𝐉𝐞𝐰𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐆𝐞𝐧 𝐅𝐮𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐒𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 - 𝐃𝐚𝐲 𝟑 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐩 #JewishGenUpdates #poland
𝐉𝐞𝐰𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐆𝐞𝐧 𝐅𝐮𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐒𝐜𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐚𝐫𝐬 𝐅𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐨𝐰𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩 - 𝐃𝐚𝐲 𝟑 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐩
𝑊𝑒 𝑗𝑢𝑠𝑡 𝑟𝑒𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑛𝑒𝑑 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑃𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑓𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑎 ℎ𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑙𝑦 𝑠𝑢𝑐𝑐𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑓𝑢𝑙 𝐽𝑒𝑤𝑖𝑠ℎ𝐺𝑒𝑛 𝐹𝑢𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒 𝑆𝑐ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑟𝑠 𝐹𝑒𝑙𝑙𝑜𝑤𝑠ℎ𝑖𝑝 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑚, 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑖𝑛 𝑝𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑠ℎ𝑖𝑝 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝐹𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝐽𝑒𝑤𝑖𝑠ℎ 𝐻𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑔𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑃𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑀𝑎𝑡𝑧𝑒𝑣𝑎ℎ 𝐹𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛, 𝐼𝑛𝑐.
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑚 𝑖𝑠 𝑑𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑔𝑛𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑖𝑛𝑠𝑝𝑖𝑟𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑏𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑢𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒 𝑔𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑓 𝑙𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝐽𝑒𝑤𝑖𝑠ℎ 𝑔𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑔𝑖𝑐𝑎𝑙 𝑖𝑛𝑣𝑜𝑙𝑣𝑒𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡. 𝐹𝑜𝑐𝑢𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑜𝑛 𝑃𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑, 𝑤𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑒𝑘 𝑡𝑜 𝑒𝑥𝑝𝑙𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑏𝑎𝑠𝑖𝑐 𝑡𝑜𝑜𝑙𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑔𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑔𝑖𝑐𝑎𝑙 𝑠𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑐ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑛 𝑃𝑜𝑙𝑎𝑛𝑑, 𝑜𝑛𝑐𝑒 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 ℎ𝑎𝑙𝑓 𝑜𝑓 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑙𝑑 𝐽𝑒𝑤𝑟𝑦, 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑠ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑡𝑒𝑐𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 ℎ𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑔𝑎𝑣𝑒 𝑠ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑔𝑒𝑛𝑒𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑔𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑓𝑢𝑡𝑢𝑟𝑒.
𝑆𝑡𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑊𝑒𝑑𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑑𝑎𝑦, 𝐽𝑢𝑙𝑦 20𝑡ℎ, 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝐹𝑒𝑙𝑙𝑜𝑤𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑝𝑢𝑏𝑙𝑖𝑠ℎ 𝑎 𝑑𝑎𝑦-𝑏𝑦-𝑑𝑎𝑦 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑎𝑝 (𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑝𝑒𝑟𝑠𝑜𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝑟𝑒𝑓𝑙𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑠) 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑟𝑙𝑤𝑖𝑛𝑑 10-𝑑𝑎𝑦 𝑡𝑟𝑖𝑝.
𝐃𝐚𝐲 𝟑: 𝐖𝐚𝐫𝐬𝐚𝐰, 𝐌𝐚𝐣𝐝𝐚𝐧𝐞𝐤, 𝐋𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐧
𝐁𝐲 𝐄𝐫𝐢𝐜 𝐉𝐨𝐬𝐡𝐮𝐚 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐧𝐢𝐜𝐤
Thursday marked the first full day that all eight Fellows and our respective group leaders were together and able to collectively experience a more in-depth context of what it means to be a Polish Jew; how we got here, how we grew, how we acclimated to non-Jewish rulership, how we became a resilient people, how we navigate the present, and how we can work towards a more inclusive future.
While our tour of the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp seemed to become the main talking point of the next several days, our day began in Warsaw with an amazing visit to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. A striking architectural gesture to the history of Polish Jews, the POLIN Museum is located in what was once a thriving Jewish district, the district that was eventually demarcated as the Warsaw Ghetto. The POLIN Museum provides a forum to establish a connection between the history of the Jewish people and Poland, curating difficult histories in a way that can be understood by children and adults alike.
I won’t recap every exhibit and artifact that the POLIN Museum offered, but I will emphasize that the museum’s use of historical narrative, artifacts, and interactive exhibits helped to curate the history of Polish Jews from the pre-medieval era to present, providing a context that enforces the fact that Jewish history is Polish history. Jews were integral in the settlement, construction, and growth of cities and towns throughout Poland, finding balance between civic life and religious practice. I found it quite inspiring that the museum focused on the genealogical story and cultural growth of Polish Jews, and despite a chronic history of exclusion and exile, the museum perpetuated a story about resilience and growth rather than defeat. Even more apt is that the museum’s research center actively connects with the Jewish community to maintain and preserve both the historical and contemporary Jewish story.
The POLIN Museum provided a historical context that strengthened our sense of belonging in our ancestral lands, but our “new” perceptions were soon to be challenged. We departed sunny Warsaw for Lublin, and several hours later the lifeless fields and remaining barbed wire fence of Majdanek appeared on the horizon, creating a stark contrast to its otherwise suburban context. This concentration turned extermination camp was not hidden or remote, but it was in clear sight of its residential neighbors. As a site of memorialization and learning, The State Museum at Majdanek is unique in that it remains as one of the most well preserved concentration turned extermination camps in Poland, providing tangible evidence to the atrocities committed to both Jews and non-Jews during the Shoah.
Personally, I did not know what to expect upon our arrival at Majdanek as this was the first concentration camp that my grandfather was sent to. When he arrived in the summer of 1943, he had already been separated from his family and survived both the Grodno and Bialystok Ghetto’s. Would I be upset, angry, or hopeful? Would tears come to my eyes because of the torture my grandfather endured or would I rejoice in knowing he survived and I could now honor his memory by walking as a free Jew in Poland? What about the others, those who were not given a chance at life and instead were sent directly to the gas chambers? How would I sympathize with those who I did not know, despite the fact that a majority of my family suffered a similar fate at other extermination camps?
Our entry through the main gates was rather tranquil; a Soviet-era concrete memorial cantilevers over a stone plinth, but this is not how the victims entered the camp. Victims were transported via train, dropped off at a platform near the Flugplatz camp (a local airfield), and forced to march several kilometers to the sorting square at the camp. Hardly a traditional European square, this small plot of land beside the processing barracks was the first step in determining whether you were disinfected and sent to a “living barrack” or detained to be executed by rifle or gas chamber. The intense emotions of this moment overcame me yet I chose to hold my composure, picturing my grandfather on these very grounds 79 years to the month. Despite the weather being overcast, the heat of the sun still cut through the clouds; did he experience the same sensations? Did he know if he would feel sunshine ever again?
Once sorted, victims would be sent to the processing barracks; females to the left and males to the right. Upon entering the processing barrack, his story came to life; the rooms where possessions were removed and prisoners shaved, followed by the disinfecting baths and showers. I remember his descriptions of how the disinfectant burned his eyes, how the showers blasted extremely hot water followed by extremely cold. How could this be real? How could one human devise a plan so inhumane and convince others to implement it? How did my grandfather and others survive? Could he — or any of the survivors — foresee that their kin would return to this very spot, 79 years later? Imagine if they knew at that very moment that, in the future, their kin would return as academics and intellectuals, seeking the truth, reconciliation, and healing. While this perspective provides hope, those that were deemed incapable of work were sent further into the barrack. An exit at the rear led to a brief moment of fresh air, quickly followed by entry into the concrete chambers where Zyklon B and carbon monoxide would be used to asphyxiate men, women, and children.
While it is inevitable that structures were modified and reconstructed in order to maintain a more accurate depiction of Majdanek, the flora and fauna — native plantings, trees, birds, etc — remain untouched. Perhaps that’s what was most painful yet inspiring; seeing the cabbage like weeds my grandfather picked for added sustenance, juxtaposed with the white and lavender perennials that inevitably come back year after year, regardless of war or peace. The work barracks have since been converted as exhibition spaces, and the living barracks of Field Three are preserved to depict the inhumane living conditions endured — barracks meant for 250 often housed up to 1000. By the time we arrived at the crematorium our group had begun to reflect individually; some of us were reticent, others mournful, and a few seeking more answers. For me, the crematorium was a reminder that the Shoah was an attempt to completely eliminate any evidence of Jews — as well as millions of non-Jews — from the historical timeline, yet there was a poetic moment; if one made it to the crematorium, they no longer had to suffer.
At the conclusion of the tour there was a memorial to the 18,400 Jews of Lublin and Majdanek murdered during the “harvest festival” in November of 1943, a fraction of the 42,000 murders that occurred in the region within the two-day span — my grandfather was transferred from Majdanek to Blizyn two months earlier by chance. The topographic depressions of the mass graves and the brutalist architecture of the Mausoleum Memorial — a semi-domed concrete structure covering a mound of ashes — remain as markers to indicate the final resting place for those that were unjustly murdered. Their voices were taken, but we can — and must — preserve their memory.
𝐀𝐛𝐨𝐮𝐭 𝐄𝐫𝐢𝐜 𝐉𝐨𝐬𝐡𝐮𝐚 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐧𝐢𝐜𝐤
Eric Joshua Resnick is pursuing a dual degree in historic preservation and architecture at the University of Maryland. This is his second career path as his original career was in concert production. He currently resides outside of Washington, DC but is originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey. He grew up very close to his Grandfather and has always sought ways to learn more about his lineage, especially as a Jewish American with ancestry in Poland. Outside of academics and professional life, he enjoys spending time outside, playing music, attending concerts and baseball games, trying new cuisine, and exploring the DC region with his partner and dog.
𝐂𝐡𝐞𝐜𝐤 𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐭𝐨𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐫𝐨𝐰 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐃𝐚𝐲 𝟒 𝐫𝐞𝐜𝐚𝐩.
Some photos are available here.
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Thank You! Eric Joshua Resnick for a very vivid, yet sensitive, report. You were very brave to go there. I am so glad your grandfather escaped death there.
On Fri, 22 Jul 2022 at 06:54, Avraham Groll <agroll@...> wrote: