Warsaw, Poland - August 28, 2010
It was the first day of the 7th Annual Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival, which continued through September 5, 2010. Our guide made us aware of a Symphonic Concert which was taking place that evening which she thought we might enjoy. The event, organized by the Shalom Foundation of Warsaw, was featuring their Philharmonic Orchestra, the Warsaw Men's Choir as well as the Boys Choir, and featured the music written by Leonard Bernstein. The title of Mr. Bernstein's music was KADYSZ (in Polish), or KADDISH as we know it. The concert was sold out, but we went to the box office anyway in case they had any tickets. Our magnificent guide was able to squeeze 3 "standing room only" tickets for us...one for herself and 2 for us.
The festival and the concert was dedicated to the Memory of Six Million Murdered Jews, and to the Righteous Among the Nations. Warsaw was a city of extremely rich Jewish traditions...but it was also a place of great tragedy. The concert was taking place in the All Saints Church which found itself within the walls of the Getto during WWII. The Church, built from 1861-1893 and which can accommodate 3500 people (remember we had standing room only tickets), was seriously damaged in 1939 when the Nazi's marched in.
During the war, the Church served as a shelter for many Jewish families, including Christians of Jewish origins. The program consisted of Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 entitled "Kaddish", together with a musical rendition of Kol Nidre, a second philharmonic production of a Kaddish written by a famous Polish composer, and a Cantorial chanting of the Kaddish in Hebrew. With beautiful music set as its background, a narrator read very moving stories about events during the holocaust...about families murdered...about despair...with stories about people who experienced the collapse of their world...about families that were confronted with a religious, racial, and cultural havoc that destroyed their Jewish life during the years of "Hitlerism". These narrations, written in both Polish and English, but delivered in English to a mostly Polish speaking audience, were included in the programs handed out to the standing room only crowd inside the church.
Other than the organizers of the event, and perhaps one or two others, we believe we were the ONLY Jews inside the Church. There are perhaps only a handful of Jews left in Warsaw, or Poland for that matter. As we stood there listening to the narrations, and looking at the others in this capacity crowded audience, we was bewildered! As Jews, our presence there was obvious. But why are there thousands of non Jews here? We don't understand. These thousands of Non Jews had to know in advance what the program was to be. They certainly knew it was a Jewish Festival. We can only imagine that their intent was to Remember"....to "Never Forget" the events that destroyed their city in every way imaginable. Perhaps it was that following the war, it was the Jews who surprisingly paid for the restoration of their beautiful All Saints Church, and this was their way of saying Thank You.
We don't know, and we may never fully comprehend this experience. What we do know is this. Jews in America need to visit Eastern Europe. While it's important that many Jews run to visit Israel (as they should), Jewish roots are more deeply imbedded in Europe and Russia. The history of Jewish struggles in Israel date back thousands of years, but the devastation encountered by our ancestors in Eastern Europe only dates back 70 years. American Jews need to see this. American Jews need to grasp the enormity of what took place by visiting the sites where 6 million of our ancestors were led to slaughter. We then need to work harder to educate and expose our children and grandchildren so that for generations to come, we "NEVER FORGET". We must not shelter our children from the horror that confronted our ancestors. We need to educate them, and celebrate the fact that we survived. We owe this to our future generations. Education is the tool, and our children are the key that will unlock the doors to the memory of the 6 million of our Jewish ancestors from Eastern Europe. May we Never Forget!
The rest of the trip... Our total trip was outstanding in every respect. Our guides were all very good...English well spoken, on time, knew the things we wanted to see, very helpful etc. The vehicles were perfect for our needs.
We enjoyed Budapest very much. One of our favorite cities. We learned there, (and it was true for the remainder of our trip) that NOBODY WANTED OUR AMERICAN EXPRESS TRAVELERS CHECKS...not even the hotels...not even the Amex Exp office in Vienna. I don't use ATM's, but that seems the best way to travel without carrying a bundle of cash. I was lucky that I brought a lot of cash or I would have been in trouble. I was very surprised at that.
On our own travels, we rented a Van from Hertz and drove to Salzburg for the Music Festival and of course the Sound of Music tour. On our drive to Vienna, we stopped at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. We dropped the car in Vienna, and then re-rented it for our drive to Cesky Krumlov and then Prague. Cesky Krumlov is WONDERFUL. The best hotel there is terrible, but it made no difference. Our driving everywhere was a snap because I have a Garmin for all Europe (in English) and it was as easy for us to get anywhere as it is back here in my own neighborhood. Our tour with Sylvie Whittman to Terezin was terrific. She wasn't what I expected (in appearance), but she sure knows her stuff and is the best that Prague has to offer. She went out of her way to help us obtain a Siddur in Hebrew & Czeh, and we appreciated that. She made calls...had one delivered to her office, and then brought it to us at our hotel. Very nice of her to do that. We were able to purchase Siddurs in Hungarian/Hebrew, Polish/Hebrew, and Austrian/Hebrew. I also bought 2 Haggadahs (I collect them as well). We bought so many books that we had the Sheraton Krakow pack them and ship them to us. Best move we made considering some of the problems we encountered in Poland.
We left Prague via LOT airlines to Krakow by way of Warsaw. The LOT flight was 35 minutes late arriving into Prague, and 35 minutes late leaving. We had to make a connection onto a LOT flight to Krakow. They did not hold the plane, and we ended up with a 6 hour layover in the Warsaw airport. The people at LOT were NOT very nice, or helpful, or even caring about us. We had overweight baggage problems with our carry on bags and lightened the load by stuffing our checked baggage at a cost of 40 Euros, so when we were stuck at the Warsaw airport, I didn't have the phone numbers to call the local agent to delay our pickup transfer till later. That cost me $30 USD for a second transfer. But we made it to Krakow...the transfer was awaiting us, and that's that.
All touring was perfect in Poland. Our Salt mine tour was better than expected...our guide at Auschwitz was very good. She & Joni hit it off very well. Joni left her a good book to read, and I have emailed her when I got home to pass on some info to her. She has been invited to stay with us should she every come to LA.
Our BEST DAY OF THE ENTIRE TRIP was the day we had a private driver to take us to Joni's fathers birthplace. There is too much involved to bore you with the details. The driver was our translator, and he was terrific. The day could have been a disaster...we knew not to expect too much. It could have been a waste of time. It was just the opposite. Record books dating back to 1740...a cemetery visit of historic importance, and just a great day. The people at the city hall in Bochnia, Poland have more information they are going to send us (as per their email to us just 2 days ago). A great success.
The transfer driver left us at the wrong track. We couldn't read the ticket to know what car and what seats. It was pouring. We had to shlep 4 big bags down the stairs...across the station...up stairs...into the ready to depart train...no conductor anywhere...nobody spoke English...and we're getting a little too old for that stress. By the time we arrived in Warsaw, we were wiped out. I did forget about the transfer, but had I been in the right train car, we would have seen him when we got off the train. But there were too many people, no porters, no carts, no luck for us. It was raining terribly, and continued to do so for the remained of our days in Warsaw. Since it was the last stop on our trip, we were finished. But, the tour guide there was great, and we had an outstanding evening with her at a Jewish concert in a Church, but I am too tired now to go on, and you probably fell asleep reading this 10 paragraphs ago. If I missed anything of importance to you, let me know and I'll answer you.
I am giving a talk to the Students in our Chabad Hebrew High classes this Wednesday about my experiences in Jewish Eastern Europe. I'll leave out the parts about the plane and train trip. As I've said before, I will be glad to refer people to you. I am very pleased, and we both thank you very much. Best wishes to you on the new year. Freddi Lovell (Joni too)
Comments from Sophia's Travel: We recommend and most of our clients opt for private driver between cities, this way you see sites on the way and do not deal with trains.
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