Today was Day 8 of our trip and so far we have gone through an intense emotional roller coaster with lots of sad moments in places like Auschwitz, but also plenty of upbeat memories at events like group dinners. Today we had a delicious breakfast at the Ibis hotel in Warsaw. Then we went to the POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews. The layout of the museum was very unique because all the different room flowed together so you didn’t really know where it ended. It was like walking through a three dimensional time line as it took you through the history of Polish Jews. I loved that it started before the Holocaust because there is so much fascinating history involving the Jews that many people- including me- tend not to focus on. The museum was very interactive. It had a school room, a printing press, a mock train station, and even a Jewish street to walk through. With all this beautiful history, it is heartbreaking to get to the sections about the Holocaust and see this amazing culture getting destroyed. I watched one particular video in the museum where a Nazi officer was holding a dog on a leash and there was a young girl’s shoe in front of it. Every time she would try and grab the shoe the dog would growl and try to bite her, and the officer smiled. Eventually, she gave up walking away shoeless and as soon as she left, the officer walked away with the dog. It is completely disgusting and a disappoint to our society that that anyone, especially innocent children, had to experience this kind of treatment.
After another delicious meal at the museum café, we went on a bus/walking tour of Warsaw with our amazing guide Pawel. We were battling some rainy weather today, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. We went to Prozna which is the only surviving Jewish street and we saw remnants of the ghetto wall. We also saw the Jewish children’s hospital. One part of the tour that was very moving for me was the installation of the Chlodna footbridge because I remember seeing it in the movie The Pianist, which we watched on one of our long bus rides.
Later we went to the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Museum which commemorated and explained the work of the Oyneg Shabes, a resistance group that collected archives in the Warsaw Ghetto. The was the most interesting part of the day for me because when we learned about this group in class, it was the first time I had ever even heard about a legitimate Jewish resistance group. I really loved this museum and I could understand it very well because everyone in Facing History watched the film Who Will Write Our History, which followed the story of the Oyneg Shabes. I was able to recognize a few of the names at the museum and to read from their perspective and what they had to experience is truly horrifying. Very few people knew about the archives they were hiding and it just happened that one of the three surviving members, Hersh Wasser, was aware of the location. That is so incredible, but I’m really glad it worked out that way.
Finally we went to the Warsaw Rising Museum. We had a little difficulty at the entrance, but Ms. Freeman worked her magic and made everything run smoothly as always. For me, the highlight of that museum was a seven minute video that gave an aerial view of the Warsaw ghetto. I found it very important to watch that because now the ghetto is gone and it is hard to imagine what it used to be like. I think this is a very important type of thing to think about as we get farther away from this part of our history and lose many of the remaining memorial sites, we have to find some way to remember everything.
We ended the day with a fun dinner out in Warsaw. I will be sad to leave Poland tomorrow, but I am looking forward to the next leg of the journey in Prague. Thanks for reading!
The breakfast at the Ibis hotel this morning was my favorite thus far! We hopped right on the bus at 9:15 and prepared ourselves for the busy day ahead of us.
First stop: 100 Years History of Polish Jews. I’m pretty proud to say that my power team and I made it through the entirety of the museum in 2 hours and 45 minutes. To be honest, it was a lot of reading. But we talked through each exhibit and were able to gain more knowledge about how Jews came to settle in Poland leading up to 1945/the present day
Second stop: Walking/Bus tour of theWarsaw Ghetto. Before the Holocaust, Jewish people moved here fleeing persecution. Although, during World War II, the ghetto was completely demolished. Now there have been reconstruction efforts in the oldest parts, but nothing else was rebuilt because it was the beginning of communism in Poland. During this period—Post World War II—urban planning efforts were implemented in order to create a much friendlier city. The city was built using modern architecture and changed in a completely different way. Today, we were able to see the few parts of old Warsaw that are still standing.
Today we visited the southern part which was the most conservative section of the ghetto. The Purpose GhettoizTion was to concentrate the Jewish population so the Warsaw getto population was larger than the Jewish populationIn in 1939(400,000), but these numbers have diminished drastically after World War II. Life in the ghetto was not easy. Starvation took the lives of many. Average food rations was less than 200 calories per day. About 80% of the food in the ghettos was snuggled from the outside. Later, we visited one of two getto Walls that created the barrier between the ghetto and the rest of the city.
We also stopped on the street where Mary Berg lived at the age of sixteen and documented various aspects of life in the Warsaw ghetto. Her diary is comparable to that of Anne Frank’s which is more about her experience in hiding. Her adept writing is especially known for vivid accounts of children smuggling food across the ghetto boundaries. Mary survived the war, but was deported to France with others . Mary didn’t want to respond to journalists about her experiences, so her life after the war is unknown. Surviving the Holocaust was already enough, and sharing her experiences was too difficult to handle. She didn’t need to draw attention to her past because she needed to work on recovering from the horrific persecution she endured. She resided in the United States, and her relatives announced that she sadly passed away in 2013.
Third stop: Jewish Historical Institute. This museum houses the archives of the Oyneg Shaba. We had the privilege of watching a film on this organization that is not yet released. Watching this film not only prepared me for this museum, but also heightened my appreciation for these valuable documents. Emanuel Ringelblum was the founder of this ingenious organization. This was not a one man job. Some were writers, some were transporters who brought the diaries to their hiding place, some protected them to keep them safe. These members are the true heroes of World War II. They sacrificed their lives for our own benefit, so that we could learn about the pain and suffering Jews endured day by day. It is so surreal to think these writings were preserved in milk cartons stored underground, then found by the few, lingering members after the war. Ms. Freeman was even able to track down her one of relatives who survived the war in the phone books from the early 1900s that are located in the archives of this museum. This was truly a memorable experience and my favorite stop of the day.
Fourth and Last stop of the day: Muzeum Powstania Warzawskiego(I’m not sure what the English translation is :)). Although we were all exhausted from the day, we toughed it out for one last museum and learned more about post World War II Germany.
A cold, rainy, and jam-packed day ended with a delicious dinner and dessert. Thank you Warsaw, you were amazing!