Poland

We have been in Poland
since Monday and it is mixed.  Krakow is unbelievably charming, so
much so that I am very pleasantly surprised even though I had already
heard how great it is here.  But it is also very sad.  This
place had 70,000 Jews in 1939 and only a few dozen now.  In fact,
there are now only a couple thousand Jews in the whole country. 
My Bubbie (grandmother) hated this place and was never interested in
returning.  And of course Auschwitz, which we visited today, is only an hour away.

Krakow is a beautiful city that’s
over a thousand years old.  It is hard to explain how picturesque
and quaint it is.  There’s a town square with a market hall in the
middle and the obligatory huge, breathtakingly ornate cathedral. 
Cobblestones, the clippity-clop of horse-drawn carriages (for tourists,
but still…), the crooked streets, a castle – it’s like a fairy tale
town.  It’s also small and easy to get around in.  And it’s
pretty cheap.  

And the people are really nice! 
If you are ever in Krakow, I suggest you make sure and stay at the
Hotel Sienacki.  Charming rooms, excellent restaurant, and
fantastic staff.  (And high-speed internet access in each room!)

But as I said, it’s also a terribly sad place.  There is an entire neighborhood called Kazimierz just
outside of the old town that used to be the Jewish neighborhood. 
There are like six or seven synagogues in a 3-block radius, one of
which is the oldest standing Jewish structure in Poland.  
Only one of these is functioning, the tiny 500-year-old Remuh synagogue
(not the oldest one though).  


Last night we went to a Jewish
restaurant in this district, which in recent years has become the
biggest Jewish tourist destination outside Israel.  (Bigger even
than Zabar’s or Katz’s!)  The place felt like something
manufactured especially for tourists – and I’m pretty sure, not by
Jewish folk.  For example, they had matzo in the basket with the
bread that they brought to the table.  (I never thought matzo
could be blander than what we get back in the states, but I was
wrong.)  And when the klezmer band started up, the proprietress
fired up a menorah.  What?  

None of this was offensive to me — it just wasn’t authentic, and it underscored how few Jews remain in Poland.  

The “Jewish music” band was also a
mixed bag.  They were Poles, not Jews.  The singer was an
opera singer, and he sang “Hava Negila” and other chestnuts standing
rigid in a deep bass voice.  No soul, man.  None. 
Again, this wasn’t offensive to me in the least – but it felt weird and
sad to have my people’s music fed back to me by another nationality
because all of my own people, who should have been playing that music,
had been murdered.  

But you know, the violinist was
great, and played with real joy.  Overall, the music wasn’t
bad.  It turns out there are many klezmer bands in Krakow, all of
them Polish.  These aren’t all for tourists.  There is some
appreciation for Jewish culture in this place at this time.  In
the face of all this sadness, that’s something. 

All of this is complicated by our visit today to
Auschwitz.  It’s difficult to describe.  Massive. 
Grotesque.  I’m sure it hasn’t hit me yet, actually.  At this
point, the best description I can come up with is that it was
horrifying to the point of incomprehensibility.  
There’s
a lot to say about this, and fascism, and Germany, and anti-Semitism. 
I hope to post about these things within the next few days. 


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