We woke up this morning to a light rain and grey skies, the first unlucky weather day we have had this whole trip. The delicious hotel breakfast included pancakes and croissants gave us all some fuel and we loaded on to the bus to head to the POLIN Museum. This museum, located at the center of what was once the Warsaw ghetto, takes the viewer through the history of Jews in Poland from the 1300s through the present. This museum was amazing, and in my opinions one of the best we have been to. With interactive screens and old style printing presses, it was incredibly informative. The description of Jewish political life and the emergence of Zionism in the early 1900s as well as Polish independence were fascinating.
Following almost three hours exploring the museum, we ate a lunch in the museum cafe and met up with our guide for a combined walking and bus tour of the old Warsaw ghetto. However, unlike most of the places we’ve visited, very very little of the ghetto remains, so the tour was particularly interesting. Our guide began with some facts so that we would understand the size and scope of the Ghetto (It was the size of two Central Parks and four times as crowded as Mumbai, India today. People were only given rations of about 200 calories per day) We then saw two remaining pieces of the wall that surrounded the Ghetto, and one of the two Yiddish theaters in Europe. One part of the tour that particularly struck me was when we were outside what used to be the Jewish Children’s Hospital and the guide told us that it’s currently being renovated for the creation of a Museum to the Warsaw. He said something along the lines of “given the conservative government we have right now, I do not know who will run the museum or what historians will be involved, but I will continue to tell the truth”. This quote, for me, exemplified the strength I have seen among so many of the people we have encountered. Despite the true evil and horror that we have seen from some, we have also seen resilience from others. Their commitment to remembrance, hope, and justice for victims of the Holocaust is incredibly inspiring.
Our tour ended with a stop at what was once the Umschlagplatz, where hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto were sent off to Treblinka. The memorial said the first names of every victim.
From there, we visited the Oneg Shabbes archive museum, where we were able to read the letters buried by Jews living in the Warsaw ghetto. It was very amazing to see the old milk cans, and learn about the process of excavating and preserving these documents.
Overall, this day was jam-packed with information and it was a lot to take in, but seeing Warsaw was amazing! I am looking forward to Prague tomorrow:)