Heritage Trip to Poland: Returning to the Old Country
My Bubby (grandmother) died in July of 1965. I was twelve years old. I remember the day of her funeral. It was raining and as we were getting into the car to go to the funeral home my father said, “Just think, we will never have her blintzes again.” My Bubby was from Poland and came to the United States in 1904. She was seventeen years old. She came from a town called Nowy Dwor, which is approximately 25 miles north of Warsaw.
She never spoke of the town, and I never even thought to ask her about it. As I got older I did wonder about her life in Poland, especially since she did not speak Polish but spoke Yiddish. I decided I wanted to visit the country of her youth and get a glimpse of the town she fled.
When I told my friends I was going to Poland, the question was always “Why?” When thinking of Poland and its history, all I could recall were years of religious persecution and upheaval and once my plane landed, I have to admit that fear did enter my being. I wasn’t sure if wearing my star of David was a smart move but I was not about to remove it.
When thinking of Poland and its history, all I could recall were years of religious persecution and upheaval and once my plane landed, I have to admit that fear did enter my being.
I was met at the airport by a lovely Polish couple which had been arranged through the tour group. They were not Jewish but knew the history of the Jewish people of Poland very well. From there we drove to Nowy Dwor. As we reached the outskirts of the town, I felt a mix of feelings. I was anxious to see something that would recall the struggles of my grandmother and her family.
The first stop was the Jewish cemetery where my great-great grandparents were buried. When I was shown in which direction to look, all I saw was an empty lot with overgrown weeds. There weren’t any headstones or enclosures around the perimeter of the cemetery. I was told by my guide that the headstones were used by the Nazis to pave the roads. As I traveled throughout Poland and visited two other cemeteries, I saw that some headstones which had been found after World War II were reassembled and cemented into the walls surrounding the cemeteries. When we entered the town of Nowy Dwor, I saw for myself that nothing from my Bubby’s past was visible. When the Nazis entered the town, all of the Jews were rounded up and deported to concentration camps. After the Nazis came the Russians, who were also not friends of the Jewish people.
When we entered the town of Nowy Dwor, I saw for myself that nothing from my Bubby’s past was visible.
Throughout my trip I saw the remains of the devastation that occurred to the Jewish people. There are memorials upon memorials. I cried when visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. I learned about the Polish government’s desire to re-establish the “flavor” of the Jewish culture. A Polish Jewish museum is being erected in Warsaw. Schindler’s Factory Museum had just opened in Krakow. Some of the younger Poles are finding evidence of a Jewish past in their families. These younger people are being embraced by the Jewish community and are converting to the religion regardless of their line of ancestry. In Krakow, there was a weeklong Jewish Cultural Festival. The previous President established a relationship with Israel and the election for a new President was to take place.
This is just the beginning! I left Poland with a sense of hope for the future and a desire to return.
Photo by Barbara K.