Monday, October 20, 2008

Our Final Stop

Our last stop of the day was to a Franciscan monestary to an art exhibit from a survivor of Holocaust. We were already fragile after our trip to Birkenau...then this. We went into the basement of the building to be taken by a monk through what can be best described as the personal hell of a survivors memory. I can't do it any justice in a blog outside of putting some pictures up for you to see. As one of my colleagues stated "It was an all out assault on your emotions"...there was simply no turning away from the was installation art...not an "art show" was on the ground...on the could not look away.

The survivor was in Auschwitz I from the beginning and saw it all...but repressed the memory until he suffered a stroke in 1992. He was paralyzed from the waist down and afflicted with the nightmares of his past. The doctors suggested he draw/paint (he was an artist...a set designer after the war) his emotions out to deal with his pain. He did exactly that...over 300 drawings/paintings each taking you further into his personal hell. I was unlucky to the be the last one to come in...just as I stepped in the monk locked us in. An ominous portend of what was to come. I wanted a way out of this hellish was truly discombobulating! The other teachers were happy I did not tell them we were locked in or they thought they might have lost it as well. It took an hour and a half to get through the labyrinth...our drive home to Krakow was somber...each of us grappling with what we had just witnessed. It was the crescendo moment for the week!

Upon return we had a dinner at a Jewish restaurant and met with the teachers we had seen earlier in the day (which seemed like ages ago at this point). We had a great discussion about Polish-American cooperation and collaboration and hope for teacher/student exchange in the future.

Tomorrow we leave for home...I think even the long trip home will be insufficient time to process what we have just experienced.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More pics from Auschwitz

Here are more pics from our time at Auschwitz I and II.


Today was our trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau. As we drove the hour long trip to the notorious death camp, we went through nervous laughter attempting to settle ourselves prior to arrival. The town of Oswiecim came upon us suddenly as did the camp of Auschwitz I. What struck us all was the location of a school, hotel, fast food stores and other businesses across the street from this most famous of death camps. As Doug was like coming upon a local zoo...with dozens of tour busses parked outside the visitor center. Apparently their was a battle about 10 years ago with the museum and the city over the businesses location...but the city won out. It reminded me of the battle over civil war sites in the United States and the creep of modern civilization.

Once we entered we met up with our guide who took us through the camp. This was not the camp built for Jews and the buildings here were all built of brick (with a few exceptions). It had been originally built for the Polish Army...but was quickly converted to deal with all of the prisoners they were arresting in Poland. These prisoners were used to build Auschwitz II (known as Birkenau).

We started in the building that took us through the Final Solution and the remains for what was left upon its liberation in January include hair, shoes, suitcases, personal effects and much more. Each room was more sobering than the last. Many of the exhibits I had seen before on the Oprah special with Elie Weisel...but being there was something else entirely. We went into other buildings to include Building 12 the "Prison within a Prison" and its adjoining execution wall. We toured the cells and witnessed the hell that was Auschwitz I. Starvation cells, suffocation cells...designed for the joy of sadists. How does one resist his madness???how does one fight back??? The penalty for escape was the death of include yourself when you were caught.

After taking a tour of a modern exhibit from Hungary...we finally toured the Gas Chamber...small by comparison to Auschwitz II...but still 350 at at time with adjoining crematorium. What upside down madness was this place? Far more questions than answers could ever provide. You leave Auschwitz I in a somber contemplative place...only to take the short bus ride to Auschwitz II (Birkenau). Again its simply out there...and you can drive right up to the gate...that infamous gate to hell. We climb up the observation tower and stare in horror at the scope...the immense size of this place that can be seen from this tower. Here were 4 Gas Chambers with Cremetoria...Over 5000 a day at its peak...We spend only a short time there...looking at a barracks and a shower/toilet could see the cruel joke of both buildings on the prisoners who worked in this hell. Work...certainly did not make one free...only death.

We left Auschwitz II to have a short dinner and contemplate...joking largely subsided amongst our usually jovial band of teachers...jokes simply lost their place in the shadow hanging over us. How does one take this all in? I still don't know...none of us do. As we drove away...we see many houses that look old enough to have been around during the war. We ask...what did they see out those windows? What did that mean to them? Simply more difficult questions....

Visting another school in Krakow

Our first stop on our last full day in Poland was at an Arts Academy in Krakow. It was amazing the difference in the two teaching staffs and in the students. This is like a magnet school for the gifted in arts (visual...not dance or music). We met the staff and saw presentations of student work and work they are doing in Jewish Polish relations. Again we were very impressed with their work and their commitment to kids. These are extremely talented people and their work with children show this. Again another impressive visit to another Polish school. We must talk about education here in America!!!

Leaving Warsaw behind

Today we left for Krakow after 5 days in Warsaw. It was hard to say farewell to our friends from Israel and Poland...but we made some great connections that I hope we can continue with collaborative efforts between schools in the coming months. We were treated kindly by the staff and wont soon forget the efforts that they went to to make us feel welcome. The Polish people are extremely warm and kind when you get to know them. On to Krakow where we settle into a nice hotel in the heart of the Jewish quarter. Tomorrow we will have a huge day at a local school, visit to Auschwitz and to Birkenau as well as an art exhibit...sleep is a must!

The Picture is of all of us and a few of the staff.

Visiting a School in Warsaw

On our last day we went to a school called 64 (kinda like NY city) and listened to a discussion on a Tadeusz Borowski selection. Two observations. OH MY GOD...every student did the homework....and OH MY GOD...every kid participated fully in the conversation with insightful comments and feedback!!! Ok got your work cut out for you!!!

It was incredible to listen to them and to have them speak in English to boot was nothing short of incredible. The teacher sat in her chair asking leading questions and there was NO technology of any kind in the room...sitting in desks from the 50s I was just incredible. One of the students was a foreign exchange student from Arizona! All of these students were participating in a Jewish studies program at this school (although I don't think any of them were Jewish?) We were all duly impressed and were very well received by the teachers and administrative staff.

See the pictures.

Day 5 in Warsaw

Hello again,

Sorry for the delay in getting this post online. I have been without internet access until getting home...I will do day by day posts all at once.

Today we went downtown to see the famous Jewish cemetery. It was stunning to see the state of disrepair it was in and also to see the historic significance of the people who are buried there. Its a treasure trove of history. We were given a tour by a prominent historian talking through a translator...and although that is always tough to stay focused on what he was was an incredible experience. I was just shocked to see how unkept the cemetery was. There is a very small Jewish community in Warsaw and its impossible for them to do the maintenance alone. Outside help is certainly needed. See the pictures attached here.

After that we went to the Umsclagplatz where the Jews were boarded onto trains bound for Treblinka. This is the famous scene in The Pianist where they sat around as a family sharing the caramel.

Next we went to see the Ghetto fighters memorial. It was inspiring to see the memorial. All in all it was an inspiring day and a fitting way to end out experience in Warsaw.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Day 4 in Warsaw

Hello again,

Well today is our last full day in Warsaw and we wrapped up our workshop with the other teachers. We had a great discussion with 5 other Polish teachers who just recently finished doing cultural exchanges between Polish and Israeli youth. We brainstormed ideas on how we could emulate this program in some way here. I think we made some great progress and I can certainly see us connecting in the near future.

After our session ended we went to downtown Warsaw to the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. Very moving and powerful museum built in 2004. The noise did make the museum discombobulating.... but I think I could have spent a lot more time there. After that we took a tour of old and new town in Warsaw. After the failure of the Warsaw uprising...the city was all but destroyed (85%) So most of the buildings have been rebuilt. It was still amazing and I hope to get pictures up of today sometime tomorrow.

Tonight we bade farewell to our new Polish and Israeli teachers as they go on their way. I think we got a lot out of them...I am not sure the same is true of us.

More will come in later.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Another picture from Poland

These two are photos of the place we are meeting and staying in Poland and the other was a meeting with dignitaries from a representative of the Prime minister, the President and the Israeli Ambassador to Poland among others.


Day 3 in Poland

Hello everyone,

I hope all is well in decadent Amerika:) I am realizing more and more how lucky we are all living in the great USA. Its so much about the little things I take for granted. I can't find ice to save my life and every drink is served cold?? Ok...enough complaining:)

Today went rather well. We had some lectures about the history of Jews in Poland and was amazed as to how many Synagogues there are in Poland...almost none used as Synagogues today. The question of identity came up again and I am still rather vexed on this issue. I WILL get a good answer (I hope) to this question I hope when I meet with Polish students. We then had workshops in small groups talking about key issues of Polands history and is relationship with Jews today and in history. It was hard as there were three languages flying around all the time. I have a new appreciation for ELL students now!

After dinner (which is the same as our lunch) We went downtown to see a play that was based on Yiddish Theater "Dla mnie Bomba". It was very interesting...but again a challenge because of the language issue.

I am posting a few pics. One of me presenting to the group here in Poland and the of the two directors who were leading us in dance last night.

More to come and more photos soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Day 2 final post

Hello again,

Its actually the start of day 3 here...but I wanted to conclude my conversation about yesterday. The afternoon session was very interesting (if taxing on my mind with translators and headsets). We heard how the Holocaust is taught in Poland and how that has changed dramatically since 1989 after the fall of Communism and again in 2000 with the the story Jenwabe (from the book Neighbors) dealing with Polish Complicity in Genocide. They also talked about the Polish underground and the Government in Exile during the war.

After our sessions we got some lessons in Polish and Israeli dance and folk music. We danced (I can hardly call what I did dance...) and generally enjoyed each others company. I have to say it was an incredible moment for me to see Jews dancing and celebrating the Sukkott (sp?) in Poland. There is a sense of triumph in this I think. We all went out together afterwords and had fun until they closed the place down (11pm close???).

More to much to say about the issue of Identity...something I am still trying to explore...but it is tough. More later today about Day 3.

Rob Hadley

Day 2 Update

Hello again from outside Warsaw,

After hearing from a variety of those involved in this conference we are beginning to see the diversity of opinions regarding the relations between the Poles and Jews. As was stated by a noted professor, they are on the road to a mutual understanding, but still have a long distance to travel. It is very interesting to listen in on this conversation...but we Americans are still trying to figure out how we can contribute to this conversation between Poland and modern day Israel. The issue of identity is still something that is troubling me and now maybe more than when I first came. The use of the vernacular of Jews and Poles as separate, segregated groups in Poland is troubling. We are looking at over 700 years of a relationship suddenly severed by the Holocaust. How could this happen? How do we repair this relationship and what language do we use in the 21st century to help us facilitate the relationship. It still seems we have a great distance to travel.

More to come.

Day 1

Hello all,

Well I survived my first day here. I was operating off of no sleep in 48 hours by the end of the day...but I am alive:) The conditions are rather sparse and it feels more like camp than anything. We are staying in dorm rooms (for lack of a better description). I am having some computer problems...but I think I am resolving them now. The group we are with is very interesting and not exactly what I expected. Not all of them are Holocaust educators. We are trying to make connections with them and will continue to make efforts today. We are working through translators and that slows things down a bit.

So I will be back online in a few hours again. I need to recharge my battery:)


Sunday, October 12, 2008

We have arrived safely in Poland!

To all,

We have arrived safely in Poland after 5 flights! We are staying at a teacher training center outside Warsaw and all is well...even though we are all very tired.

I was interested to see in our trip from the airport to here that Capitalism is rapidly coming to Poland, plastered over the neglect of Soviet rule. This is a country that has its feet planted firmly in the past and present at the same time.

Our conference gets started in a few hours. I will have more to post later tonight and hope to get a few pictures up tonight as well. Trying to figure out the technology here. I am using the computer lab right now and everything is in Polish.

Take care and please feel free to post comments and questions anytime.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Ready to Leave for Poland

Hello all,

Welcome to my Travel blog for my trip to Poland. I am frantically getting ready to leave today from my comfortable home and bed to make the arduous journey to Warsaw Poland for an international conference on Holocaust Education. I am anxious as I have never been to Poland or any of the camps, but I am traveling with 9 good friends from the Holocaust museum who together will form an effective support network while in Poland. I hope that you will all get to meet these amazing teachers from around the country.
I will be updating this blog as often as I can while in Poland. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, comments and well wishes on my blog. I truly look forward to this being an interactive experience where it wont be the same as having you travel with me...its the next best thing.
Look for more tomorrow.
Rob Hadley