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Day 10 (Warsaw)

May 19, 2012

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Just as the other days had unfolded, Warsaw too would be conquered with our footsteps.  The group prepared for another walk through Warsaw to visit memorials designating areas of significance during the Warsaw Ghetto.

Even as an early adolescent I remember wanting to visit Warsaw to see and learn about the ghetto.  In middle school the words ‘Warsaw’ and ‘ghetto’ were synonymous thanks to our Holocaust education.  With the exception of one museum, I was disappointed with what I saw.  The memorials dedicated to different parts of the ghetto perimeter were unoriginal and insignificant.  We stood on the sidewalk and gazed upward to look at a series of cables connecting either side of the street.  This signified the old bridge that intersected Warsaw and the ghetto walls.  Below us, the concrete indicated the partition of the wall.  The partition was no different than in Berlin and I was unimpressed by the unoriginal thought.

There was one square in the city where perhaps a hundred stylized high chairs were secured to the ground.  These chairs were symbolic of the victims of the ghetto.  I found this memorial to be interesting but unfortunately I do not have a picture of it.

Our group walked to an unassuming apartment complex and stood in the courtyard waiting to hear from our tour guide.  As it turns out the complex was once the stage for a horribly violent uprising.  It was surprising to think we were standing in a place that was at one time littered with bodies and gore.  I suppose this was more of a surprise because of the complex’s unassuming nature (as opposed to Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, or Berlin).

A few paces further ahead and around the corner was an actual section of the ghetto wall still intact.  Even the concrete  was uneven to delineate where the ghetto used to be.  Unlike the Berlin Wall this was not graffitied by its inhabitants.  A few blocks away there was another portion of the wall still up and unfortunately this site was the target of anti-Semitic graffiti in June (more about that here).

Warsaw Ghetto Wall (the target of hate graffiti in June- this photo taken in May)

Our tour moved on to look at a memorial dedicated to Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust (especially at Auschwitz).  The memorial seemed almost like a mausoleum in its design, although I do not know if this was intentional.  Behind it a new museum is being built that will be about Warsavian Jews pre-, during-, and post- Holocaust.  The figures on the memorial seemed to cry out in agony, wondering why they had been subject to such a fate.

We were so fortunate to be surprised with a special guest at our dinner that night at the Radio City Cafe in Warsaw.  Marian Gołębiowski was a wonderful man who saved the lives of two Polish Jews during World War II (look him up here).  He was in love with a girl who was in love with another man.  He did not know this until the woman had come to Mr. Gołębiowski for help.  At such a young age and with a life ahead of him, Mr. was now looking at a life and death situation.  Thinking selflessly, he agreed without hesitation to help and the two survived the Holocaust.

Mr. Gołębiowski’s story was inspiring.  With such a bright character and passionate speech, it was impossible not to be awestruck.  It’s not everyday you have dinner with someone who is attributed with such a high honor.  Grateful of his earned title, he wanted to leave us with one last speech: that the people of this Earth should never call concentration camps Polish death camps.  He was so passionate he began to cry about how upsetting it was that some people still refer to Auschwitz, Majdanek, and other places as Polish camps.  Mr. Gołębiowski wanted us to remember the Nazis came into Poland and occupied Polish land– it was entirely of their doing and althought it was terrible, it should be remembered only in that way.

Ironically enough, a few weeks after I returned President Obama made some sort of reference to a Polish death camp on a televised speech.  Whether it was he or an intern who wrote that speech, I cannot imagine how upset Mr. Gołębiowski was at hearing that preposterous statement.

Mr. Gołębiowski

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