Saturday, April 5, 2008

Shabbat in Warsaw: "Mir Zeinen Da" [We are still here]

I spent this past Shabbat in Warsaw. Later today [Sunday] I shall meet up with a group of Americans and Israelis who are arriving in Poland under the auspices of the Wexner Foundation.

Yesterday I attended services on Saturday morning at Beit Warszawa, the Jewish Cultural Association. It was a Reform/non-traditional service. [Though, in fact, the liturgy etc. were pretty traditional.] There were about 20 people in attendance. Afterwards Rabbi Burt Shuman, an American born rabbi who has been here a number of years, asked me to lead the group in a conversation about Holocaust denial. That was followed by lunch and Torah study.

One of the rabbis is an Israeli. She spoke about participating in an Israeli television show done recently in Poland. She lamented the fact that it began with Yiddish songs and was all about the past. There was no sense of a contemporary Jewish life.

The striking thing was the age of those there. I would say that the majority were in their 30s and 40s. There are many other people -- of all ages and stages -- involved in Beit Warshava's many other activities.

Later in the afternoon I spent a couple of hours with Jerzy Halberstat, the Director of the soon to be built Museum of Polish Jewish History. It is an amazing project with a dynamite group of people involved in the planning and conception of it, among them Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, one of the most creative people around.

Tomorrow a.m. I shall go to a retreat center outside of Warsaw to meet with a group of Polish students who will be working this summer as counselors in the JDC [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] sponsored summer camp. They are having an orientation session this weekend and I shall be having a discussion with them this morning.

The reason I write all this is that so many Jews who come to visit Poland think of it as a Jewish cemetery. They treat it as a place where Jews once lived and were destroyed. That's true. However, in the words of the Jewish Partisan anthem from the Holocaust, Zog Nit Keynmol, mir zeinen da, we [they] are still here.

[Many visitors come confused about who did the destroying, i.e. it was the GERMANs not the Poles. They come with the historically daft idea that the Poles were worse than the Germans.... but more on that in another post. For my previous thoughts on that see the my comments here.]

I am also reading Poland and the Jews: Reflections of a Polish Polish Jew by Stanislaw [Stashek] Krajewski who is on the Philosophy faculty at the University of Warsaw and who is helping design the portion of the aforementioned museum dedicated to post-Holocaust Jewish life in Poalnd. In addition, Stashek consults to the American Jewish Committee about Polish Jewish matters.

Stashek has become a traditional Jew. [Had a fantastic Shabbat dinner at his home.] He grew up knowing nothing about tradition or Jewish practices. He is also a Polish Jew. During the very bleak days in the 1980s -- which turned out to be the death throes of communist rule -- Stashek wrote for the underground press. Some of those essays are included in the book.

When I was here in October I met with members of the Czulent [pronounced chulent] society, the Jewish "student" [many in the group are not students] organization in Cracow. I shall do so again later this week.

Visitors -- young and old -- often find it emotionally and intellectually simpler to treat this place as one with a past but with no future. The community may be small. There are many Jews still in the woodwork. There are many who are still hesitant about emerging. It is a complicated situation. But it is not just a place about the past. For visitors to come and see only that is to shortchange both themselves and a small but fascinating Jewish community.

More later. I am off for an early morning walk in the "Old City" of Warsaw.

6 comments:

FAIIRPLAY said...

Hi,

Please could I ask; would you find out from someone how to pronounce certain words in Polish and write them down for us all to make an 50 word 'Jewish interests/ topics guide' on how to pronounce: Warsaw, LLodz, Kracow, Bialystock, Ghetto, Auchwitz, Birkenau, Belzec, Maidjanek, Jew, Jewish, Chelmno, Treblinka, Pawiak, Holocaust, Jewish cemetary.etc. No doubt you can think of other useful words to add.

The reason I ask is because I wanted to go to Llodz, at the rail station the ticket clerk give me a ticket to Llodz, marked Warsaw to Llodz, I got on the train, and 180 mile later ended up in another Llodz a small village on the Czechsolovak / Polish border. Whether this was deliberate or not I cannot say, all I can say is that it happened, and any railway ticket clerk with 2 ounces of common-sense would know I wanted Llodz, Polands second largest city. This happened twice to me and its a sobering thought that you cannot ask for travel advice on how to travel to Treblinka [village or camp] because they will say "they've never heard of it". If you then ask for, or say it's near Malkinia Juction, you get the same unhelpful stare.
I know Warsaw is Vaw - Saw, but if you say 'V'aw-Saw, it does not seem to work. An idiots guide is needed, in my case for age 7, primary school.

Deborah Lipstadt said...

i can assure that if you ask for directions or a ticket to Treblinka, everyone will understand exactly what you want.

Warsaw is Varshava.

Llodz is [sort of] Wodg. [not quite]

Krakow is Crakov.

Ludovic said...

« They ignore the fact that to the Germans Auschwitz was German territory and was to be the site of a major German settlement. »

Auschwitz is a German name for a city called Oświęcim (with an accute accent on "s" and "ogonek" diacritic on "e") in the Polish language. If it had been a Polish territory at that time, we would perhaps call it Oświęcim in English today, not Auschwitz. For this reason, I think Faiirplay's question about how things are called in the Polish language is a good question not only because it helps when travelling in Poland, but also because it helps understand history.

Two comments on your october 2007 post "enduring myth : the poles were worse than the nazis":

1)
a) In 1905 the Dreyfus affair was almost finished, and it was a Dreyfus victory, showing that anti-semitism could be defeated in a democracy. The worse time for anti-Dreyfus anti-semitism is 1898 when anti-jewish riots took place in many French cities, two Jews beeing killed in Algiers in January, among other violence. However, I have not heard any reports that the anti-Dreyfus leaders had been planning genocide.

b) Simon Epstein wrote a book, perhaps not yet translated into English, "Les Dreyfusards sous l'occupation", (Paris: Albin Michel, 2001) in which he shows that there is no direct connection between 19th century anti-dreyfusism and 20th century pro-hitler collaborationism. For example, Marshal Pétain, the head of state of collaborationist France, though no vocal pro-Dreyfus, believed Dreyfus was innocent. Pierre Laval, number two of the regime, had been a pro-Dreyfus enthousiast when he was young.

2) I could give you an exact quote of Simone Veil in which she says that all in all, it had been better for French Jews that France, unlike Poland, kept a somewhat autonomous government within the Hitlerian empire, because members of the Resistance within the police and within the bureaucracy could warn some of the Jews before the police came so that they could escape.

FAIIRPLAY said...

[Q]From Ludovic who quoting Simone Veil said: "It had been better for French Jews that France, unlike Poland, kept a somewhat autonomous government within the Hitlerian empire, because members of the Resistance within the police and within the bureaucracy could warn some of the Jews before the police came so that they could escape".

It needs to be pointed out that afer the war quite a number of French Police were arrested and some were executed for gross collaboration. From memory I recall that 2 Pro-Nazis French Policemen tortured a man badly, gouged out his eyes and put insects [known in the UK as Black-clocks] in his empty eye sockets, then sewed up his eyelids. This small paragraph as stuck in my throat for many years. Suffice to say the Paris Frenses prison [situated about 30 miles outside Paris] was manned by 'Many a patriotic French warder' none of whom was known to quietly open the gates to let the prisoners escape. I imagine by 1946 these traitors were busy !proclaiming themselves to be brave members of the Resistance! The Holocaust is getting to me, and its anecdotes like this which make one shudder and recall from society.

Robert said...

FAIIRPLAY, I find your persistent anti-Polish attitude quite sobering. I always felt a bit ashamed whenever I’ve seen antisemitic stuff on the internet or anyone made such remark in my presence. Your comments on this blog and some comments from other people I’ve read on Haaretz website made me see it differently. Seems there are some thick-skulled Poles (Brits, French etc.) as well as Jews, always were and probably always will be and there’s nothing one can do about it. So why worry if there always will be Poles thinking that Jews rule the world etc and Jews thinking that Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk?
Regarding your trip to Lodz story. According to Wikipedia there are two villages in Poland called Lodz, both in central Poland and not even close to Czech border. None of them has a railway station and Polish version of National Rail Enquiries lists the following stations that name’s include Lodz:
Łódź Andrzejów - Łódź Fabryczna - Łódź Kaliska - Łódź Niciarniana - Łódź Widzew - Łódź Żabieniec
All of which are located in or near Lodz you were going to, so perhaps you got of the train to early or to late in one of Lodz’s satellite stations???
BTW do you think the ticket clerk could somehow sense that you are Jewish to give you a wrong ticket? I’m only asking because judging from your posts you were probably well disguised for you survival trip to Poland....
As to pronunciation, Most of the places you mention has a pronunciation described in Wikipedia together with a sound file. Pawiak – Pavyak, Jew, Jewish, Jewish cemetery – Żyd, Żydowski, Cmentarz Żydowski – pronunciation here is pretty difficult, so I suggest you write those down on a piece of paper. Drop me a line when you’re next in Poland I’ll give you my mobile number and translate for you so you can buy a ticket you want.

FAIIRPLAY said...

Reply to Robert [see above post]

I am very much like the well known American humorist Will Rogers who said "I never met a man I didn't like". This is very true of me but having said this I am also the type whose wary, watchful and apprehensive. Suffice to say the Polish working class and blue collar workers did not appeal to me one bit. For fairness I need to add I was a foreigner, I was looking for places of Jewish interest and I felt like a Muslim in New York looking for a Mosque the day after 9-11.

Yesterday Professor Lipstadt was in Maidjanek, can I confess that walking from the bus stop outside this camp and through the camp gates and up the hill to the camp monument [the tall white toadstool looking structure which is an open grave for tonnes of human bone and ash frightened the life out of me. And during this walk into the camp I became a frightened prisoner Jew. And that's what it is with me and Poland, I subconciously step into the victims shoes and realise the helplessness of their plight.

The Llodz train ticket story: I was aware that Llodz was to the west, the train appeared to be taking hours to complete a 70km journey?, I ended up 180km away, in a small village called Llodz. I got back on the train and ended up in Katowice late that night. I really did want to visit Llodz.

I suspect a small number of Poles and Polish youth's have a 'bit of sport or fun' with foreigners by sending them in the wrong direction. This happened in Prague also, the idiots who do this more often than not 'betray their intention by their manner and laughing eyes.' Its always males, never women who do this. These are not anti-semitic incidents but modern day life. It happens all over the world. We need to remember that in war sentiment and patriotism rules, and 'there but for the grace of god go I'. I would be pleased to meet up with you in Poland, or your welcome here. Fairplay. Leeds, UK.