Traveling Seminar to Poland
Bright and early Thursday morning, Jewish Studies and Central European studies met on a coach bus and took an eight hour drive to Krakow. Most of us enjoyed some sleep, reading, movies and music in anticipation of our exciting nine day trip throughout Poland. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel, got ourselves settled, and then reconvened for what our program director Jarka likes to call our “funny city tour”. A great tour guide took us around Krakow’s old town and pointed out some interesting sites and funny anecdotes. I keep realizing how much my time with CET is teaching me, and one great example was on our tour. The ground in Old Town Square and throughout the side streets of Krakow is uneven, and it turns out this is because, as businesses began to grow and streets needed to be more functional, they would repave. However, they would just pave over parts that needed work, making some areas higher than others. I found this so interesting, especially because we found ourselves having to step or stoop down to enter shops and restaurants throughout the city. I will always think of this reason when I see uneven roads now!
Our Jewish tour of Krakow was fascinating. We saw the remaining part of the ghetto wall, many places where Schindler’s List filmed, and many other interesting sites. The Krakow Ghetto memorial installation was interesting- it is a lot of weathered-looking chairs lined up around what was the deportation square, to symbolize waiting to be sent to concentration and death camps. Some of the chairs are in the tram stop and everyday people use them while waiting for their trams. This integration into everyday life events makes the memorial that much more meaningful in my eyes, forgetting is not an option when it is a part of your everyday life.
We went to Shabbat on Friday and met two very cool people. One was the director of the Krakow JCC, who gave us a great overview of how much Krakow’s Jewish community is growing and how it is thriving in culture, education, and practice. The center was beautiful, and the joy of Jewish life exhibited there is so different from what I had heard about Poland’s Jewish population, especially because I was under the impression that the community was so small. It is in fact larger than I thought, but a number cannot really be named- the face of the Jewish population is rapidly changing and more and more people are embracing their previously suppressed Jewish identity. The other great encounter was Dora, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, who simply plopped down behind us in synagogue and asked us if we had a survivor, if we wanted to hear her story, and when she could tell us. Just like that, the day before our Auschwitz trip, we were able to hear a survivor’s story! She is 90 years old, which her demeanor and vitality would never have led us to believe. We did a little rearranging of our schedule and got to hear her story.
We loved all of the different tours and activities in Krakow and spent our free time really bonding as a group. We were glad to have a few more days together and to experience Auschwitz as a group before CES broke off to see some more of the Czech Republic on their way to Vienna as we headed to Warsaw.