I can’t believe I am back.
I can’t believe I was in Poland for seven months.
In a way it seems like a dream. I got to spend seven months visiting my ancestral towns, interviewing 25 non-Jewish, Polish rescuers of Jewish memory and hanging out with my friends in Lublin at Brama Grodzka. And learning Polish. I would like to do more of all of that.
1. I discovered a lot about my family that I did not know: One ancestor was born in Kazimierz Dolny, the picturesque town in the Lublin district that has been the backdrop for many films. One great-great-great-great grandmother was born in Lublin in 1789.
2. I got to interview some amazing people who are preserving Jewish memory in Poland, like Jurek Dębiec who was anxious that we get to the interview because he wanted to get to the Jewish cemetery that he cares for in Nowy Żmigród.
“How often do you go there?” I asked him.
“This time of year, every day,” he answered. “There’s a lot to do.”
When we got to the cemetery we started talking about the Jews of Nowy Żmigród and how many of them were Chassidic, different from the Lublin Jews that I am more familiar with. When adding something about them he used the phrase, “Naszi Żydzi,” “Our Jews.” That’s how much of a connection some of these people feel to this history. It is heartwarming.
3. I met two new third cousins! One American who was visiting Poland and one Polish. It turns out the Polish one’s mother is my grandmother’s first cousin. We did not know she survived and vice versa. I never thought I would meet living relatives in Poland.
4. I taught my dear friends a class about my mom’s memoir “Dry Tears.” “Dry Tears” is about my mother’s experience surviving as a Catholic during the Holocaust. It was so rewarding to be able to discuss this book with my Polish friends who live in Lublin and care so much about this history.
5. I had so many serendipitous experiences they are too numerous to mention here. To name just a few: I got to teach Polish kids about Chanukah in Polish, guide Israelis through the exhibition in Brama Grodzka in Hebrew, attend several conferences in Polish and English and spend many hours discussing fascinating topics with my friends.
I cannot wait to return!