the road to Jaffa port.  Herod’s Gate is the entrance to the Muslim quarter. The Damascus Gate in the North  is the largest and most  beautiful of the gates. The large center entrance was for important people. The two side gates were for the commoners.

The New Gate was added in 1889 and is the entrance to the Christian quarter. The Zion Gate closest to the Jewish quarter was used by the IDF to capture Jerusalem in the 67 war. The Dung Gate is closest to the Temple Mount got that name because it was used to cart out the refuse. The Lion’s Gate is located in the Eastern Wall. The entrance leads to the Via Dolorosa. Near the gate’s crest are four figures of lions.  Legend has it that Sultan Suleiman placed the figures there because he believed that if he did not build a wall around Jerusalem he would be killed by lions. Israeli paratroopers famously stormed through this gate during the Six-Day War to conquer the Temple Mount, after which they unfurled the Israeli flag above the Old City.

The Mount of Olives is the preferred burial site for a majority of Jews. The mountain boasts 150,000 graves that date as far back as 15th century.

Some of the olive trees in Jerusalem are more than 800 years old.

There are more than fifty Christian churches, thirty-three Muslim mosques and three hundred Jewish synagogues in the city.

Municipal law requires all structures to be covered in Jerusalem stone, preserving the historical look of the city.

Guests at the King David Hotel have included Elizabeth Taylor, Winston Churchill, Prince Charles, Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Us.

Most of the”local’ souvenirs in the souq in the Arab Quarter of the Old City are now made in China.

The food is amazing.

Jerusalem is Israel’s largest city.

Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were members of Hebrew University’s first Board of Governors.

The Knesset, Israel’s legislative body, is in Jerusalem and is named for the Knesset Hagedolah (Great Assembly) which convened there in 5th century BCE.

The fabulous and frenetic Mahane Yehuda Market packs in locals and tourists with its array of food, color, and noise.

The most impressive ruins in the Jewish quarter are those of the Cardo. The Cardo was the main avenue of Aeolia Capitolina, the Roman city built on top of the rubble of Jerusalem in 70 CE. After the 67 war, Israeli archaeologists uncovered dozens of Corinthian columns, many in good shape, that had once lined the broad street, and raised them up again according to their original layout.

The Cardo was the main commerce street in ancient Rome and today is lined, much as it was in ancient times, with shops.

There are emergency response teams on bikes as well as cars which are particularly helpful in the Old City’s narrow streets.

Jerusalem is important to the Jewish people because it is the Holy City, the site of Solomon’s Temple, the City of David and the capital of the Israelites. Solomon’s Temple was believed to have the Arc of the Covenant which housed the Ten Commandments.

Jerusalem is important to the Christians because it is where Jesus first impresses the sages, where he spent his last days and where the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection took place.

Jerusalem is important to the Muslims because it is where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jerusalem has been ravaged by thirty centuries of warfare and strife. The struggle continues.

 

Fly safe,

JAZ