Monday, May 30, 2016

Warsaw Memories

Early in the morning we arrived at the Uprising Museum.  It was opened in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the revolt of Warsaw Poles against the Nazis.  The Uprising was organized as an assertion of independence and opposition to the Nazi regime.  
white eagle swoops down
on the swastika

brave motorcyclists
The Warsaw residents figured that with the Soviet Red Army advancing toward Warsaw (it was already just east of the city on the eastern side of the Vistula River), and the German Army about to retreat from the city, it would be an opportune time to revolt. They hoped that they would be supported by the approaching Soviet forces, as well as the British and American Allies.  The Uprising began on August 1, 1944, but no help came.  Hitler was outraged and ordered his troops to “raze Warsaw to the ground.”  The Uprising Museum teaches about the massive destruction and loss of life, but it also celebrates the heroism of the Poles.  The multi-media exhibits gave us a sense of what it must have been like to be in an urban war zone. 

After leaving the museum, we walked to a nearby office building and took a break for coffee and snacks, and Miri taught us about Jan Karski’s life in depth.  She explained that the Israeli organization and museum in Jerusalem called Yad Vashem focuses on the Holocaust and also honors non-Jewish heroes who selflessly saved Jews.  Jan Karski was awarded by Yad Vashem and by the State of Israel.  

the Okopowa Street Jewish cemetery
Kasia explaining
We took a tram to the large Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street.  It was beautiful and lush with an abundance of trees and grass, and but also eerie.  It was startling to see so many tombstones, many of them disturbed and fallen and partially hidden by the greenery.
For many in our group, it was the first Jewish cemetery they had seen, and they learned about the Hebrew inscriptions and the Jewish custom of placing little stones on the tombs as a sign of respect.  We went on a hunt for the gravestone of a CSUN student's great-grandmother.  Even with the data supplied (cemetery sector and 
the 1899 gravestone for
great-grandmother Miriam
row) and a photo of the grave, it seemed that the irregularity of the rows would make it impossible to find.  To our amazement, Olivia succeeded!  We left a little stone on top. 

We took a tram and walked into town for lunch, and then got on a tram that took us across the river to Praga, where the University of Humanities and Social Sciences (SWPS) is located.  The plan was to talk with Polish students enrolled in the Institute for            
talking and listening
English Studies.  Sitting next to each other in the cafeteria, we introduced ourselves and heard their stories.  Meeting these Polish college students was an awesome experience!  We bonded over music, history, and what turned out to be a common sense of humor. 

 Afterwards, some of our group went with the Polish students to a beautiful beach on the banks of the Vistula River where kids our age gather.  At the river’s edge, they sat and talked, watched the sunset, and shared many laughs.  Most of our group went back into the city to do last-minute shopping, pack, and rest up after our busy last day in Warsaw. 


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