Written by Daniella Levine, (Student Correspondent) Clark University
CET Prague, Spring 2015
Dear Prospective Student,
On the 27th of March in 2015, I returned, via sleeper train, from a ten-day traveling seminar around Poland. Instead of a spring break, CET Prague funds an informational trip to Poland to provide the students with tangible experiences for the classroom lectures. This was my second spring break spent in Poland, as senior year of high school I participated in March of the Living (MOTL). MOTL is a two-week program with the first half dedicated to visiting various sites of the Holocaust throughout Poland. The second week is spent in Israel, literally and symbolically completing the journey that so many were unable to make. I am eternally grateful for the experience I had senior year. I believe everyone should have an experience such as this. Being back in March reaffirmed the necessity for sharing this history. Yet, it was not until I revisited many of the sites in Poland that I realized the life and vibrancy present there. In Jewish day school and then in preparation for my MOTL trip, I was blinded from the truth that Poland is a European country with a history dating back before WWII. In my head, Poland was a separate planet, disassociated from others like Italy, Greece, England, etc.
Six million Jews were killed in some capacity. However, do not forget about the six million Polish that also perished. Remember the exceptions, the people who put their own lives at risk to save a family, a child, a dying grandmother. In Krakow, you will have the opportunity to speak with a Righteous Among the Nations, someone who is recognized by Yad Veshem for his or her heroic acts during the Holocaust. The woman we met with, Miroslawa, is a lovely woman who was in her early teens during the war. One day, her aunt came to her mother with a request, that they take in a young girl with whom she had a close relationship. The aunt was incapable of hiding the girl. Miri had escaped from Nazi grasp during the Krakow Ghetto liquidation and was homeless, nationless. The family agreed to take in Miri for a night and she remained with the family until the end of the War a few years later. Miroslawa and her family faced challenges and were emotionally, physically, and spiritually tested many times during the years they housed Miri. A little while into Miri’s stay with the family, their home grew to fit two more. Miroslawa and her family were required to split their small residence with another couple. Miraculously, Miri was successfully hidden in the two-room apartment for two years with no raised suspicion from the other family. After quite some time, a priest in the community allotted baptism papers for Miri. This gave her access to the outside world, although she did not elect to use them due to fear of recognition. The story ends well for Miroslawa, Miri, and the majority of Miri’s family. Looking over the list of actors, five Polish people saw the moral obligation of saving a Jew as more important than their own lives. This is one of few stories from the Holocaust worth remembering.
In 2012, I was subjected to a view of Poland through the death narrative. During that trip, death prevailed. Not only was the itinerary filled with death camps, death marches and death talks, but also a fellow participant’s grandfather passed away. She and we found out while standing in a cemetery. Our death goggles remained securely fastened to our faces until the moment we landed in Tel Aviv, restricting us from seeing the beauty of Old Warsaw. When I was told that we would be returning to Poland for a traveling seminar, I came up with every reason I would hate it and convinced myself that it would be nothing more than a learning experience, at best. I am three years older and have used these past three yeas to educate myself more thoroughly on the Holocaust.
Now, if there is one thing I can accredit to CET, it is the forceful way they made us confront the truth about Poland. And it is simple: Poland is more than a depressed, desolate graveyard. CET did not cushion our trip, but it did not exaggerate it either. We were given a tour of the living. Instead of centering on the death, we focused on the life that sprouted from the mortality. In both Krakow and Warsaw, we met with Jewish students. One of the young women we met at Shabbat dinner at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow has only identified as Jewish for the last ten years of her life. When she turned sixteen, her mother told her of their Jewish roots and now she is president of the Jewish Student Association of Krakow. The old cities of Krakow and Warsaw prove the substantive aspect of the country. Miroslawa’s life and story is representative of the humanity budding in Poland. The Jewish Community Center, the students and the interactions with Jews in Poland today present hope for the revision of the Polish classification.
Take on Poland with optimism and an open-mind. It will surprise you!