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Day 9 (Kielce)

May 18, 2012

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After Auschwitz, I think it can be said that our attitudes changed.  We had seen the very worst of what was in the world and it’s hard to rise from that.  When we went to Kielce for our next day of walking, we took interest in the history but there was hardly any real physical connection to the past.

Our tour guide, a real expert in the field, showed us various sites of memory from the Holocaust and the pogroms that arose after the Jews returned to their homes.  It was hot and sunny and it was hard to take in information when the only things we could look at were slabs of stone with words etched in them.

We visited a cemetery a few minutes away from the town of Kielce that had been bombed during the war causing the tombstones to scatter and lose their places of rest.  Since it remained unclear where they were supposed to be returned, the townspeople placed the tombstones that endured the bombing in a sort of pyramid, with each level ascending containing less tombstones than the previous level.  Even though not everyone’s epitaph is represented, the idea is to express that anyone whose final resting place is in this cemetery is honored and represented collectively.  I should add that some of these headstones were from several centuries ago.

The cemetery also had a separate memorial for children who were victims of the Kielce Cemetery Massacre which happened on May 23rd, 1943.  You may notice the date of this tragic event is more toward the latter half of the war– these children had survived the Kielce Ghetto and concentration camps.  The Nazis dug a pit, shot the children into the pit, and covered it up.  The youngest child who was executed on this very spot where the memorial stands was only a few months old.  The oldest child was fifteen.  Years later, families of the victims who had survived created a space with a plaque and many Stars of David.  The rocks on the memorial are in lieu of flowers– it is a tradition found in the Middle East (Muslims do it too).  Flowers last for awhile but a rock will sit there forever.

The last memorial we saw in the cemetery was of a lengthy slab of granite with a broken Star of David seen in the middle.  It represents that the Jews were broken during the Holocaust.

We headed back onto the bus and into the town of Kielce where we looked at three more memorial sites.  The first was a huge menorah that rests above the remains of people who died during the Kielce pogrom.  After the Jews returned home from their liberation, life was not easy.  One of the largest pogroms in Poland happened in Kielce and overy forty people were killed during the fight.  A friend on the tour noticed the stickers that had been tagged on the menorah and he asked the tour guide about it.  Whatever it was that the sticker said, our tour guide was very surprised– he said it was a derogatory expression about Jews and that if the criminal had been seen tagging the menorah he could have gone to jail.  I thought that was interesting (and sad that someone would deface a memorial).

We walked a ways down the street where we came to another memorial, although it was rather unsightly and confusing.  The artist intended it to represent the Kielce Pogrom but I can’t wrap my head around it, and from what our tour guide told us, the townspeople don’t like it either.  What do you think it means, knowing that it represents the event in which 45 Jews were killed?

We were all due for a lunch break after our blustery hot walking tour.  The area we had been walking around in was nothing special, but we turned down two streets and it was like we were in a totally different place!  The main street of Kielce is absolutely love, a charming street with beautiful brightly colored buildings, wrought iron fences, and lovely shops.  How wonderful it was to take our rest here!  We ate at a fantastic restaurant and had ice cream that was just as good afterward.  I would love to come to Kielce just to be on that street again!

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