Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 11 - Krakow

As we began our scheduled day this morning, we could not have forseen the special and rare encounters that our group would, by chance, experience today!

Our day began in the Jewish Quarter, Kazmierz. Shalmi gave us the history of why large numbers of Jews came to Poland in the 16th century when they were invited by the aristrocracy. Jews came here and formed communities called shtetls in the rural, mostly unpopulated areas. Jews provided capital for the seeds that needed to be planted, and also had a monopoly on the sale of vodka. According to Shalmi, Poles really like alcohol, so this became very lucrative. Because Jews were protected property of the sovereign, and they collected taxes from the local peasants, and they controlled the sale of alcohol, the local peasants became resentful. Fueled by their simple education, mainly by the Church, they viewed Jews as Christ killers and periodally acted out their resentment in antisemitic acts.

Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, we learned about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. From here we visited the Remu Synagogue, where Shalmi explained the first hyperlinks, contained inside religious texts. Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetary, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.

As we walked down the sidewalk, Shalmi ran into a friend, Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Krakow, who invited us inside his center. He explained that the primary function of his center is to promote a thriving Jewish community, only 40 minutes from Auschwitz, where the doors are wide open to anyone who wants to come in. This center, dedicated in 2008 by Prince Charles of Great Britain, shows an optimism, and even though some of the members lived through the Holocaust, and are Holocaust survivors, the label isn't all that they are. They are people who overcame, and went on to have families, professions, and most importantly, they live.

After a quick lunch at McDonalds, we went to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. The Nazis forced the Jews to move away from their Kazmierz neighborhood, to a section of Krakow across the river. This ghetto was a sleeping ghetto--Jews left during the day to work in factories. From the museum that once was the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, we looked out over the open memorial, with chairs, that represent the furniture that the Jews carried over the bridge into these cramped quarters, where 17,000 people crowded into 320 houses.

From here we drove by Oscar Schindler's factory, a recently painted and newly opened part of the Jewish Museum of Krakow. We stopped to look at part of the original ghetto wall, which was built by Jews, and shows an ornate style.

We ended the day at the Plaszow Camp, which was built by the people from the Krakow Ghetto who believed they would survive the war because they are building a labor camp. They even built a barrack for children there, so they believed that their families would remain intact. However, on March 13, 1943, all Jews from the ghetto were supposed to report to the square at 7:00 a.m. Once there, all children under age 14 were told to line up separately. Their parents were told that they would come to Plaszow the next day. Those who didn't believe them rushed to the pharmacy and purchases one of two drugs: 1. Valerium--a drug that put their babies to sleep, so that a few parents could smuggle their babies into the Plaszow camp. 2. Cyanide, for suicide. At 1:00 p.m., the Nazis ordered those not in the children's line to start marching from the ghetto to Plaszow. They left behind what they were unable to carry. Their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents were forced to sort the children's clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.

Who would have thought, even for a moment, that our day in Krakow would end with us inside the villa of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow Concentration Camp, where Spielberg filmed parts of Schindler's List? After visiting the area of the camp where today lay the ruins of the Jewish Burial Hall and a memorial to Sarah Schenirer (this is the area of the camp that the HST 2009 participants cleaned up), we walked to the villa of Amon Goeth. While looking at the house from the street, we saw a gentleman come out of the doorway and wave us up the walkway. We, of course, approached the house with Shalmi and Ewa, our Polish guide, and immediately took him up on his offer to come inside. This man is the current owner and resident of the villa who is hoping to sell the house to the museum community of Krakow. This was an incredible chance meeting that demonstrates the importance of experiential learning and its possibility for rare opportunities that become profound teachable moments. Shalmi, Ewa and our group have never been inside the villa because it is privately owned. How fortuitous that we were walking down the street and the owner happened to see us standing outside his house and welcomed us inside.

After this completely surreal experience inside Amon Goeth's villa, we returned to the hotel to say goodbye to our historian, our guide and our friend, Shalmi.

Student Reflections:

Reagan says... Today I was really inspired by Jonathan and his work at the JCC in Krakow. I can't imagine how challenging a task it must be to rebuild a community that faced so much horror in recent history. It is incredible what he and his team have accomplished there. Through promoting an atmosphere of positivity, optimism and tolerance they have made much progress in rejuvinating a Jewish-Polish identity that its members can be proud of.

Casey says... Tonight we discussed whether Goeth's house near the Plaszow site should become a museum or not. Personally, I felt that making it a museum would make it seem too sanitized. I would much rather it have some sort of small commemoration plaque to recognize its historic value.

Jordan says... Today when we visited Goeth's villa, we were unexpectedly invited in by the owner. There was a for sale sign on the front of the house. The owner expressed his goal to have the villa turned into a museum. However, I disagree with the owner's intent because I am not clear on what the museum would represent.

DaiQuan says... The JCC is a community center that serves the city of Krakow in Poland. Its purpose is to bring change to the community of Krakow. It gives the community hope that Jewish life in Poland can be revived. Also, it brings life to people who need it and who are looking for a new beginning.


  1. What an experience to be inside the villa! We have enjoyed your Blogs so much, following your day-to-day adventures. We all miss you and look forward seeing you home soon.!!

  2. Thank you for letting me part of your wonderful journey through this blog I feel like I have learned a lot through your eyes. Thank you for the daily input and the pictures. It was wonderful seeing them and seeing all of you. I wish you all a safe trip home. We missed you and cannot wait for your hugs. Mrs.T. you have given these children a lesson they will never learn in a history book. Thank you for your kindness towards my son and I know he will NEVER forget this trip. God Bless.

  3. It's neat that you went to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. There were 17,000 Jews that lived in 320 houses. That is over 500 people per house. That must have been horrible. I don't know how they could have lived like that.

    It makes me sick to read the story about the Plaszow camp. I don't understand why they would kill all the children under 14 years old. Then the parents had to come back and pick up their children's clothes. I can't imagine who would ever think of this and how it could happen. There is now a McDonalds near there. It must seem crazy to eat at McDonalds right by where all this happened.

    It's also nice that you are meeting people that actually live there and have stories instead of just taking a tour. That really makes it a more interesting tour.
    -Dashawn Harden

  4. I find it amazing that there is a Jewish Community Center at so close a distance from Auschwitz. I would expect the Jews to avoid this area or be mournful all of the time.

    But, these Jews have not wallowed in their painful memories. Inspirationally, they have rebuilt their community, vibrantly preserving their culture and rising above their misfortunes. Though they have not forgotten their tragedies, these Jews have made new lives for themselves apart from the Holocaust.

    -Molly Porter

  5. Every once in a while when I go shoot guns at my grandpa's farm I look down the sight, and am reminded of this scene of Schindler's List. this leads to my memory of that wretched balcony. It's amazing that an inanimate object can, with now words, tell such an intimate, horror inducing story. The real challenge is not only putting what you saw into words, but then relaying the emotions that have been experienced as well. This is probably the most difficult part of possessing the memory that you now hold.

    -Charlie Sullivan

  6. What an incredible experience you have all shared. I have learned so much through your experiences. What a wonderful culmination for those of you that have read and viewed so much about this for so many years. God Bless the teachers that have put this wonderful trip together! May you be able to share these memories with so many more people.

    Thank you.

  7. I am posting here a day late since after reading all of the students reflections regarding Auschwitz my emotions and mind were racing too greatly to gather and organize my thoughts. The experiences that you all have the privilege to share are all too rare indeed. If more could truly understand as you now do what went on here whether you are Jewish or not, I feel it would help people grow and learn from our mistakes as a human race. My closeness to this atrocity especially with the loss of my father this past year, truly magnifies the significance personally and evokes a myriad of emotions. Most of my fathers family came from Skalad Poland ...I don't even know if you are near there. I am so glad that considering the emotional day you all had yesterday that you could follow it up with such a great day today and with a Birthday celebration. Continue to have an enlightening journey and keep you eyes ears and hearts open.

  8. Wow... it's hard to believe this journey is nearing its end.....with all you have experienced, learned and cried through…
    I know each of you will be touched forever.

    I am torn with today’s chance invitation…
    I can't say that being invited into that butcher of Hitler’s residence would be a part of the journey I completely understand or appreciate. Perhaps I would have had to been there.. With the unbelievable timing and being invited in.. to appreciate it…

    I think knowing how Goeth callously orchestrated some of the most evil and disgusting of acts continuously without regard for life whatsoever… is just not a person I can pay homage to… and then to see the villa in which he was able to return home to whenever he needed to… sickens me.

    I have to agree with Jordan... I cannot understand the reasoning in commemorating this villa and turning it into a into a museum. I guess this is where my anger comes out. I just can’t grasp wanting to be near anything whatsoever pertaining to him…..

    That being said… I applaud the experiences you have all amazingly gained. Shalmi -- BLESS YOU forever for all that you have shared and taught my daughter Francesca.

    Mrs. Tambuscio, thank you seems so small in all that you have done. The amount of time you dedicate, and everything you do and have done not only for the 2011 Holocaust trip, but for all the groups before this one, and no doubt, for all those that will follow… you are a selfless human being and the best educator my child will ever encounter. So although it does sound small, truly I thank you. I know you have changed Frankie in a way that even she may not realize for quite a time. But changed her and the lives of so many in an amazing way. You have touched all of these 22 young adults and for this I wholeheartedly applaud you. I also thank all the other extremely dedicated educators with all my heart.

    I know I have tended to ramble on in this blog each day, and I apologize, but thank you for allowing me to let my feelings flow. This has been unbelievably therapeutic for a parent thousands of miles away.

    Safe traveling home everyone. And to my sweet, sometimes slightly nutty Francesca .. I can’t wait to see you, and hug you .. Like never before…all my love…


  9. Its amazing to see the pictures of Amon Goeth's house because of the documentary we just started on Monday. Seeing pictures of the villa and correlating it to the shooting scenes in Schindler's List (which I had never seen before) makes me more and more jealous that I cannot be on this trip. And what a great coincidence that owner was there and you got to go inside. We didn't finish the documentary in class so I, too, wonder what the inside looks like and looking at the pictures of the balcony I can imagine the scene in Schindler's List with Amon on the balcony sitting and shooting people from the camp. I'm curious if the camp is/was really that close to his villa. I think it is a great idea to turn the home into a museum because of the documentary of Monika Goeth as well as the famous scenes from Schindler's List. The trip continues to look amazing and I am truly jealous of all you have gotten to see.

  10. I just spent some time reading about Goeth and his disgusting part in the Holocaust. I wonder how the man who owns the house could have ever lived there all these years. I would have had a feeling of sorrow knowing who one of the the previous owners was! IF it is bought by the museum community surely it is will be put to a sensible use...NOT used to commemorate this individual. Just think of all the places, including Auschwitz, that have been kept as a reminder of the past. If they would have been totally destroyed all the great teaching tools would have been lost. They are NOT there to honor those that were responsible for the Holocaust, but to remind us how fragile life is, and we should never allow a manic to control others and bring on future atrocities. Again..this is what we all hope each of you takes from this trip. And then, go out and spread what you have learned. HONOR the victims and the survivors you have met. We hear only a few well known stories, such as the life of Anne Frank. You can enlighten many with the stories of the child screaming, "I hope you die!" to the mother. The reality of seeing children's shoes among the thousands you saw. The piles of hair that was shaved off...such an insult to those victims. Otto Wolf and his family's plight. You now have the job to become teachers...and I know you'll all make us proud!
    :o) Susan Kaprielian

  11. Although I haven't posted a comment until now, I have followed your trip through this blog.

    You have experienced up-close and personally the people, places, and things of the Holocaust, and I know it has changed each of you forever. I imagine that you appreciate much more now than before the trip how vital a role you can and will play in booth making known the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides that continue to this day and speaking out in protest against them.

    Have a safe trip home...Shalom,
    Mrs. Keesing

  12. That is so cool that you all got to drive by Oscar Schindler's factory. I just finished watching that movie in class and I find it so amazing that he saved all those Jewish lives.
    Meghan McAllister

  13. Ms. Sussman this trip looks great. To be able to visit all these historical sites must be exciting. I wish I could have gone on this trip so much. It must have been exciting to see the factory that Oscar Schindler built in order to save Jews. It was somewhat amazing to see what he was able to do and if only there were more people that could of done what he did or tried to do what he did, maybe history would not be the same. But overall this looks like a great trip.

  14. To see the ghetto of Krakow and the Plaszow Camp must have been so interesting. After watching Schindler's List, it amazes me just to image what the camp and ghetto look like now. And how lucky it is that you guys got to see the inside of Amon Goeth's villa! It surprises me that it is still intact, and I cannot imagine what it is like to walk inside of the villa, knowing what Amon Goeth did in the Plaszow Camp.

    I cannot wait to hear more details about the trip from Ms. Sussman!

  15. To be able to see these sites in person must have been amazing. It's one thing to see pictures of these places and sites another to see them in person and be able to experience it all. In schindler's these places looked interesting to visit. In my opinion it would be a once in a life time experience to go and visit one of these camps. This looks like an amazing trip to be a part of.

  16. It is so weird to see how sickly the Jews and other people were treated in the ghetto. Going to see them and being in presence of something that not to long inhabited hundreds of thousands of people who were treated like dirt must have been life changing.

  17. It's amazing what you guys have been up to in just the past three days! Can't wait to see and hear more about the trip.

    Julia Klein

  18. Hey guys!!! How's your trip going? Are you learning things you never thought you would ever hear? What was the inspiring thing you ever saw and what was the worst thing? Hope to see you soon! Miss you so much Amanda.

  19. I'm not exactly sure if "I hope you're having a good time" is a proper greeting because from these photos I can see the pain of the past reflected on the faces of the future. I hope you are all having a great experience and we are all missing you.

    "Anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized."
    - Adolf Hitler

    Remember that it is all of you who are working to make this quote untrue.

  20. As I am quiet new in Jewish, looking around for some Jewish information> Got something important here. Nice to get it.
    Have you seen this video ? It helped me get over my internal anger.