Journal: My Journey to Poland - A 2nd Generation's Journey

Journal: My Journey to Poland Nov. 2007
 
I accompanied my son's 12th grade class on their 1 week journey to Poland to learn about the Holocaust. 
 
I shared my journal with family and friends by writing emails.  
 
 
Date: Nov 2, 2007 8:00 AM
Subject: Lublin, Poland  
 
Just a quick note from Poland.  Finally got to a computer but unfortunately it won't 
connect to gmail so I am using my yahoo address and don't have everyone's address. 
(and not sure of some of these addresses so I apologize if I'm sending this to someone I 
don't know.)    
 
We have been 3 days on our journey in Poland and I am so thankful that I have made 
this journey.   My fears of coming to Poland, for the first time, with a group of 16 and 17 
year olds has turned to immense pleasure.  The kids are absolutely amazing and my 
most emotional moment was taking a photo of these kids draped in Israeli flags at the 
memorial ceremony in Treblinka.  I thought of my father looking at these photos and just 
cried, thinking of how happy he will be to see this - young Israeli youth returning to this 
most horrible place on earth - strong, young - the best revenge to Hitler and those that 
wanted a pure Aryan race.    
 
It has been a mix of emotions from almost terror while standing in a cattle car in Lodz 
when suddenly a real train passed by as we were in it - to extreme happiness when I 
saw Poland from the plane and was really excited - feeling my roots as Polish.    
 
On Sat I am going alone with Alon to Bochnia, the town where my parents were born 
and grew up. I met a wonderful woman from Krakow on the plane and she arranged a 
meeting for me in Bochnia with the daughter and granddaughter of a classmate of my 
mother.  This classmate gave my mother her ID card when my mother became ill in the 
ghetto with typhoid and had to be sneaked out as a Christian to the hospital in Krakow.  
This woman actually saved my mother's life and I can't express the excitement - 
anxiousness I feel to meet the family.    We will tour Bochnia with them   
 
One computer - many kids waiting in line.    Hope to write later.
Love,
Helen/Oran
 
Date: Nov 3, 2007 12:47 AM
Subject: From Krakow
 
Friday night 11:10  Kids have a 11:00 PM curfew so I can have the 1 computer in the 
hotel for myself! :-)   (Without a  group breathing down my neck as I type... sorry for all 
the previous typos...)
 
Today was a very intense day.  We visited the Majdanek concentration camp.   Looking 
at it you would think that you were on a Hollywood movie set for a WW II movie - but this 
is the real thing. This is the one camp the Germans didn't have time to totally destroy.
 
From a distance you see the chimney of the crematorium and the wooden lookout 
towers among the barbed wire - electric fences.  This camp has barracks, storage 
rooms, showers, gas chambers and the crematorium.   
 
I entered a room that was a gas chamber - but recent research says it was not used for 
people but for cleansing the clothes.   Once in the room I was overwhelmed by this 
absolutely horrible sadness and deep grief - the most horrible energy I have ever felt.  I 
had to go out and felt close to fainting.   I took Rescue and did some tapping (EFT) and 
managed to calm myself.
 
My feeling was that the horrible pain felt by those that died in this room was still there.  It 
was just overwhelming.
 
I was fine for the rest of the visit (as fine as one can be in this god forsaken place).
 
We ended the visit at the mausoleum where the ashes of those killed in Majdenek are 
kept.  We had a memorial service there that Alon prepared.  I sang with Alon the Hebrew 
song "Le Kol Eesh yesh shem"  "Every person has a name" which was so fitting for this 
place where the Germans tried to dehumanize all the prisoners at the camp. Others 
read stories and poems written by those who were in Majdenek.
 
In the evening we came to Krakow.   Tomorrow Alon and I are on are own to Bochnia.  I 
am looking forward to seeing the town where my parents were born and grew up.  I'm 
also very excited to meet the family of my mother's non-Jewish friend whom my mother 
studied with in high school and college and who gave my Mom her ID card to get her out 
of the ghetto and into a hospital in Krakow.
 
It's so amazing to suddenly see these places that have only been names of towns and 
cities for me until now.   
 
Ann - I thought of your parents when I visited Logz (Am I right that your father is from 
there?)   Karen and Gita - Lulek gave me the name of the street your mother lived on 
(though the house is no longer there.)   I will take a photo of the street name for you.
 
Yesterday we stopped in a small town to find the house of one of the kids' grandmother. 
As we tried to figure out which was the right house, we asked some of the locals.   It 
turned out the person we asked knew the family and brought over his cousin who was 
visiting for the day to be at his wife's grave (it was the 1st of Nov. - Memorial Day and 
my mother's birthday - when everyone in Poland goes to the cemetery.  They light 
candles and all over at night you see the cemetery lit up with many colored candles.)
 
This man knew the girl's grandmother and he and all the people in the town were so 
happy to see the girl (our student.) Many of the older townspeople came to hear the 
story and see the great-granddaughter of the Cohen family.  They were such warm 
wonderful people who hugged and kissed many of us.  
 
This girl's grandmother left with her family in 1934 for Israel, but the rest of the family 
stayed.  The townspeople told us that the girl's grandmother's aunt married and the 
townspeople hid the couple during the war and they survived.  After they went to France 
this was all a new and surprising story for the girl.  It was an absolutely warm, wonderful 
experience for all of us.
 
So this trip makes all of us feel the full range of human emotions!
 
Again - this trip is an absolutely amazing experience for me and I am so thankful that I 
have this chance to be apart of this delegation.  
 
Much love,
Oran/Helen
 
Date: Nov 4, 2007 12:18 AM
Subject: Bochnia, Poland
 
After saying my whole life that my parents are from a small town near Krakow in Poland these 
"words" received a meaning today.
 
Alon and I left the group this morning in Krakow and managed to find the bus to Bochnia.    
As we reached the sign that said "Bochnia" I found tears in my eyes.  I was really here, in 
Bochnia!
 
We began at Trudna St. where my mother lived before they went to the Ghetto of Bochnia.  
In front of the house Barbara, the daughter of my mother's childhood friend, and her two 
children were waiting for us.  It was truly an emotional reunion for all of us.  We were greeted 
with hugs and kisses as if a lost family was found.   
 
I actually went into the yard of the house (Barbara asked the resident for permission) and 
took photos.  We also walked around Bochnia taking some photos of places my uncle Lulek 
told me about.  Schools my parents went to, houses he told me about and just general 
photos of Bochnia.  Luckily we enjoyed wonderful weather for this time of year - only 8 
degrees C and some sun!
 
It was Sat. so Lulek had told me that I have no chance of visiting the Jewish cemetery - but 
he doesn't know Barbara.  She called the man in charge of the cemetery several days ago 
and we were able to visit.  I immediately found my great grand father, Izhak Steinberg's 
grave.  We lit candles and I asked Alon to say the Kaddish.  Bad enough that we were in the 
cemetery on Shabbat and Alon wasn't wearing a kippah (I had him cover his head with my 
scarf), but having a woman say Kaddish - I was worried would just be a bit too much for old 
Izhak...
 
At Izhak Steinberg's grave I suddenly realized that this is the only grave I can visit of one of 
my ancestors.   Everyone else was killed in the Holocaust.  Boom - more tears.
 
Alon asked me if my father's parents are buried here since both of them died before the war.  
I never thought about that and Dad never mentioned it.   We found several Einhorn graves: 
Meir Einhorn, Ze'ev Einhorn and a very old one.
 
We went to Barbara's sister's house where they told us we could have some tea.   Well - 
seems like what I thought until now was a Jewish food fetish turns out to be a Polish food 
fetish.  There was a full set table with much food - that they continued to spoon onto our 
plates as soon as we finished eating something.  
 
Barbara's sister lives with their mother, my mother's childhood friend.  Unfortunately she is in 
what seems to be very advanced Alzheimer's and is in bed staring into space.  Sad that we 
couldn't have gotten these two childhood friends together a couple of years ago when they 
both could have enjoyed a renewed friendship.
 
Turns out that Barbara's mother, Irena, did not give my mother her ID card.  It was some 
other anonymous woman who after the war did not want to be contacted about it.  Irena did, 
however, visit my mother in the  Ghetto and brought her some Catholic Religious objects.   I 
assume this was to help disguise my mother as a Catholic when she was taken to the 
Christian Hospital in Krakow.
 
Barbara and her sister also told us that when Irena visited the Ghetto my mother gave 
Barbara a hat box with some books and hats.   My mother lent her the books.  Then to my 
surprise they showed me one of the books and hat that their mother had saved all these 
years!  Then she told me that she wants to give me the book and hat and that they will keep 
the hat box for their memory.  They said the book was lent to their mother and now it's time to 
return it!
 
This is really the first object I know about that we have that belonged to either of my parents 
before the war.   I know when Ella did her genealogy work on our family at school and when 
they had the family evening where everyone sets up a table showing items from the family - 
we never had anything "old" to show.  This is the first object we own and it is priceless for 
me.  The book is the first part of "Gone 'With the Wind".  I'll let you figure out the symbolism in 
that. :-)
 
They also made copies of all the photos Irena had from her school days.  I think I was able to 
recognize my mother in one of them.
 
So - another intense emotional day.  Lots of tears of happiness and excitement.
 
Tomorrow - our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau.
 
I think you understand that I am also writing this for me as a journal, so don't feel obligated to 
read all of these letters.  
 
Much love,
 
 
 
Date: Nov 5, 2007 12:29 AM
Subject: Auschwitz
 
Nov. 4th, 2007
Written on the way back from Auschwitz to Krakow
 
I Found My Grandparents
 
I found my grandparents
today
in Auschwitz.
 
 
I found my Grandmother Hania and my
Grandfather Samuel
I found my Aunts  Blimka and  Rena
And even my Uncle Moniek.
 
I found them all today,
     in Auschwitz.
 
 
I didn't have grandparents,
I didn't have aunts.
"They're all dead."
"They all died,
    in the Holocaust."
 
 
I found my Aunt Helen and
I found my Aunt Zoshka.
I found my Great Aunts Blimka and Esther
and their husbands Yehoshua and Shmuel.
And cousins, I found so many cousins on both sides.
I found them all today.
 
 
Today I became a granddaughter
and a niece and a cousin.
I became a grand-niece and a great-granddaughter.
 
 
Today I found my relatives
and my relatives now have me.
 
 
I found my grandparents
today
in Auschwitz.
 
And I also found me.
 
 
Date: Nov 6, 2007 1:05 AM
Subject: Tarnow
 
Hi Everyone,
 
It's hard to believe that our journey is near its end.   
Tomorrow is our last day and in the evening we fly back to Israel.
 
Although the days have been very full and intense, the week really flew by.
 
Today we spent most of the day in a city called Tarnow - East of Krakow.  It was a meeting 
between the two schools - ours and a Polish High School in Tarnow.  
 
The history teacher of the school became interested in the Jews of the town after visiting 
the Jewish cemetery there.  This became almost an obsession for him and he was close to 
converting to Judaism.   
 
He researches the history of the Jewish community here and interviews the elders who live 
in this city and writes their stories.   As part of the project with his class we came to meet 
them and have activities together.
 
The kids met their Polish counterparts who took us of a tour of Tarnow.  The Polish 
students explained the history of what happened to the Jewish community here as well as 
show us some of the remaining Jewish landmarks.   The story is difficult as are all the 
stories of Jewish communities in Poland.   
 
After, together the kids of the two schools went to visit the mass graves of Jews and Poles 
who were shot and killed in the forest nearby.   10,000 people were killed here by the Nazis 
and the Ukraines who volunteered to work with them.  2,000 of those murdered were Poles.
 
One mass grave was of 800 Jewish children age 10 and under.  Many visitors have left 
small toys like teddy bears at the site.   There were also kites decorating the trees above 
the grave.
 
Together the children of both schools did a memorial service for those who were killed in 
this forest. The ceremony ended with each school singing their National Anthem.   I found 
this joint ceremony very moving and very optimistic.  Perhaps this generation will be more 
tolerant.
 
As I looked at the students it would be hard to tell who was from which school if you didn't 
know them personally.  They all dressed and acted the same.
 
After more than 60 years, Poles are now starting to examine what happened to the Jewish 
community in Poland and what their roles were in not preventing the Holocaust.  Of course 
most put full blame on the Germans who also persecuted the Poles.  But - the Poles are 
becoming more aware and learning about Jews here before the war and today.   It reminds 
me of the soul searching the Germans have been doing since the war.
 
What I'm finding in this trip that it is very hard to judge others under the perverse conditions 
that existed here under German occupation.   One can't judge the Jewish leaders in the 
ghettos nor can one judge those in the camps.  
 
Yesterday we spoke with a women who's family saved several Jews during the war by 
hiding them.  She and her family are listed in Yad Vashem as righteous gentiles and 
received a medal.  
 
She told the story of how she saw a Polish woman give some food to a starving Jewish 
child on the street and both the child and the Polish woman were shot by a German SS 
soldier.
 
Perhaps by teaching our children tolerance and acceptance they will be able to live in a 
world of peace.
 
Thanks to all of you who traveled on this journey with me.  I really enjoyed hearing from you.
 
Much love,
Helen/Oran
 
 

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