Our day started very early. Always fun when you’re trying to adjust to a nine hour time difference. After an incredible breakfast in the hotel, (OK, there was a lot of bacon and sausage that I couldn’t touch, but there was a lot of awesome yogurt and cheeses) we started with a stimulating lecture. Dr. Sebastian Rejak, Senior Policy and Program Officer at the American Jewish Committee and former Special Envoy of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs for Relations with the Jewish Diaspora, spoke to us about politics here in Poland. He asked to keep it off the record so he could be a little bit more direct. I’m not exactly sure how direct he was or what he would’ve left out, but he shared with us some of the challenges of the nationalist movement that is happening here in Poland as well as the rise of anti-Semitism over the past couple of years.
We then made our way to the Gensha Cemetery, One of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. It was amazing to see this very old cemetery that was not touched by the Nazis during World War II. It was right outside the ghetto walls and was an active cemetery even during the war. In one section of the cemetery there are stones making a large circle that you then walk right through the center. It is in this area that close to 100,000 bodies were buried. A large grave of no names but so many souls. There is a moving tribute to Janusz Korczak walking and holding orphans who he cared for as together he went with them to the extermination camp, Treblinka.
We then made our way to the Path of Remembrance. It was on this journey that we saw a small part of the original wall from the ghetto along with memorial’s scattered along its path. The most moving section was where Mila 18 once stood. After the Nazis blew up the building leaving hundreds of bodies in its depths, it was decided to not completely remove the rubble and leave it as a memorial to the resistance fighters.
We continued to wind our way through the streets to the Polin Museum of Jewish Heritage. The museum is built on the spot where in 1948, amidst the rubble of Warsaw, a memorial was built to remember the resistance fighters of the Warsaw ghetto as well as the 3 million Jewish Poles who were killed. This is definitely a museum not to be missed as it takes one through the 1,000 year old Jewish history of Poland!
We concluded the day with a train ride from Warsaw to Kraków. Two very different cities. Warsaw, a city completely rebuilt after the war, and Kraków, a city that was never touched during wartime. Tomorrow, we will explore it and learn more about its intricate history. But for this evening, we enjoyed dinner in the Square that dates back to medieval times. Time for some sleep before another very full day.