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Okopowa Cemetery, Warsaw Ghetto, Umschlagplatz, Heroism Trail (Day 2)

People listen to speaker in Okopowa Cemetery

Today, after a long day of traveling, we finally arrived in Warsaw. As we took our first steps on Polish soil, I felt excited to start our journey and visit a country that has played such a crucial role in Jewish history. From the terminal, we started to drive through Warsaw with our tour guide, Peppi. Immediately, we all took note of the strange silence that pervades throughout the city’s dull, concrete landscape. The juxtaposition of the area’s remaining Soviet-era structures alongside modern influences lent itself to an eerie backdrop for our introduction to Poland and the atrocities that preceded Hitler’s final solution. We first visited the remnants of Warsaw’s Jewish cemetery (Okopowa Cemetery), gaining insight into the vibrant community of Jewish scholars, activists, and visionaries who called the city home. Even amidst this celebration of our Jewish ancestors, the cemetery’s inclusion of mass graves from ghetto-induced famine quickly sought to remind us of their demise. We then went to the small area that was once sanctioned as Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto. Here, we learned how the rights of Polish Jews to citizenship, commerce, and comfort were slowly and painfully stripped from them, along with their humanity. Many of us were shocked to see modern Polish life flourish in a territory that we consider so somber, with apartment complexes, stores, traffic, and common citizen nonchalantly occupying the place where our ancestors perished. Following our time in the ghetto, we walked to Umschlagplatz, the site at which many victims of the Holocaust were gathered and eventually sent to Treblinka, with stories of manipulation and desperation informing our visit. To close the afternoon, we followed the city’s Heroism Trail, paying tribute to influential members of Warsaw’s Jewish resistance, and discussed the events surrounding the infamous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. By the end of the day, I, along with many other members of my group, felt conflicted about what I had witnessed through the Polish capitol and anxious to see what would await us in the days to come.

–Kate Stein

Cross training. Young woman exercising with dumbbells.

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