Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 14: Krakow







We spent our last day in Krakow touring Wawel Hill with our guide, Paulina, and learning about the history of this beautiful city. We saw the beautiful Wawel Cathedral, where John Paul II said his first mass as a newly ordained priest, and Wawel Castle, with a beautiful courtyard that depicts medieval architecture.
video

We walk through the beautiful park that surrounds the Old Town of Krakow, and stop at Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest and best universities in all of Europe.  Inside the courtyard where Copernicus studied and taught, we watched the astrological clock strike eleven and the wooden professors marched out and in to beautiful music.
video


Winding our way down the hill and into the bright, warm and sunny market square, we entered Krakow's Market Square Underground Museum.  Inside, we saw the archeological remnants of the medieval society of Krakow that operated small booths and traded in this bustling market on the trade routes going across Europe.

From here, we go back above ground to the square, and enjoy an afternoon that includes lunch and shopping for souvenirs from beautiful, hospitable Krakow, before heading back to the hotel to blog and to prepare for our final dinner this evening.

Final Reflections:

Nicole says:
video
Dana says:
video

Jane says:
video

Kiefer says:
video

Mackenzie says:
video

Sarah says:
video

Shane says:
video

Matt says:
video

Gayle says:
video

Nick says:
video

Greg says:
video

Tara says:
video


Kyle says:
video

Trevor says:
video

Raquel says:
video

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 13: Rabka Zdroj - Zakopane



Today we continued our quest to find out more about Jewish life in the area, as well as learning about the culture of the Polish Highlanders, the mountain people of the Tatra Mountains in Zakopane.
video video








Our first stop on our journey south of Krakow was the small town of Rabka Zdroj, a spa resort town that has been a source of fresh air for people suffering from lung ailments for more than a century.  Before the war, there was a Jewish community living here in part of the city; however, during the war the Gestapo took over part of a convent and used it as a school for interrogation training.  Their practice came from torturing Jews to death, then throwing the bodies out behind the convent building. Some of the nuns here, at great personal risk, drug the bodies uphill to a remote wooded area where they buried the bodies as best as possible given the circumstances.





We walked through the damp, cold grass beside the convent, uphill through the woods on a barely distinguishable path.  Now a memorial and fence surrounds the area of burial, and a memorial marker reads: "In honor of the martyrs who dies at the hand of Hitlerites 1941-1942."


video

Shalmi told us that this place represents both the depths to which society can sink, evidenced by the Gestapo using Jews for torturous interrogation practice; and the heights to which society can rise, evidenced by the nuns risking their lives to properly bury the Jewish bodies.
videoWe continue by bus up into the Tatra mountains to Zakopane, where we enjoy a delicious Polish meal and buying souvenirs from the local vendors.

On our way back to Zakopane, Shalmi told us the story of his childhood in Poland, where his father served as the Israeli ambassador to Poland.  Born in Tel Aviv in 1945, Shalmi and his family moved to Warsaw in 1954, where he lived "a privileged life" compared to most Poles.  He attended a school for diplomats with American students and here learned the English language.  The Poles struggled to make a life in Warsaw a city in ruins hidden by elaborate facades depicting painted buildings, some even with window boxes of flowers painted on them. Here is where Shalmi learned about being Jewish, something he wasn't even cognizant of as a child in Israel.

When he was 13, he was the first person to have his Bar Mitzvah in the only remaining synagogue in Warsaw.  He assumed that no one would come because there were very few Jews here.  However, he and his family were surprised when they arrived to a synagogue packed with Jews from all over Poland who came to see the Israeli boy read from the Torah.  After reciting from the Torah, his father pushed him into the crowd, where Shalmi said people touched him and kissed their fingers, as if he were a holy object like the Torah carried throughout the synagogue for Simchat Torah. For these people who had survived the Holocaust, Shalmi represented hope and new life for the Jewish people of Poland.

Although he is not certain if this is why he became a Holocaust scholar, spending his formative years in Warsaw changed him.  We are thankful that he has been with us throughout our Holocaust Study Tour 2014.  We all hugged him when he left us this evening at our hotel, thanking him for teaching us so well.

Student Reflections

Nick says:
Today we learned of the story of bravery by the nuns of Rabjka Convent where they strived to give a proper burial to the Jewish people that were tortured ad used as guinea pigs by the Nazis.  We climbed the mountain to visit the cemetery and to see for ourselves the dangers the nuns went through to insure last rights to the murdered people.

Mackenzie says:
Today we visited a cemetery that had an incredible background.  At a monastery in Rabjka on our way to Zakopane we visited a burial site in which the nuns gave Jews killed by the Nazis in the town proper Jewish burial.  It was very moving to know that the nuns made the effort to give these people a burial.   This showed the true humanity and bravery of these nuns.

Trevor says:
Over the past two days I have learned a lot about people. From the reconstruction of the synagogue to Dabrowna Tarnoska,  to the bravery of the nuns in Rabjka, I saw the height of humanity as a response to humanity’s lowest point and that people are capable of doing what is right.

Kyle says:
The past few days have days have been unlike anything I could have expected. Mr. Barmore has taught us more than I can even process in such a short period of time. Today we visited a mass grave in Rabjka in which the nuns of the convent gave the Jews killed by the Nazis a proper burial.  This showed me a glimmer of hope during a very dark period in history and that it is possible that humanity can respond properly in such circumstances.

Jane says:
Today I found it compelling that a group of Catholic nuns gave the Jews killed in their convent in Rabjka a proper Jewish burial.  Visiting this cemetery and mass grave caused me to admire these nuns greatly because they defied evil with humanity.  I learned that even during such dark times, humanity is possible.

Gayle says:
Yesterday we travelled to Tarnow and we saw the ruins of the synagogue that had been burned by the Nazis in 1939.  This stood out to me because Mr. Barmore said how they would hold concerts and events now near the bima ruins. This showed me how Poland today is capable of acknowledging and preserving Jewish heritage. 


Matt says:
Seeing the cemetery today in Rabjka in which the nuns of the convent gave the murdered Jews a proper burial made me realize how much these nuns risked to honor these victims.  Their heroism was not lost on me and I will always remember this very powerful place. 

Dana says:
Visiting the hidden Jewish cemetery today, made me realize what true respect and humanity is.  Learning about how the nuns risked their lives to gather the bodies of the dead Jews and give them a proper burial was eye-opening.  It proved to me that no matter how awful or low people can fall, there will always be others to rise to the occasion and do what is right.

Greg says:
I found the Galicia museum in Krakow very intriguing.  I really liked how it showed pictures of past and present Jewish life in Galicia.   The picture of the missing mezuzah on a door post especially impacted me.  The museum displayed Jewish places of disrespect, murder, and dilapidation; however the museum did a really great job of showing monuments to perished Jews, renovated synagogues, and memorials.

Sarah says:
In the past couple days I have witnesses the preservation of Jewish heritage in small Polish towns, whose Jewish populations were decimated during the Holocaust.  In Tarnow, which used to be 45% Jewish, they have preserved the bima of the old synagogue that the Nazis had destroyed in 1939.  It now proudly stands as a testament to the once-thriving Jewish quarter there, a reminder that the Nazis ultimately failed in their attempt to erase the influential presence of Jewish life in Europe.

Nicole says:
I thought that the cemetery that we had visited today had a very powerful story. .  The nuns of the monastery nearby had preserved and buried the bodies of the murdered Jewish people who were killed by the Nazis.  It is a powerful story that they would be so respectful of these people’s lives to properly bury them out of respect. 

Raquel says:
Today walking through the woods to visit the “hidden” Jewish cemetery in Rabka, gave me some thought as to why it was hidden in the woods.  Just knowing that not many people know or even care about this cemetery is heartbreaking because it was part of a history and a big part of the survivors of the Holocaust.  People may not care but just before you know it history can repeat itself.

Kiefer says:
Today I witnessed the place where the Christian nuns left a nameless mass grave for the tortured Jews which left me awestruck for the compassion and caring for others that the nuns had shown.  The selfless acts were an amazing thing just for the pure fact that they had done it without anyone asking them to do so and without the proper knowledge of a Jewish funeral.  They gave a proper resting place to the murdered Jews just out of the goodness of their hearts. 


Tara says:
During yesterday’s visit to the museum about Pope John Paul II, I liked how he was in theater and the arts before switching majors to theology, which eventually led him to becoming the pope.  I, too, am interested in a lot of different things, particularly the arts, and the fact that he was so successful, despite completely changing his mind due to his liking of a myriad of activities and ideas was inspiring.

Shane says:

Yesterday we visited a restored synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska.  This synagogue stood out to me because it shows how the some members of the Polish community  are recognizing and honoring  the history of the Jewish people in Poland.  What that means to me is that people are remembering the past and learning from it rather than forgetting it.










Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 12: Wadowice - Tarnow - Dabrowa Tarnowska




Today we experienced three new cities in our quest to discover and learn more about the extensive history of Jewish life in Poland before World War II.  Our first stop was Wadowice, best known as the birthplace of Pope John Paul II, who will be canonized as a saint April 27, 2014.  Born in 1920 in a house owned by Jews where his parents rented three rooms, Karol Józef Wojtyła grew up in a thriving Jewish community where he went to school, acted in a drama company and even dated a Jewish girl. At the newly opened museum of his life here in Wadowice, we learned about Jewish history in the first room of the exhibition. Our guide Paulina told us that John Paul II used the phrase "older brothers" to describe the relationship between Jews and Catholics.While in Wadowice, we enjoyed a coffee break eating the Pope's favorite cream cake, similar to a Napoleon, but lighter and creamier.

  video


video
Next we journeyed to the city of Tarnow, two hours east of Krakow, where we stood in the cold drizzle underneath the only remnants of the Skwer Starej Synagogue: the beautiful, tall bima.  The Nazis destroyed the synagogue in 1939, but many of the buildings that were part of the Tarnow Ghetto remain. The Nazis massacred massive numbers of Jews in 1942 and 1943, including 8,000 Jewish orphans buried in mass grave just outside the city. On our way out of the city, we drove by the expansive Jewish Cemetery, one of the oldest and largest remaining in Poland after World War II.
video
At the last stop of our day, Dabrowa Tarnowska, which means "the oak forests near Tarnow" in English, we met three amazing Polish high school teachers who have worked tirelessly to educate students here about the Holocaust and the history of Jews in the area. We met them at a beautifully restored synagogue in the center of the city that opened in June of 2012 as a center for the study of the culture of Jews and Poles in the area.




Shalmi told us that when he first started bringing groups to Poland for tours in 1986, this synagogue was in ruins and they had to literally crawl under fence openings to get inside.  Now the synagogue glows with ornate paintings, marble painted pillars and clear lead glass windows.







For these Polish teachers, who were brought up in communist Poland, the synagogue represents freedom and democracy.  For Shalmi, the synagogue represents hope and the fact that despite all of the ugly history of this place, change is possible. We said goodbye to the teachers, promising to return next year with a new group of students, and to communicate to plan a gathering of their Polish students and our American students here at the synagogue in 2015.

video
video