Who Will Write Our Story?

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Who Will Write Our Story?

“What we were unable to shout out to the world, we hid underground. May this treasure end up in good hands, may it live to see better times, may it alert the world.”Dawid Graber -one of the people who buried the archive

During the darkest period in their history, Emanuel Ringleblum a historian,  gathered a group of scholars and intellectuals and formed the Oyneg Shabes. (named that because they usually met on Saturday) It is one of the most astonishing research projects in history. Ringleblum believed that writing history from “within the event” instead of after from memory would give a clearer picture of what was happening.

It started as an attempt to collect as much diverse information about Jewish life during this period. They handed out notebooks to people in the Warsaw Ghetto to write their stories within the event and time frame. They reached out to other cities in Poland as well. They collected and wrote diaries, journals, reports, art, literature and studies of life in the ghetto. They also saved newspapers,  ration tickets, letters and postcards, German orders, invitations to ghetto events, theatre posters, fliers, schoolwork, tram tickets and candy wrappers. 

I read one book that was recommended for the trip entitled Who Will Write Our History? by Samuel Kassow. I did not realize that in Warsaw, the Jewish Historical Institute  housed this archive and I would actually be able to see it.

The project changed when news of the mass murders began and the group started documenting the destruction of the Jewish people in Poland. One of the earliest reports about the Nazi extermination of the Jews to reach London and the West was about the Chelmo Extermination Camp. It came from the Oyneg Shabes.

The materials from the Ringelblum Archive were buried in ten metal boxes and two milk cans. The first cache was hidden in August 1942 during the Great Deportation. The other in February 1943 a few months before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The fear at this point was that none of the two hundred members would survive to know where to dig it up but three of them survived. Emanual Ringleblum and his family did not. 

Reading excerpts from the 6,OOO documents was harrowing and heartbreaking but seeing it displayed at the Jewish Historical Institute made their heroism real for me.

They say that history is written by the victors. Poet and Oyneg Shabes member Gustawa Jarecka,  described it as” a ‘stone hurled under history’s wheel to stop it.’ It could not stop it but it gave a voice to the victims and a clear picture of the destruction. ( calculations of deportations)

The first cache was unearthed shortly after the war in September 1946, while the discovery of the second trove came in December 1950.

There was also a third cache which has not been found. Rachel Auerbach who was one of the survivors says that “If the third part of the Ringelblum archive is ever found, it will include my papers  turned over after the deportations began, it will include a ticket from the ghetto’s laundry with a poem  by Yisroel Shtern about a tree in the ghetto.”

Fly safe,

JAZ

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The Remains Of Jewish Warsaw (Poland)

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The Remains Of Jewish Warsaw, (Poland)

“It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.” Voltaire

Before World War ll, the city of Warsaw had more Jews than the city of New York. After the Holocaust and decades of Communist rule, Poland is mostly Roman Catholic. There is a generation of Poles, that have recently found out about their repressed Jewish heritage. It is a nation with a complicated history. Many are making serious strides to remember the Jewish past.

 In 1940, to create the Warsaw Ghetto – the largest Jewish ghetto in Europe during WWII – the German authorities built 18 kilometers of brick walls around the Jewish quarter.

Over 400,000 Jews were imprisoned there. At least 240,000 people were deported to Nazi extermination camps, while thousands of others were killed in the Ghetto.

The wall was torn down in 1943, except for one short section which is the only part of the original wall that stands today. (memorial with names)

The inscription reads: “Tu byl mur getta”  “Here was the wall of the ghetto”.

 The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 was an act of Jewish resistance against the deportation of the remaining Ghetto population to the Treblinka extermination camp. The revolt was suppressed and the district demolished. On its site now stands the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews that explains the Jewish history and culture in Poland.

The POLIN Museum is one of the most powerful museums to visit in Warsaw.( after four hours here)

The layout of the museum is very unique. First, you enter through the forest. This represents the forests near the Vistula River. Here Poles first made connections with Jewish merchants.

Then you go through the Middle Ages, where history appears in frescoes. You follow the Jews of Poland through the 15th and 16th centuries.

In the Town gallery, you can explore Jewish settlements of the 17th and 18th centuries. The roof and polychrome ceiling replica from a 17th-century synagogue crowns the gallery.

The museum is very interactive.

Various galleries present different aspects of Jewish history and culture.

Stroll through synagogue interiors and streets in old Jewish quarters with cafes and cinemas.

You can see where Jewish people congregated before the war.

The section covering World War II and the Holocaust is completely overpowering. Be ready to spend several hours at this museum.

Opposite the POLIN Museum, stands the Ghetto Heroes Monument, which commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and the thousands of people who lost their lives. It was designed by Leon Suzin and sculpted by Nathan Rapoport in 1948. Ironically, the stone used in the monument had been brought to Warsaw by the Nazis to build a victory tower. There is an exact copy of the monument in Yad Vashem, Israel.

The front side of the monument, entitled is “The Fight”. Its bronze relief depicts men, women, and children armed with grenades and bottles of petrol, while the central figure represents Mordechaj Anielewicz, the leader of the Uprising. The back side of the monument, entitled “March to Destruction”, depicts the anguish of women, children, and the elderly, as they march to their deaths.

Near this monument stands a memorial tablet to the Ghetto Heroes, as well as the statue of Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter. The monument has an inscription in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew, which reads: “The Jewish People in honor of its fighters and martyrs”.

Completed in 1902, the Nozyk Synagogue is the only surviving synagogue in the Polish capital. It was reopened in 1983 and serves the small Jewish community in Poland today.

The ruins of the bunker at 18 Miła Street are the place of rest of the commanders and fighters of the Jewish Combat Organization, as well as some civilians. Among them lies Mordechaj Anielewicz. On May 8, 1943, surrounded by the Nazis after three weeks of struggle, many perished or took their own lives, refusing to perish at the hands of their enemies.

There were several hundred bunkers built in the Ghetto. Found and destroyed by the Nazis, they became graves. They could not save those who sought refuge inside them, yet they remain everlasting symbols of the Warsaw Jews’ will to live.

The bunker at Miła Street was the largest in the ghetto. The inscription in Polish, English, and Yiddish reads: “Grave of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising built from the rubble of Miła Street, one of the liveliest streets of pre-war Jewish Warsaw.

I will never really understand how these things happened in the world. It is our human obligation to visit these sites to remember what can happen again in the future.

Two members of our group spent the last afternoon in Warsaw in an antique shop in the old city. On a shelf in the corner they saw an old Torah scroll, probably belonging to one of the Jews in the ghetto. They bought it. The cover is from the late eighteen hundreds. It is difficult to put into words, the extraordinary feeling when you realize that you are seeing something holy from a society that you thought was gone forever. 

I would like to thank Karolina Paczyńska our Warsaw tour guide who also traveled with us throughout Poland. Her knowledge, kindness, sense of humor, organizational skills and nothing is a problem attitude  helped make this trip special. It seem like it would be hard to be a guide on a trip like this where everyone is having a different kind of emotional experience. Karolina made it easy. I highly recommend her as a tour guide.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Cemeteries In Poland

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Cemeteries In Poland

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R.Tolkien The Fellowiship Of The Ring

“We were here. We are what is left of what was once a thriving civilization.” This is what the headstones in the Jewish cemeteries in Poland say to me. (Lodz)

Over half a century after the Holocaust, the headstones and their fragments in the Jewish cemeteries personalize the tragedy of the three and a half million Jews killed in Poland. ( Warsaw)

Jews had been in Poland since the Middle Ages. The oldest Jewish grave is in Wroclaw and is dated  1203. In the tangled paths and ruined stones, there is the history of Jewish life in Poland. (Lodz)

In the cemeteries, I feel the ghosts that I did not feel at Auschwitz. Maybe the crime at Auschwitz is too big and too much to comprehend. In the silence of the dead, I wonder if I am doing enough good in this life that I am so lucky to have. (Lodz)

The first cemetery we visit is the Old Cemetery at the Remuh Synagogue in Krakow. It is the oldest cemetery in Poland. It was founded in 1553 and the last burial was in 1800. The cemetery was used as a garbage dump in World War Two and pretty much destroyed.

The gravestone of a famous rabbi – Rabbi Moses Isserles survived and people come to worship there. In 1959, the cemetery was renovated. The fragments of the broken tombstones were cemented together to form a wall.

The Jewish Cemetery created in 1892  in Lodz  was once the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.

After the German occupation in 1939, the cemetery became a part of the Lodz ghetto.

Between 1940 and 1944, about 43,000 burials took place in the spare part of the cemetery that became known as the Ghetto Field.

The cemetery was the site of mass executions of Jews, Roma gypsies, and non-Jewish Poles. The graves of the Polish scouts and soldiers are found there.

The ghetto was liquidated in August 1944 and about 830 Jews were left as a clean-up crew. They were forced to dig large holes for their own graves near the cemetery wall. The Nazis did not have enough time to kill them, and the empty holes have been left as a remembrance.

The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw was established in 1806.  Among the notable people buried at the Okopowa Street cemetery are the writers Y.L.Peretz and S. Ansky, the actress Ester Rachel Kaminska; Ludwik Zamenhof, the creator of the Esperanto language; Adam Czerniakow, the chairman of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto and many notable rabbis.

It also has memorials and the mass graves of fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

During the Second World War, the Germans used it as a place for executions and mass burials of victims from the Warsaw Ghetto. 

The cemetery sustained extensive damage when the Germans decided to bomb all the surrounding buildings after the  Jewish Uprising.

The small Jewish community left in Warsaw are trying to diligently preserve and protect the cemetery.

In the Warsaw Cemetery, there is a  memorial for the one million children killed in the Holocaust.

Another memorial is in memory of the Polish-Jewish pediatrician and children’s author Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw from 1940 to 1942. He was deported with his children in 1942 after he refused to abandon them. He was most likely murdered after his arrival in Treblinka.

There were more Jews in Warsaw than in any other European capital before the war, and the cemetery bears silent witness to this rich and vibrant civilization that made Poland the most Jewish of nations in Europe.

Most of the graves in the cemeteries are abandoned. There is no one left to visit them and tend to them.(Lodz)

In every cemetery, I put stones on as many graves as I can. I don’t have enough time  or enough stones. I try to get to the graves that are further away. The graveyards get messy and overgrown with grass and moss. It’s hard to know where I am stepping so I walk on my toes.(Lodz)

  Putting a stone on a grave has different interpretations. For me it means, I was there. I saw your headstone even though the people who remember you are gone.(Krakow)

 

On Yom Kippur, I light memorial candles for my parents, a friend and one for the people who have no one to light one for them. This year I will light an extra one for the 3.5 million  Jews who died in Poland during World War Two. (Lodz)

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Things That I Want To Do In Poland

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Ten Thing That I Want To Do  In Poland

“It was a small room with dim light coming in the window, reminiscent of old Polish films.” Haruki Murakami

Choosing to visit Poland. is not an easy decision for me. There are many places in Poland where horrific events took place during World War Two. I’m trying to combine those with seeing what the country is like now. I want to have an open mind but racism seems to be under new management again in Poland.

Since I love street art, I will be taking a Krakow Street Art Tour. I haven’t done one in Eastern Europe before so it will be interesting to see if it has an activist, protest quality. Poster Art has been a tradition in Poland so it was probably be a natural transition to street art.

Krakow is one of the most fascinating medieval cities in Europe and one of the few that escaped destruction in World War II. Today it’s famed for its soaring Gothic church spires and cobblestone streets, while its Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site, it is also known for having one of the liveliest after dark scenes on the continent.

The story of Oskar Schindler and his employees is one which has been well-known. It was made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (which was shot almost entirely in Kraków). The factory has been turned into a museum about his story and the occupation of Poland.

A visit to Auschwitz is a test in humanity that not everybody is prepared to take, One can hardly call it a tourist attraction. The three million victims of the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps don’t need high attendance records. What they need is a moment of reflection on what happened and what should be done so that this tragedy never happens again.

You wouldn’t imagine that a museum dedicated to people digging for salt would become a popular tourist draw, but that’s exactly what Wieliczka Salt Mine is. It is an easy day trip from Krakow. The mine was in operation from the thirteenth century till 2007 .Now it sees over a million visitors a year, who take the tiny elevator down into the depths and explore the “buildings” inside, which include chapels, statues, and even a whole cathedral carved out from the rock.

There are various ways to explore the music of Frédéric Chopin, Poland’s famous composer. While walking through the city there are many black benches with buttons on them. Simply press the buttons at any time and they play the music of Chopin. Chopin concerts are held regularly in venues throughout Warsaw, To understand all about the man himself and see his last piano, head to the Chopin Museum.

Before World War ll, Warsaw had the largest Jewish community in Europe.The WarsawGhetto was the largest ghetto set up by the Nazi’s during the war. Over seventy years ago, the area of Jewish residents (which numbered up to one million) was sealed off from the rest of the city. It was enclosed by a wall that was over 10 feet high, topped with barbed wire, and closely guarded to prevent movement between the ghetto and the rest of Warsaw. Life deteriorated quickly.  The world already knows the terrible history of the Jews in the ghetto. There are memorials and museums dedicated to remembering the victims. The Warsaw Ghetto was the location of the Warsaw Uprising where the Jews fought back from Mila 18 street.

Warsaw’s central Old Town neighborhood is one of the city’s most popular areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historic district, which was rebuilt after bombings from World War II destroyed most of it, is filled with restaurants, art galleries, shops and cafes housed in structures designed to replicate the region’s former fourteenth to eighteenth century buildings.

The market square in Wroclaw is one of the largest in Europe with two town halls. Piwnica Swidnicka located on the square is the oldest restaurant in Europe. It is always crowded and fun.

Łódź’s Museum Of Modern Art (Muzeum Sztuki) is one of the oldest museums of Modern Art (ha) in the world and holds the largest collection of world art from the 20th and 21st centuries in Poland.

Recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki caused an uproar when he said that there were “Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust, along with Polish and Russian ones. Is it how everyone feels or is it like Trump saying ”There are are good people on both sides which means some good Nazis?”

I believe travel is one of the ways we can educate humanity about our similarities. It is how I learn that I am not so different from you. Since I have this opportunity to be there, it is my responsibility to see what is going on for myself and figure out the truth. I have to challenge my assumptions and not judge the people I meet based on history and the media.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Twenty-Five Things That I Want To Do In 2018

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Twenty-Five That I Want to Do In 2018

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ursula Le Guin

Mediate every day. Maybe if I write it first I will have more luck.

Do More Yoga. Maybe if I write it second……

Go to Auschwitz.

Go To Poland.

Do a street art tour in Kraków.

See the Schindler factory.

Go to the Galápagos..

Read at least twenty books.

Follow a healthy diet.

Spend some time in London.

Peace in the house.

Go to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Go somewhere in Scandinavia.

Go To Israel.

Pay it forward.

Cook something besides eggs.

Work on being fearless.

See the sunset on the beach every day when I am home.

Sail through Peruvian or Ecuadorian Amazon.

Go to beaches of Los Organos and Vichayito, Peru.

Walk my dog every day.

Be more politically active.

Spend time with my god-daughter in Tel Aviv.

Do the Graffiti tour of Tel Aviv.

Go to Garachico, Tenerife.

Happy New Year and Fly Safe,

JAZ