Days 1 and 2 in Warsaw

The Big Giraffe dropped me off at the airport and after satisfying my CrackBerry addiction for a couple hours, I got on the airplane and popped my Valium. The Valium worked great in that it completely relaxed me. Also for some reason I swear it affected my sense of taste and caused me to think my airplane lasagna and salad was the best food I had ever eaten. It didn’t make me sleep. Hmm…perhaps it was the lack of sleep that made me think my meal was gourmet?

I arrived at the airport and had 2 hours to wait for Suzanne and another 4 before our flight. To sum it up, it involved being over tired, one waiter who totally thought I was trying to pick him up, and a bunch of slap happy conversations with Suzanne due to going for 24 + hours without sleep. Our flight from London to Warsaw seemed to be much longer and the airplane was old. We did wonder if they were using paper, pencil and a compass.

Yesterday we met up with Suzanne’s husband’s friend Tom, his girlfriend Ewa, friend Bagus and her husband Krystof. They took us on a five hour walking tour of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was totally depressing but at the same time I was so glad to be able to see it. Of course everything is different now because the city was completely destroyed. However, there were a lot of memorials along the way although they were mostly donated by Jewish people in the US in the 80’s and 90’s. There were also some sections of the wall.

At one point I asked Bagus about her husband’s name because I swear he had told me that he was Jewish. Then again with his name I wasn’t sure if maybe I hadn’t heard him correctly. It turns out that his mother was smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto and lived under a Christian identity. When Krystof was 15 his parents sat him down and told him that he was really Jewish. He and B sent their daughter to Jewish schools and his sister works for a Jewish foundation in Chicago. On the tour, Krystof showed us the courts where his mother went in the Jewish only side and was smuggled by a police officer she bribed out the Polish side. He also showed us the sewer where she escaped outside the Ghetto. A monument was put there to her and others about a month ago.

The walk was really informative. Interestingly, none of our group had been to many of these sites before yesterday. Although there were many, it did seem like you had to know where you were going and where to look from them or you could just walk by without recognizing them. In other words, it’s not like the Freedom Trail in Boston where a red line is painted on the sidewalks.

Afterward we went to the Jewish cemetery to try and find Suzanne’s great-grandfather’s grave. He died in 1939 before the ghetto. Unfortunately we could not find his grave. The cemetery is massive and many of the gravestones were falling over on top of each other. Of course they are also not written in English. We plan on going back later this week.

Tom took us all out to dinner where we learned a lot more about Poland. I also shared some of my family’s Polish traditions. Yeah…you know how Chicago is very different from Southern IL. Afterward he dropped us off at our hotel and Suzanne and I explored Warsaw some more.

This morning we went to the Jewish Heritage Museum where Suzanne was able to meet with a genealogy researcher. She was able to give Suzanne some more information. We also saw the exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto. Afterward we went to the Warsaw Uprising Museum and then the Novyk Synagogue which was the only synagogue to survive because it was outside the Ghetto and Nazis used it as a stable for their horses.

I’m having a terrific time with Suzanne and am enjoying being here but needless to say it is also emotionally draining. Tomorrow we will be going on a tour of Treblinka.

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