The roads, the language, the devastation, the poverty, contributed to a hard few days in Poland.
Until Communism ended in Poland a few years ago, I would have ended up speaking Russian and Polish (no English), would have found only vinegar and mustard in the stores and would have had my travel limited to the Soviet Union, East Germany and (then) Czechoslovakia, but only Bulgaria if you were high enough in the party [so we were told by a young couple of Gdynia staying at the same campsite in Prague with us]. Forget any Jewish life. While there are certain stereotyped ideas about Poles when in Poland, we confronted the reality that Poles also suffered significantly in WWII, that they fought Nazis both when the Germans invaded and captured the country and continued in the Resistance, that their cities were completely devastated in the war (Gdansk and Warsaw in particular). Rebuilt Warsaw is pretty flat and ugly. The Soviets fortunately allowed Gdansk to rebuild the Old Town exactly as it was, which certainly makes it very charming.
The memorials everywhere are difficult. The Musee de Deportations in France, made no mention of the Holocaust in terms of the extermination of the Jews. It's also difficult to consider that Paris monuments and architecture were saved (thankfully) due to the early capitulation and Vichy collaboration with the Nazis. We've seen synagogues turned into museums repeatedly: four synagogues in Prague (more about that later), at least one in Krakow. In addition, of course, many synagogues have been destroyed, (including the hundreds of wooden synagogues burnt with their congregants in the many shtetlach throughout Poland). It's also creepy to shop for Judaica in a shop run by a non- Jew, as in Krakow, at a place called the Shalom Gallery. Here, you really confront the upheavals of Jews and Jewish life in a way you don't in the States. Checking out the histories of each of the communities we visit becomes a big blur of: attacks and accusations, expulsions, privileges granted and rescinded, ghettos built and destroyed and built again, Jew badges and special hats worn.
start || back || next