Warsaw – June 16 – day 1.5

To all you dads out there – happy dad’s day.  For me (and my dad) Father’s Day is extremely special. I was his first gift – born oh those many years ago on Father’s Day. Our tradition is to wish each other a happy birthday on Father’s Day. For those of you who are wondering – I sent him a text early this morning and then phoned from Poland. If you can, have you called your father today?

Last summer while in Warsaw, I never left the hotel the conference was in except to go to dinner almost every night. The most I saw of Warsaw was on our last evening in Poland when we all went to dinner int he old city.  This year, we are staying a short walk away.  Today, a visit to the Polin Museum was on our list.

My luggage was delivered last night, and I slept, so all was well with the world (well my little piece of it anyway) this morning.  Marek and I went walking through the old city (Stary Miasto).  It’s really so charming. There’s no telling what lurks around the corner.

We walked to the Polin Museum, arriving just before our scheduled English tour.  The Museum is truly amazing. Our guide was nice, but her choice of words when describing Jewish history, while diplomatic, was misleading and put a gloss on Jewish history which was out of place. It’s really interesting hearing that the Jews decided to leave Spain and go to Poland, or that, in for example Krakow and Kazimierz, the Jews chose to live outside the Krakow city walls.  The tour was a 2 hour walking tour, with a lot of listening. There were so many words, at some point I just tuned out. I highly recommend the Museum. Maybe a better way would be to go through the core exhibit, reading the story boards, etc, at one’s own pace and then coming back for a tour to fill in gaps. The story boards are extremely well done.DSC09884

We walked and walked. All told by the time we got back to the hotel we had walked about 15,000 steps – thank you FitBit for that information.

On the way back to the hotel we passed by the remnants of the Warsaw ghetto. It was interesting seeing signs embedded in the pavement that told us where the walls stood.DSC09896.JPG

I was very moved, to the point of tears at the Museum when we were walking through the area devoted to the history of the area from September 1, 1939 through the war. It’s the other part of the balance of the camps on one side and what happened to the people before they were sent to the camps, or who never got there.

This evening, at dinner with Marek and one of our researchers who lives in Poland, the researcher asked which of the Polish cities I liked best. I didn’t know how to answer, so I replied honestly. Warsaw and Krakow are beautiful, as a city not ravaged by the war, Krakow like Przsemysl has an incredible beauty as a medieval city. Small towns and villages and the countryside are breathtaking. Warsaw in its reconstructed and renovated state has a distinctly poignant beauty, but I can’t get away from the memory of war and death and extraordinary tragedy. I see it in the streets and feel it in the stones we walk on. On the one hand, I wish I could forget and ignore what transpired, on the other hand, I’m glad that I can’t. It all needs to be remembered and not repeated. Not here, not anywhere.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Tomorrow has arrived

Yes, today was once tomorrow – if that sounds confusing, you probably don’t want to be inside my head (actually you probably never want to be inside my head). After a 10+ hour trip from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam, we arrived half an hour late. Generally no biggie, but in this case, it was a bit stressful. If you’ve been to the Amsterdam airport, you’ll be able to picture the dash to passport control from way over on the other side of the airport. There was originally only 70 minutes between flights. The delay wasn’t made up in the air so we landed with only 45 minutes. Exiting from the plane to the tarmac, getting on a bus to the terminal ate into those precious minutes, so did the dash to passport control, to say nothing of waiting on line – we guard got me into the line in from of the first person whose flight was leaving later than mine but the guy in front of me had some sort of problem (whatever it was, it was in one of the many languages I don’t speak. Finally got through passport control.

My gate was next to the last one (86 out of 87) at the far end of the terminal. Thankfully, that flight was delayed by 9 minutes. I got to the line behind the last 5 people. The flight from Amsterdam to Warsaw was just as calm as the flight to Warsaw. All was well wiht the world until it came to baggage. Mine was nowhere to be found.  The Delta app indicated that it would be on a later flight, arriving almost 5 hours after me! Still calm, but sweating in my too hot clothes, I filled out a lost baggage claim and they promised my stuff would be delivered to the hotel tonight.

Marek was waiting for me, and we caught a cab to the center of old town – that was where our charming, old hotel was. Marek had already been there, and told me that I didn’t want to be. He was right. It was indeed charming  – on the outside. The best I could say about the rooms was that they were tiny and very hot. No a/c.  We went on a madcap quick search for a hotel with the amenities our previously chosen place was supposed to have, and lucked out with the beautiful and recently renovated Sofitel.

We made a mad dash to get our stuff which we had stashed in Marek’s room. That mad dash took us past many, many ice cream and gelato stalls.  Do you know how delicious chocolate sorbet can be? Trust me, it’s incredible.

After being awake for about 30 hours, I think I need to sleep now.

W

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Tomorrow and Today: Reflections

Today I am packing and preparing for a diverse travel and research experience in two countries that share so much history and yet retained very distinct cultures, languages and much more. I’ll be landing in Warsaw and spending a week doing things that I didn’t have time to do last year during the IAJGS conference – visiting archives, museums and exploring the city. The first time I remember learning anything about Warsaw more than just a cursory mention of the city’s name was in Junior High School back in the dark ages when there were still Junior High Schools – I think it was in 7th grade that we read Uris’ book, Mila 18. As in so many other places I travel in Eastern Europe, echoes and shadows of the Shoah follow in my tracks. The history of what happened in these places is never far from my thoughts. However, these places are, I admit, so much more than those echoing tears and screams. Reconstruction and restoration has not erased them. I don’t know the words to use that are proper here but I will say that the Jewish presence is very obvious whether in the various monuments, historical markers or even in conversation about the people who were.

Last year as I traveled through Warsaw, Kaunas, Vilnius, recording my thoughts in photos and words, some of which were reflected in the blog posts I wrote on this site, everything was new for me, and I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t register. This year, as I revisit the archives in Lithuania, as I ride and walk through some of the same towns and streets I visited last year, I wonder what kind of impressions I will take away.

After  week in Warsaw, I’ll be in Lithuania for two weeks. Last year I faced our trip with a great deal of trepidation, this year I am eager to learn more, see more, and remember and reflect not only what happened,  but what is today, what is in the here and now.

Posted in Uncategorized

May 31 Archives and More

I can’t believe it – between yesterday and today, Marek and I each stood for over 11 hours making copies of documents in archives and parish repositories.  My aching feet. Oh, yeah – my back is beyond aching.  At the 1 hour point, it was aching, 5 hours later, I could barely move.

Researching in archives (I know I’m repeating myself) is very much like untangling a ball of wool after the cat’s been playing with it all day. If Marek and I hadn’t gone to the Mielec Office of Civil Records, we wouldn’t have found out about the museum. If we hadn’t gone to the museum, we wouldn’t have found out that the Rzeszow archives (where we were going anyway) held ID applications.  These ID card applications include birth records, marriage records and information about travel, family history and more.  Some of them had over 20 documents attached! And most precious of all – there are photos of the applicants, sometimes multiple photos from different years. To find the records you want, you need t loo in two places – in printed indexes, and in indexes only available on servers at the archives.  Of course there are duplications, but there are plenty of records in one place and not the other.DSC08237

Records generally have to be requested the day before you want to look at them, so it’s a two day process.

The best things we looked at over the last two days were a book of church records from the 1780s and a wooden church built in the late 15h century.DSC07940

The church was in Łęki Górne (pronounced Wenki Gorna) which in itself was a sort of strange town.  It was very long, and on either side of the main road were country roads that led off to field or sometimes houses. The lanes had signs that looked like street signs. Really, there were no street signs – these signs had the town name and the house numbers that were on the streets.

Back to the US tomorrow for a couple of weeks.  BTW – if you’r in Krakow, I thoroughly recommend Papa Gelato – after tasting ice cream and gelato all over this area of Poland for two weeks (after all, a day without ice cream is a day really missing something) Papa Gelato was my absolute favorite.

Just FYI – getting information is sometimes really difficult – you don’t know the questions to ask that will point you in the right direction. As we were leaving the Rzeszow archives, Marek was having a discussion with the director of the reading room who told him that all the metrical records for Kolbuszowa were in the library there! The big question is what are they doing there? Unfortunately, those will have to wait for another trip. Marek is off to Ukraine to do research for a few days before meeting me in Warsaw on June 15.  I’ll spend a few days in Warsaw and then head off for Lithuania for two weeks.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

May 29 & 30 Polish Towns and Archives

Our objective during the last few days of travel was to get to the archives in Sanok and Rzeszow, to go back to a parish office and look at records there, and to drive to several places to hunt down leads of where documents might be stored.  Our first stop was Mielec (pronounced Mee-eh-lets).DSC06984

The countryside is so green and lush.  Of course, the rain which has been almost non-stop is the reason for it.  I could have used a few drier days during this trip. Perhaps when I return in two weeks to Warsaw, there will be less precipitation.

DSC07006

Our first stop in Mielec was the Office of the Civil Records. This is where records are held prior to being turned over to the Historical Archives, and many but not all of the records come under privacy laws.  We wanted to find out what they had that might be pertinent to the Jewish community that was once here.  The director of the Office was very nice.  He showed us some books that they have which had indexes of names and spoke with us for quite a while about where records in Mielec might be.  He told us that there was a ruin of the former synagogue near the central square and that the local museum might have information for us. Off we headed to explore the town and find the museum.

I know that WWII affected more than just the Jewish community. I know that a lot of innocent people were murdered in the camps and on the streets.  I know this. I never claim that this wasn’t so.  Poles still live and thrive in their ancestral towns. All that is left, in most places, like Mielec, of a Jewish community numbering about 3,000 in mid-20th century, is a stone in an empty field where a synagogue once stood, and a cemetery whose stones are mostly at the bottom of a nearby river.

I understand that there is a project at the university in Krakow that is trying to read and record the stones which remain in the field and in the river. At least the names will be remembered.

I’m glad that most of our time remaining here will be spent in archives, looking at old records which for the most part, don’t stir such feelings of anguish. Parish records – baptisms, marriage banns and death records are also safe places for me to go.  My emotions as I walk the streets of the communities that were, just make me want to leave here, but on the other hand, I am here, we still live.

On to the museum which hopefully will be able to give us some insight into where records might be.DSC07064

The director at the museum was amazing, and spent a long time with us, showing us some books.  One of the books was the book we looked at while we were at the Office of the Civil Records and there was a copy he could sell us.  Two other books I was able to get online – a good thing since my luggage is definitely lacking space.

He told us of identity card applications which are held in Rzeszow archives.  We plan to spend parts of our last two days in those archives.  We headed out to the Sanok archives first, to look for some records we hoped would be there, but they were not.

The 30th was spent primarily in doors, photographing records, and there isn’t much to report YET – we have to return to pick up the records.

As I write this, in the US it is very late at night on the 30 or very early in the morning on the 31, depending on where your are (of course) and early morning on the 31 in Rzeszow.  I have to rush out to get to the Rzeszow archives around 8 AM and I absolutely must have coffee first.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Uncategorized

Mixed up and out of order – what day is it?

I admit that this isn’t the most efficient way to keep track of things and at this point, several weeks into a trip, it adds confusion more than clarity. I do know where I am.  Right now, I’m writing from the Bristol Hotel in Rzeszow, Poland. We are back here for several days. My computer is on Mountain Time (and date) and so is my camera. They both stay with that time zone no matter where (or when ) I am.  That is where, after traveling to so many different places, the confusion enters into things.  Now that I’ve probably confused anyone who might still be reading…

We began our last morning in Krakow, after taking J to the airport, with our final research trip to the archives in Krakow. One of the special challenges of researching in the archives is the inconsistent hours each is open. They all open some time between 8 and 9 AM. Some close for lunch. Some days they are open until 2, sometimes until 3 or 4. Each archive is different, and the reading room, where documents are requested and read are typically closed an hour earlier than the archive itself. It’s difficult to carve out sufficient time on any trip to look at every relevant document in an 8 hour work day, but there are never 8 hour days in the archives.  We know that if we have time to identify the documents we need, but insufficient time to review them, we can always request that they be sent to us.DSC06528

In this particular instance, we had already done that last week, and only needed to look through about a dozen books of death records for the records we had already identified. It’s a pleasure working in the archives in Poland. We are permitted to take photos of records we find as long as they do not violate privacy rules.

The weather started out beautifully in the morning, and then, as we walked through Krakow, we encountered weather changes.  In case anyone thinks I’m exaggerating here, I really am not. It was warm and sunny, then chilly and rainy, then warm and cloudy, then cold and rainy, over and over again – the weather probably changed every 5-10 minutes.  Umbrella out, raincoat on, raincoat off, umbrella closed, raincoat (for warmth) on, raincoat off.  Maddening.

Once we got in the car, at least we were able to control the temperature in the car, and it was dry. We did have a very long drive ahead of us, needing to drive through many towns on the way to Rzeszow to take photos of the places we would be researching in various archives.  Today, on the way to Rzeszow, we stopped in Limanowa, Łąkta Górna (pronounced Wankta Gorneh), Nowy Sącz and others.  Some photos were in the car as we passed signs letting us know we were entering and leaving a particular place (getting out of the car in the middle of a busy road is something I try to avoid).

 

The countryside as always is beautiful, and the roads are very well maintained.  Churches abound and are an expected part of the landscape. The colorful houses lend an interesting twist as we drive by. What is missing not only on the side of the road but in the towns and cities is not only a current Jewish presence, but even a significant or intact indication that a lot of these towns and villages once had a Jewish presence that was 50% or more of the total population.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

May 27 – a breaking heart – Auschwitz

A normal, average, run of the mill pleasant spring day. An abnormal abhorrent place. In all the books I’ve read, all the movies I’ve seen, all the classes I’ve taught about the blight in human history called Shoah, nothing could have ever prepared me for the enormity of Birkenau. For the horror I felt passing under those infamous gates. I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said, no more tears to add to those already shed. The only thoughts I can think are those already expressed – primarily Santayana’s Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” and those of Pastor Martin Niemöller

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Image result for kaddish prayer

Posted in Uncategorized