Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day 11 Rabka Dzroj and Zakopane

This town of Rabka, once a resort town for convalescents, during the years of 1942-1944, was the site of a courageous act by a group of women who chose to take action,and bury the dead. Located in a town between Krakow and Zakopane, holds an important yet relatively unknown historical place of significance. Here,during World War II the Gestapo took over a convent and used it as a center for training Nazis in interrogation techniques. In order to develop the most effective methods, the Gestapo used local Jews from the shtetl as guinea pigs. They used Jewish citizens from this shtetl as test subjects for teaching methods of interrogation using torture. In the process they would torture them to death and throw their bodies behind the convent.

The nuns of the convent, understanding that this was not right, at their own peril, somehow took the bodies up the hill into the woods and buried them with respect.

Our group follows Shalmi up the hill into the woods to discover the gated cemetery that was constructed when communism fell in 1989 to mark the site of the graves.

We can hear dogs barking in the distance, like they know someone new is in their town.
Today we are witnesses to an untold history. Nothing has been written about this. The nuns don’t go out of their way to tell the story, possibly because the new order who live here don’t know the story.

The nuns somehow managed to get the bodies up the hill, to a hidden space in the forest away from the convent where they had been interrogated and killed by the Gestapo. They made a statement by burying the dead and showing them respect. The nuns built cement platforms to mark the graves.

We have no idea how many bodies are buried here, but in 1989, the end of the communist rule in Poland, a man named Leo Geteterer funded a gate with a Jewish Star of David, enclosing the cemetery with a wrought iron fence.

Here in the cemetery, Shalmi told us a story about Karol Josef Wojtyla, who we now know as Pope John Paul II, who as a young priest in Krakow, did something remarkable. After WWII was over, a Polish couple brought a young boy to him and asked for him to baptize this Jewish boy they had hidden during the war. Fr. Wojtyla asked them if the boy’s parents were alive, and they said no, but the way they answered aroused his suspicions. He then did some research and found out that the boy’s uncles were alive and wanted to raise their nephew. At a time when baptism meant salvation to Catholics, Fr. Wojtyla told the couple no, he would not baptize the boy. Because of this action, he was considered a hero in the Jewish world long before he ever became Pope John Paul II.

As we leave the cemetery, a local man watches us from the woods behind the cemetery, obviously concerned about our visit. We leave knowing that what the nuns did here during the war is truly heroic; however, we wonder at their reluctance to honor those actions today.

We continue our journey to the Tatra mountains and the town of Zakopane, where the local highlanders' crafts and beautifully constructed wooden houses fill the landscape. We are happy tourists who ride the funicular up the mountain, take many pictures, ride the ski lift down,and spend another hour or so shopping and eating excellent Polish kielbasa, soups and pierogies.


  1. you guys learned a lot today. I found it absolutely horrible to read that the Nazi's took over a convent and turned it into a training ground for Nazis. they took someplace sacred and turned people in to monsters in it.

    The story of what the Nuns did is remarkable though. I'm sure it was not easy having to see the dead bodies every day, and carrying them up a hill could not have been and easy task. They must have met resistance also but they did what was right and respected those who did not survive the Nazis.

    How did you know about this town and what the Nuns did here?

    The story Shalmi told about Pope John Paul II is amazing, most people would think that someone would just baptize the child with out question but he went out of his way to find out if the child had any living relatives first.

    The view from the mountain looks amazing, it's nice to enjoy the culture these cities have to as well as learn the history.


  2. I agree, it is horrible to think that such a sacred place could be turned into a place of torture. The fact that the bodies were not even cared for and dumped in such a brutal way, so much so that they are not even aware of the number of bodies that are there.

    It is also sad to think that something so horrible is pretty much unknown, even to the new order of nuns who live there. The previous nuns did have remarkable strength, witnessing something that was obviously against what they believe.

    Lastly, the image of a man watching from the woods just seems so powerful, but yet eerie at the same time. It makes me wonder whether he was aware of all the things that happened there, or just worried about the general visit.

  3. What an experience! The pictures are inspiring and beautiful! Enjoy the rest of your journey.

  4. The story about Pope John Paul II was really an eye-opener! Thanks for telling us all about it!!
    The scenery in the mountain area was breath-taking. A well deserved treat for all of you after the tough days you had!!

  5. This post was very interesting because I had never heard about these events before. I was also impressed with the story of Pope John Paul II. I think what he did was extremely honest and kind. the story of the nuns taking the victims and giving them a proper burial really stuck with me. By doing this, they were restoring the sense of humanity to these victims that the Nazis tried so hard to take away. Because of their actions, the victims received some of the respect and dignity they deserved.

  6. It's amazing how the nuns were able to secretly pay respect to those who were wronged, and we're happy to see that years later their efforts were recognized and those that perished will not be forgotten.

    Looks like that's snow on the ground.... Yeah it was 70 in NJ today!

    Safe travels and enjoy your last couple of days there!

  7. I loved reading this because all of this was new to me! I found the story about Pope John Paul II very interesting because I knew he lived during this time and it that area but I never put two and two together! It really strikes me that he would stand up for the Jewish religion like that - he was truely an incredible man/pope.

    The mountain looks beautiful, I wish I was there more than anything!

    Miss T - I miss you and your beautiful smile and amazing hugs so much! I'm sending you a hug over the internet :)

    Mr. Chang - I started cracking up today because I remembered the day when you wore one of your many Armani Exchange hats and the "Chang" in exCHANge was right at the back of your head....hahaha Hope you're doing well!

    Mrs. Bauman! Aquinas (and Mr. Bauman) MISS YOU! I can't wait to talk to you about the trip when you get back!!

    Mrs. Sussman - I miss you and hope you're having an amazing time!

    Aquinas kids - You have to promise to tell me every detail when you get back! :) We miss you here and can't wait to see you!

  8. Another incredibly moving day for all of you and for all of us reading this blog! Thank you for taking us on this amazing journey with you. What an emotional rollercoaster you are all on...such great highs and such deep lows. It's always inspiring to me how in the midst of terrible trials and atrocities, there are blessings intertwined. Soak up all you can in the next few days. Kristina and Ben--what wisdom and insight you will have to share with Midland Park when you get home!!! We can't wait!

  9. Hi Devanni, this is your father & sis. We;re proud of you for going on this trip and putting all the efforts to learn about the holocaust. Your doing a great job. Continue showing your great effort and dedication until the end of the trip. God bless you, we love you and take care of yourself.

    Princess says hi.

  10. Ok, so my post will be quite shorter than my others. This is because I did not get a chance to read the entry. I'm simply commenting to say this:

    I'm going away tomorrow and will not get a chance to comment the blog till after the end of your trip because I don't have access to my phone/internet. Notice how I said trip, not journey. That is because your journey never ends. Going on this trip does not end when you come back home. In a way, that is kind of the beginning.

    Now it is your responsibility to share your experiences every chance you get. This is not a chore, but a privilege. You have had the chance of a lifetime to learn firsthand about the atrocities of the Holocaust. It is now your duty to spread the word to make sure this event NEVER happens again.

    Last but not least, welcome to the HST FAM :)

    T, I'm so excited to have you back soon! Miss you so much! Ms. Bauman, Ms. Sussman, Shalmi, I hope to be in touch soon! Mr. Chang, you're close enough, come visit me! NO EXCUSES.

    Enjoy the last couple of days! I'll read the blog when I come home & look forward to talking to you all about your experience! :)

    ok maybe I lied when I said my comment was going to be short!

  11. Its hard to believe that the Nazi's were able to go into such a sacred and holy place and take control. How is it that the Catholic church was able to just sit there an let these inhumane actions take place in the house of God? It was brave what those nuns did knowing that they could have severe consequences for their actions. The fact that there actions have gone unnoticed in history give a glimpse to how a lot of people want to just ignore this grave part in history and only focus on the "good". Though most people outside the ghettos didn't care about the Jews especially those that were already dead, these nuns were like the rays of hope for humanity being respectful to the dead though they could be punished for it.

  12. I was really interested in that story about Pope John Paul II when he was just a young priest. I found it remarkable that he not only took the initiative to look up the boy's family, but also that he wouldn't baptize the boy because he was Jewish and his uncles wanted to raise him as such. The little acts of people like him are what make positive lifelong changes in the lives of others. It was also good to hear about someone being a connection between the Jewish and Catholic communities.

  13. I really admire the nuns' actions, and I think they were extremely brave. However, as I thought about it, I realized how terrible it must have been during a time when simply respectfully burying bodies was considered a dangerous and risky task. I'm glad that I now know about his little unknown piece of history.

  14. It's unbelievable how the Nazi's were able to change a sacred place to a place of torture. The actions of the nuns, though, were admirable and brave. I'm still shocked on how the Catholic Church allowed this to happen, and how the pope even made a deal with Hitler. Saving lives is more important than saving the Vatican. Still, I am happy to have learn something new and that at leas some admirable actions were taken my church members.

  15. Hey Flori and Alyssa, I hope you girls are having fun. We miss you a lot in digital journalism. Based on your blog posts , twitter, and instagram I can tell you are having a great time and are really enjoying yourselves. I can't wait to hear about all the things you girls have done and learned. I hope you girls enjoy the rest of your trip, see you soon! :)
    -Shannon T

  16. Witnessing an "untold story" of the Holocaust is beyond what I could imagaine as even a possiblity in my life. What courage and respect the nuns showed for these Jews who had suffered so much already. I am in awe at how interesting and amazing the tour has been. The photographs,videos, and writings have allowed me to share in your memorable experiences.

  17. I found this day's entries most interesting and moving, probably because I was raised Catholic and there has always been a question about how involved the Catholic Church was in standing up to the Nazi regime.Did it do enough? It was a relief to know that there were at least one group of Catholic nuns who did what they could, limited though it was, to at least address some of the atrocities.And I am thrilled to hear the story of Pope John II, one of my favorite popes, and his commitment to justice in this story about the little boy.
    Can't wait to hear more!
    Mrs. DePoto

  18. I thought the story about Pope John Paul II was very interesting. As a Catholic priest, most people would think that JP II would have been wiling to baptize anyone who wanted salvation. I find it so heroic that John Paul had enough respect for the Jewish faith not to baptize the young boy. I am glad to see that there were a few select Catholics in Poland who able to stand up to the Nazi regime in small ways.

  19. Wow. I cannot believe the nuns' courage and strength. I think that is amazing how the nuns buried the people. They didn't even have to do it, they wanted to. They showed so much respect to the people that died. I don't know if i could do that. We need more of the nun's courage and strength in our world today! I cannot wait to hear more stories from your trip! :)

  20. I agree with Cara, I found the story about Pope John Paul II really touching because I didn't even think about what he was doing during that time period. It's good to hear stories like that and what the nuns did because it proves that some Catholics really were willing to do the right thing and help the Jews.