Some of this written in the present tense, as I lifted it from my journals. I've tried to make clear where I am adding thoughts after the trip.
It is 5:45, and Elizabeth and I decided to take a break before dinner. We've been going very hard all day. We're sitting in a bar with a large photo of the original rat pack shooting snooker. And a mug shot of a very very young Francis Sinatra. And a piano player about to start. we'll see....
First, real european (eastern) breakfasts - what I think breakfasts should be. Fish, cheese, meat. Incredible dark dense breads. real butter. one softboiled egg. lots of fresh fruit. red currant juice. I've had tea, incredible tea. Rich, dark, real tea. Elizabeth puts sugar and cream in hers. I cannot bear to do that.
The morning was a bus tour with stops. The first stop was the Central Park of Warsaw. It also has castles and forts and was entirely lovely, quiet and green. We walked through, way too fast and too short for me. It is about 70 here, and was sunny and smelt wonderfully from something obscure in bloom. It is a standard tourist stop, but there are hords of school children running around. Children are children everywhere.
The next stop was Old Town Warsaw, which was leveled by the Nazis and rebuilt, original brick by original brick from the early 50s through the 80s. I've been to enough medieval city centers to know that parts were improved upon from the original. There were some photos, but one gathers the esthetic and design and balance reflects a more planned sensibility than what would have sprung up in the 16-18th centuries.
Next we went to the Jewish Cemetery, which has not been rebuilt, and mostly not weeded, since WWII. It is not clear why it was spared. The Nazis were famous for taking Jewish headstones and using them as pavement. I could have easily wandered there for hours. In the early 19th century Warsaw had as many Jews as NYC. Jews were still buried here in the early days of WWII, and there were lots of headstones with husband and wife and the same 1942 day of death. There are various memorials, including the grave of the head of the Judenrat, the Jewish authority in the Warsaw ghetto, who eventually killed himself.
There was nothing left of the Warsaw ghetto, nor the buildings that Leon Uris made famous. It was row upon row of socialist realism architecture. Ugly.
After this, we had lunch at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. As was true of the Chopin museum we saw yesterday, the museum people here are in love with technology. Often, it seems, technology is for technology's sake. Both museums suffered disease- huge amounts of detail, but little in the way of synthesis or overarching organization to put detail in context. Every receipt that Chopin's father used to buy eggs and bread when Frédéric was a child is lovingly displayed and lit. Take home message: there were rock stars and fan boys back then.
For the Polish Jews museum, there were seven areas (each with many rooms). We skipped the first three, which were roughly the history up through 1914. There was too much to see for the time we had, and I figured I could do without the shetl stuff, and the early history of anti-Semitism. There was an incredible flowering of Jewish/Yiddish culture through the 20's. In retrospect, having seen other places, this was the strongest and most honest memorial by any country as to what happened to the Jews that lived in that country during the Holocaust. There were museums of Jewish History in every city we visited. But this was not only the most complete, but seemed to mourn what happened. Taking responsibility, I am not sure about that. But this museum was as close as any that I saw.
When we came to the 1938-45 room, I started reading everything. Everyone always asks why did the Jews not leave, when it was clear that they were despised? Part of the answer was made clear to me over and over in country after country. The ones who left were the peasants who scraped together money to go elsewhere. The ones who had nothing there. The people who stayed were integrated, as much as anyone was, into society and culture of the time and place. This became very clear in Krakow (another post).
By the end, I nearly lost it, and was feeling physically ill and went out and sat and cried while waiting for Elizabeth to finish.
Tomorrow we go to Auschwitz.