Jewish Krakow

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Jewish Krakow

“As the Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel warned years ago, to forget a holocaust is to kill twice.”  Iris Chang

 Krakow was my first stop in Poland. I was there for a week.  It was a picturesque city with unseasonably hot sunny weather and friendly people. My hotel overlooked the stunning Vistula River and Wawei Castle. It was not the grey and gloomy city of the black and white World War Two or Communist photos.

Maciej Zabierowska from the Auschwitz Jewish  Center was our very knowledgeable, interesting guide in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz. We walked around the streets, decorated with colorful street art and set with trendy cafes, cool bars, art galleries, and boutiques.

Maciej’s stories of the history and the peeling, old, facades of the buildings, allowed me not to forget the terrible horrors which took place right there, not that long ago.

We start at the Old Synagogue which was badly looted during World War ll and is now a museum.

The museum shows the history and culture of the Jews of Krakow.

Dating from 1553, the Remuh Synagogue is Kraków’s smallest but most active synagogue, with Shabbat services once again taking place here each Friday.

The synagogue was established by the family of famous 16th century Polish Rabbi Moses Isserles – better known as ‘the Rema,’ The old Jewish Cemetery is next to it.

Kazimierz has many  Jewish-themed tourist restaurants. Its “Jewish” cafes present a nostalgic, literary image of prewar Jewish life — some with taste and sensitivity, others in a disturbing way.

I didn’t eat in them but it looked like they were going for old world shtetl chic. Some of the names of the restaurants are in Hebrew style letters.

I checked a few menus and there were things like Rabbi’s salad and Yiddish fish. There were Klezmer bands playing music (like Volare?)  it had a Jewish Disneyland feeling but without the  Jews.

There are many Lucky Jews. The Lucky Jew comes from Polish folk art. In many places, not a trace is left of the Jewish community that once lived there. That blank space is filled today with images of Jews––figurines, pictures, magnets, postcards, and more. The lucky Jews are negative stereotypical caricatures of the Jewish people.  They seem to reflect the preconception that Poles are antisemitic.  According to the Poles, it is an amulet or good luck charm, like a happy fat Buddha. Little Lucky Jews stand at cash registers holding bags of money or a coin for good luck.

There are also paintings and caricatures of them. It is based on centuries of living side by side and stereotypes. Their story is complicated and due to some protesting, there are less of them now. 

We stop in at the Pharmacy Museum.

It is five floors of all kinds of things used as pharmaceuticals but we are here to see the exhibit about Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who operated a pharmacy in the Kraków Ghetto during WWII.

He was the only Roman Catholic pharmacist in the area to decline the German’s offer to relocate outside the ghetto.

He helped with medication, often free, hair dyes for changing identities, tranquilizers for children during Nazi raids, smuggling food and messages etc. His story is on display here.

We continue on through the ghetto.

The Galicia Jewish Museum is home to the permanent photographic exhibitions, Traces of Memory: A contemporary look at the Jewish past in Poland, and An Unfinished Memory. The goals of the Museum are to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions typically associated with the Jewish past in Poland.

Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.

  This incident was made famous by Stephen Spielberg’s film “Schindler’s List’.

Located on the site of Schindler’s Enamel Factory is the Historical Museum of Krakow which tells the story of Kraków and its inhabitants during the Second World War.

Visitors can explore artifacts,  photographs, eyewitness accounts, films and multimedia exhibitions, which show the history of life and tragedy during this time.

Gosia Fus,  our guide here and in the old city is visibly moved as she guides us through the exhibit. (memorial)

The Plaszow Concentration Camp was not far from the Schindler Factory and four kilometers from the Market Square.

Amon Goth the brutal camp commandant lived on the hill overlooking the camp. The Schindler workers walked back and forth every day. It is a mass cemetery of unmarked graves and pits filled with corpses.

it looks like a wide expanse of grass and stone. The camp was built on top of two cemeteries and the tombstones were used as pavers in the roads. It went from a forced labor cam to a mass execution site of the Jews from the emptying Krakow Ghetto.

There are no headsets, tour guides or multimedia displays and I walk the grounds to try to feel the past beneath my feet. 

We go to our first Shabbat at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. It is run by a New Yorker, Jonathan Orenstein. Rabbi Amichai Lev Lurie who is traveling with us leads a beautiful, thoughtful service which puts everyone in a spiritual mood.  I am sitting next to a Holocaust survivor who had been hidden during the war. There is a school group from Israel, converted Jews who found out a grandparent or relative was Jewish, and some Polish Jews. The staff, volunteers, and community were warm and welcoming. We had a typical  Sabbath Dinner. The doors are open to all. Make it a point to stop in if you are there on a Friday night.  

I have to thank our guides in Kraków  Maciej and Gosia for their kindness, empathy, and knowledge. I did not know what kind of people i would find in Poland after all that history and the right-wing media publicity. I have traveled enough to know that there are always a few people in a country who will change your life for the better. You have to travel to open up a worldview that is almost impossible to comprehend without meeting the people in a country different from yours. Both Maciej and Gosia are those kinds of people.

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

Pray For Paris, Pray For The World

Pray For Paris, Pray For The World

“It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do.” Tim O Brian

The justification for terrorist killings is that there are no civilians. The people in a country pay taxes and fund anti terrorism. According to the terrorists, we are all at war. Terrorism is an abstract noun. It is hard to be at war with an abstract noun.

Terrorism happens when one group faces a much more powerful group where they have no chance of winning. Instead they attack other targets in the hopes that will put pressure on the governments. They attack the powerless. They create fear and chaos. They go after people on planes returning from a holiday, people in restaurants, watching a concert, at work or at a soccer match  –  all different ages, races, nationalities and in all different cities. The terrorists convince themselves that their targets are less than human. They use religion, history, past offenses, current offenses and always the bottom line is the pursuit of a more important goal than human life. Is it easier to kill when you don’t call it murder?

The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong. There is no argument and no excuse that can ever make it right. Terrorism is not part of faith.

We need to stop supporting the countries who fund terrorism. We need to stop our own  secret torturing, killing and cover ups. They don’t seem to be doing any good and give reason to the creation of more terrorists. We do need to defend ourselves.

Turning away refugees, xenophobia and fear of immigration is not an answer either. Didn’t we once return the persecuted back to Germany and Europe? Did we learn anything from closing our borders or putting the Japanese in camps  during World War II? We need to find a way to deal with the threats while honoring our ethical and moral obligations.

There was a surreal feeling in watching the footage of the events in Paris. It wasn’t a movie. People were dying who were just going about the business of life. The blood was not fake. The pregnant woman hanging on the wall saying she couldn’t hold on anymore was not acting. The guy hopping down the street was really shot in the leg.

I have always been fearful. I have the kind of brain that could put together hundreds of worst case scenarios on the way to anywhere. I mourn with the people of France. But fears in hand, I’m still going to Paris in the Spring. I realize that it is important to be aware, but to give in to the fears that random acts of violence create, is to let the terrorists win. #Dontbeterrorized.

Fly safe,
JAZ

Things I Have Learned In Brazil

Things I Have Learned In Brazil

“The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams – each according to his or her own talent.” Paul Coelho

The name Brazil comes from the brazilwood tree (which I’m sure I took pictures of but have so many tree photos in the Amazon). In Portuguese it is called pau brazil. The tree produces a deep red dye, highly valued in the European clothing industry and was the first commercially exploited product in Brazil.

The Brazil nut tree is a different tree only found in the Amazon. (Belem)

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Brazil is the only country in South America that speaks Portuguese and the largest Portuguese speaking country. It is very hard to understand Portuguese but easy to read if you speak Spanish. The pronunciation is very different from the spelling that we are used to. Very few people speak Spanish which is interesting considering all their neighboring countries do. They teach English in the schools instead. (Paraty, pronounced para-chee.  We have cold beer and cake?)

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Brazil does not like conflict or war. They don’t even like to say the word war.  When a civil war breaks out they call it a revolution.

Brazil sent three thousand soldiers to World War II reluctantly on the side of Italy and Germany but quickly changed sides when the opportunity presented itself to do so.

There are more species of monkeys in Brazil than anywhere else in the world. This is a very hungry marmoset. I was being nice and offered to share my banana because I was hungry also. He  came very close to me and started screaming and showing his teeth for the rest of it. They may look cute but they are predators. Everyone else got the good pictures. I was dealing with the banana. Guess who won?  (Rio pronounced Rio)

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Brazilian food is super good. (Belem street food -Tacaca with shrimp and jambu)

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Caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil. it is made with cachaca. (pronounced ca-chasa) (Paraty)

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Brazil’s homicide rate is 25 per 100,000 people. This is the closest photo I had. I was getting a tour of the opera house in Belem when I turned my head and saw a cop with a gun in someone’s back. If it was the US, they probably would have shot him.

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The longest traffic jam in the world took place in Brazil.

There are at least 15 girls in every favela more beautiful than Beyoncé.

Street art is all over Brazil ,from professional or crude to tagging. (São Paulo – Cobra)

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54% of the population has European ancestry.
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The Acai berry is grown in Brazil, which is believed to prevent cancer, help with weight loss, detoxification and general health issues. There is a lot of acai in the Amazon. It is not a superfood – it is just food usually eaten with dried cassava balls on top or as a juice served in a plastic bag. (Marajo)

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Almost everything from the Amazon can be like Viagra. ( Marajo, turu – grey tree worms -there are many in that tree. usually eaten raw – luckily they ran out of clean water and wanted to wash mine in the river, I declined)

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The highest point in Brazil is Pico da Neblina, which is 2,994 m high.

Brazil is presently one of the fastest growing economies, with an annual GDP growth rate of 5%.

The Brazilian bikini wax was invented in New York in 1987 by 7 Brazilian born sisters .

Brazil produces the most oranges in the world.

The world’s widest road is the Monumental Axis in Brazil. Here, 160 cars can drive side by side!

Brazil has won the World Cup 5 times (more than any other country!) They feel shame from the last World Cup and don’t really want to talk about it.

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Every city in Brazil has at least one soccer stadium. In 1967, a 48-hour ceasefire was declared in Nigeria so that Federal and Rebel troops could watch the Brazilian soccer legend Pele play on a visit to the war-torn nation. (Soare, indoor soccer)

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Coca-Cola in Brazil sponsors a Pele museum on wheels that travels across the country.

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Brazil has never lost a game when Pele and Garrincha played together. Kaka paid for his brother’s education at the best college in São Paulo before Rodrigo himself became a football player.

Kaka was twice voted as Brazil’s sexiest footballer. In 2005, a Nike ad starring Ronaldinho was the first video on YouTube to break 1 million views.

Brazil has the largest stadium in the continent – the Maracana Stadium.

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It is another one of those countries that knows how to blow dry curly hair straight very well. (Sao Paulo)

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It has the second highest number of airports in the world.

Brazil has a drink named after Jesus.

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In Brazil there is a new futbol beach volleyball where they don’t use their hands. (players in Rio at Copacabana Beach posing)

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It is one of the world’s leading producers of hydroelectric power.

Brazil has the fifth highest number of visits from the pope in the world.

Brazilian women attained the right to vote in 1931.

Brazil is the 5th country to make seat belts compulsory.

Brazil literacy rate is 86.4%- the lowest in the continent.

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Brazil shares a border with every country in the continent except Chile and Ecuador.

The motto of Brazil is “Order and Progress”.

Brazil has the longest beach at 7500km.( Marajo – not the longest but long and beautiful)

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Brazil has the most number of species on the continent. (Marajo – vulture flying over not the longest beach)

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Brazil has the highest number of AIDS victims in the world.

Brazil has the ninth highest number of billionaires in the world.

A Brazilian model is considered one of the most gorgeous women in the world.

There is no official religion any more in Brazil. There are a lot of these statues around Rio.

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The Portuguese were very different colonizers than the Spanish. They immediately intermarried with the Indians and the first Brazilians are born. Brazil really is a melting pot of races, foods, religions and cultures.

The currency of Brazil has both horizontal and vertical pictures.

Brazil is the longest country in the world, spanning about 2,800 miles from north to south via land.

I loved Brazil and I’m already planning to go back next year. I can say good morning, good evening, thank you, you’re welcome, goodbye and soy milk in Portuguese so I think I’m good. (Paraty)

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Obrigada and Ciao,

JAZ