Monday, July 18, 2011

Warsaw and Majdanek

We left Germany and headed east to Warsaw via first class seats on a train. Th ride was about six hours, but time went quickly as we could move around and rest in intervals. Our hotel in Warsaw, Le Meridian Bristol Hotel could not be more posh! The hotel is located in wonderful spot not far from Old Town and adjacent to the presidential home (which consists of buildings on both sides of the road). The rooms, service and food were just as lavish as the location, and we soon found ourselves thankful that we have our last two nights of the trip there. Upon entering Warsaw one of our first destinations was exploring Old Town, and I was thrilled to go to the square, find a table and enjoy some lovely Zywick. It was a fabulous day!

During our initial two days in Warsaw we explored sites related to the ghetto, the Uprising in the ghetto, and Jewish/Yiddish life in pre-World War 2 Warsaw. We saw portions of the ghetto wall that remain standing and tried to envision how Vladka (who was apparently about my height but more frail) could scale those walls with such frequency as she went between the ghetto and the Aryan side. We also visited memorials at the ghetto deportation site, Mila 18 where the organizers of the uprising met, and for the ghetto uprising itself. One of our other stops was to the Jewish historical institute which was a building that predates the war and was a part of the large Reform synagogue that as destroyed by the Nazis. As we walked around we talked about how devastated and destroyed Warsaw was--first with the destruction of the ghetto after the uprising there and then the city wide uprising less than a year later. It was truly awesome to see these sights after having read Vladka's book.

We wrapped up our final day in Warsaw with a private Chopin recital in one of the last Polish king's palaces. It was an exquisite performance by an accomplished pianist. We had champagne at intermission and felt like royalty! We keep asking ourselves 'what are we going to do when we have to return to reality after this trip?'

After two fabulous days in Warsaw, we journeyed south to Lublin to visit the concentration camp/killing center of Majdanek. Since I was there just less than three months ago, I knew just how powerful a sight it can be. I tried to mention to my buddies how much it affected me, but there's no real way to prepare a person for it. It was a beautiful and warm Polish day--somewhat contradictory to the mood the sight evokes. Unfortunately, I know how effective going through such a sight can be with teenagers when you give them a bit of an overview but allow them to explore some of the facets on their own and reflect as they go. Since I know how amazing that process can be, I was disappointed that our group's leader and guide seemed set on lecturing for long periods of time at various parts of the camp. I went into the barracks with thousands of shoes, walked to 'my red shoe' (a shoe that has retained it's red coloring and that is located along the back wall), had my emotional breakdown, walked out to sit down, and reflected silently. Quiet, sincere reflection is a must at a site like Majdanek and many of the participants did not fully have that opportunity. I am interested to see how the tour of Auschwitz I and II turn out.

We're currently in Lublin for the afternoon and evening until we drive to the killing center of Belzec tomorrow, and then continue onward to Krakow.

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