Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Greetings from Krakow

There is so much to tell, I don't quite know where to begin. It continues to be a day with amazing contrasts. VIP treatment, hobnobbing with the Vice President of the USA, and then continuous reminders that we are here to commemorate the anniversary of Auschwitz.

We arrived in Krakow in the midst of a snowstorm [after having been served a gourmet breakfast cooked by an air force person on the plane who, when she's not on this jet, is either cooking on Air Force I or being a flight instructor]. As we landed in the blinding snow, a massive number of cars and vans pulled up plane side. Loads of people jumped into action.

The US ambassador got out of his car with some other Embassy officials to greet us as the "guests of the President." Even as we came off the plane our luggage was already being unloaded. [If ever there was a reminder that were not flying Delta this was it.]

We came to the Radisson which, we were told, was under shin bet -- Israel secret service -- control because Pres Katsav is staying here. Of course when Rep. Tom Lantos asked the General Manager of the hotel if Katsav was here... she hemmed and hawed and said: "I can't answer that." Lantos gave her his card and said "Well, if he's here give him my card."

We then went off to a lovely 5 course lunch. Great conversation. The Lento’s are fascinating and Fred Schwartz, a member of the delegation, is a great guy. He's the one responsible for rebuilding the synagogue at Auschwitz [the town].

We came back for a quick change of clothes -- I also managed to squeeze in an interview with a reporter -- and then went off to the castle where VP Cheney was meeting with the Pres of Poland. After a few minutes he came in with his wife, daughter, and grand-daughter. Lynn Cheney came right over to me and said: "thanks for your work on Holocaust denial." I gave the VP a copy of History on Trial.

After a bit more chitchat we headed off to a reception for survivors and American visitors to the events. A number of people commented to me how impressed they were with the White House at having chosen to send someone who teaches about these events. [The Europeans sent 130 students but not one teacher or professor of Holocaust studies.]

I had a talk with Cheney's daughter and granddaughter. The mom asked for reading suggestions for her daughter.

Finally back to the hotel, emails and bogs and ready to fade.

While I sit here writing this a crew of State Department folks are sitting here with the Deputy Chief of Protocol [who is with our delegation] talking about the most efficacious way of getting us out to Auschwitz/Birkenau tomorrow so that we can get "good seats" and be there on time. [They were debating the pros and cons of putting our van in the VP's motorcade. Yes: we get there efficiently, with police escort, and without delay. Con: When you go with the VP it's a lot of "hurry up and wait and wait and wait."] After listening for a quite a while, I finally just turned around to them and pointed out that they were debating how to get us to, I emphasize to, Birkenau so that we could get good seats there.

It's all a bit much and rather surrealistic. More tomorrow.