After waking up at the latest time ever this week (a lovely 8 AM), we enjoyed our favorite breakfast of stale bread and off-brand Nutella. Filled with joy knowing we were headed to Israel that night, we began our last day in Krakow. In the morning, we walked around Kazimierz, where we saw 500-year-old synagogues and “The Temple” (a more progressive synagogue). We then made our way to Krakow’s ghetto and explored there. The Krakow ghetto was also the location of the finish line of the Cracovia marathon, which commemorates the lives of those who died in the Holocaust. This event should have happened a month ago on the day of the ghetto’s liberation, but the harsh Polish weather coincidentally pushed it to a day we were visiting.
After a better lunch, we were able to relax in the hotel before we went to the Wawel Royal Castle, our last touring location with the incredible Peppi. The castle was significantly larger than the infamous houses on Shawnee Run Road in Indian Hill. Then, the group split up to have separate dinners.
As our first week in Poland comes to a close, I can assure all you readers that every single person on this trip has left changed, including Phil, Elizabeth, and Lizzie. For me, this trip has encouraged me to go out of my way to help those around me and stand up for my values, among other things. I eagerly await what I, as well as the rest of the group, will learn as we journey through Israel.
After waking up nice and late today, we had a short Shabbat morning program. We sat together, sang, and prayed, all the while with the realization that less 75 years ago, this would have been a crime. Nonetheless, we came together to celebrate Shabbat as free Jews.
We then made our way to Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow. We visited three separate temples that were all used pre-war amongst the Jewish people, but were occupied by Germans during the war as storage warehouses. This was just one more reminder of the ways in which the Nazis took away the identity of the Jews. We made our way down to the Krakow ghetto, where we entered the pharmacy of Tandeusz Pankiewicz, a Pole who saved Jews in the Krakow ghetto at the risk of his own life, and is recognized in Yad Vashem, as a righteous among the nations.
After lunch, we traveled to the Wawel, a gorgeous (and very old) Polish Cathedral and Castle. As a spot that is very special to the Polish people, it was bustling with children, shops, and Polish culture. Finally, we traveled to the Old Quarter, where we enjoyed free time with dinner of our choice, and shopping in the Polish market and shops. We then went back to the hotel to pack our bags and get ready for our very late flight to Israel.
Full of delicious pierogis and gelato, we got to explore the beautiful Polish culture of Krakow. Though there are very few Jews left in Krakow, we were reminded that our people helped to create this intricate culture and once walked the same streets that we did today.
The most important thing that I took out of today was that we cannot blame the Polish people for the suffering of the Holocaust. Though there were poles who gladly assisted the Nazis, there were also over 6,700 of them who risked their lives to help the Jews. Poland is not a desolate land of rubble and destruction, but a beautiful thriving country full of life and culture. As Jews we must not only remember that we helped create it, but that it is still a thriving community in Poland that deserves to have its beauty be known.
Today was a very busy last day in Poland. Everyone was excited, as we got to “sleep in” until 8am! We ate and had a wonderful morning Shabbat service together. Shortly after, we explored the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, where we visited beautiful old synagogues and learned about the prosperous Jewish life that once existed pre-war. One synagogue named “The Temple” was especially interesting to me. Peppi told us that the members of the congregation were the “reform” Jews of their time, and we noticed that the synagogue look somewhat similar to Plum Street temple, the first reform synagogue in the United States.
After returning to the hotel and getting some much needed Shabbat rest, we left to explore Old Krakow. The area was so beautiful and European looking. It felt like we were in Florence. We were allotted 2.5 hours to explore the area, purchase souvenirs, and eat all the food we could stomach.
I now sit here writing this in the Krakow airport, anxiously awaiting our departure for Israel. Part one of our Journey is complete, and I can honestly say it has been the most important week of my life. The week was the darkest of my life, but it was so important that we came here to see the horrors of the past. You can learn all there is to know about what took place here, but you truly can’t grasp the bone-chilling realities without experiencing it yourself.
From all the darkness, I found light as well. Our delegation of 25, marching alongside 15,000 of our people shows that we are still here. We carry on the memory of the 6 million who are not. While they were brutally murdered, their lives were not for nothing, as we are about to depart for the Jewish state of Israel. I am so excited to continue this journey with my newfound family, as together we are a source of light so strong that nothing can stand in our way.