Well, I made it. It’s the end of my first full day in Poland for my fellowship* the goals of which are: to interview people preserving Jewish memory, to go into my ancestral towns and see what is left of Jewish memory, to create a safe space for those wrestling with their own identities, to work on my book and my Polish. A tall order. My friend from whom I am renting an apartment very kindly prepared everything— he was hanging new curtains when I arrived and had stocked the fridge. I have a desk at the Brama Grodzka-Teatr NN Center, the organization which was my inspiration to start Bridge To Poland. I look forward to getting to know their work even better by actually being on site for several months. Today I insisted on speaking Polish most of the day which must be painful for my conversation partners but I don’t know how else I will learn. I already managed to learn from my friend Agnieszka that you say Idę do Bramy but, Jestem w Bramie (I’m going to Brama but, I am in Brama—the endings in Polish change depending on what the noun is doing in the sentence). I had learned this with a teacher this summer but there’s no substitute for learning it on the ground. Next week there’s a conference in commemoration of seventy-five years since the largest massacre of Jews during Operation Reinhardt. Lots of top Holocaust scholars will be here. It’s hosted by Brama Grodzka. It will be in Polish so I won’t get it all but it was important for me to arrive in time for this momentous anniversary.
The week of November 11th I have my first set of interviews with guardians of memory. I am starting in my comfort zone, that is, with people I know and have a good rapport with: Tomek Pietrasiewicz and Witek Dąbrowski, Director and Deputy Director of Brama Grodzka-Teatr NN in Lublin; Krzysiek Banach, historian and head of exhibitions at the death camp and concentration camp Majdanek; Tomek Cebulski, scholar, author and tour guide at Auschwitz-Birkenau among other places; Anna Wencel, Director of Education at the Galicja Jewish Museum in Kraków and Dariusz Stola the Director of Polin, Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
On November 24th a Slovakian (I think I have that right) theater troupe is coming to Brama perform an interpretation of Gone with the Wind. Of course I won’t understand that but I know the story so well I am planning to go. My friend says the Poles won’t understand it either so I will be in good company!
It’s really fun starting a new life in a new country. I am sure there will be ups and downs and lonely times (like the weekends—what ever will I do on the weekends?) but for now I am looking forward to this new adventure! Thanks to all who helped me get ready for this, those who are getting my mail, staying in my house, etc… To all the people back home I will miss you and look forward to seeing you soon!
*I received the Mary Elvira Stevens Traveling Fellowship from Wellesley College. Thank you, Wellesley!