Friday, May 29, 2015

Hard Day at a Museum

We arrived at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at the same as three bus loads of local high school students. This Museum, very recently constructed, covers a thousand years of history from when Jews first arrived as itinerant traders in the 11th century to the present day.  The students were all taller than I am, so getting close to some displays and reading the text information in English translation was challenging. So when I could not get close, I watched the reactions of the students instead. Some kids stood around chatting with each other. Others read the display information with interest and sometimes, would call out to their friends to take a look.   The Poles were often governed by stronger empires around them like the Prussians, the Russians and the Ottomans but they had their own monarchy for a while too. Between the first and second wars, they were an independent republic.   Within this range of historical changes, lived my own ancestors in small Jewish villages. We were not allowed to live among Christians until the late 19th century. My mother's parents emigrated to Canada around WWI. So many changes both political and cultural were taking place in the world.

In 1939, there were three million Jewish people living in Poland, most of whom did not survive the Nazi invaders and their death camps. When the Museum deals with this period, the rooms become smaller, with walls that close in on you.

Some kind and brave Poles agreed to hide Jewish infants and toddlers for their parents until better times. In a display entitled Jewish Mother, Polish Mother we saw photos of these children as seniors today and photos of them as toddlers. There were also photos of their Polish adoptive parents and if available photos of their Jewish birth parents. Their stories were both heartbreaking and inspiring.

We walked back to our Warsaw hotel in the warm spring afternoon sun.

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