Pink Note: How a Visit to Nowy Dwor Made Me Wonder Why I Travel
On some trips, you see beautiful sites. On some trips, you meet incredible people. On some trips, I realized on a recent layover in Poland, you remember why some places, instead of others, call to you.
My husband and I had been to Poland before–separately on Jewish teen trips to visit the remnants of concentration camps, ghettos, and Jewish sites from the past. On this trip, we headed to Nowy Dwor, the town where my great-grandmother grew up.
Mary Goldstein Trager left Nowy Dwor at age 17, and according to my grandfather, she never looked back. At that time, there were pogroms across Europe, the USA was encouraging immigration, and my family took the opportunity to head to New York, where they could achieve what they wanted regardless of their religion. My family had no idea that 40 years later, they would likely have been killed in the Holocaust. If Mary knew I was visiting her shtetl, she probably would have been confused, if not horrified. But that sort of reaction hasn’t deterred me from exploring the places I find most compelling.
Pink Pangea writers travel to different destinations for all sorts of reasons—to fulfill a childhood dream, to work in an international women’s organization, or because of a combination of wanderlust and a cheap flight.
I love when travel enables me to explore my heritage.
There is, of course, a heaviness to this kind of travel. This kind of travel isn’t about escape.
During college, I traveled to Ukraine and Belarus, wanting to experience the region many of my friends left right before the fall of the Soviet Union. They were bewildered, and their parents were disgusted. Why would I want to travel to a place where their families were persecuted because they were Jewish? Why not go somewhere where I could lie on a beach and soak up the sun? But I wanted to witness their former lives, pay tribute to the history, and imagine what that region would be like if they hadn’t left.
There is, of course, a heaviness to this kind of travel. This kind of travel isn’t about escape. I submerge myself in the past, battling so many conflicting feelings of anger, sadness, and wonder at the place’s intrinsic beauty. Sometimes I just want to enjoy it and stop ruminating so much.
It was raining when we arrived in Nowy Dwor, a small, tired town of about 42,500 people. With no guide or internet, we walked aimlessly, searching for the Jewish memorial we’d read about. We tried asking people for directions, but no one spoke English. Finally, I flagged down a car, and the driver not only spoke English but told us she thought she knew where it was and offered us a ride. She dropped us off at a field, and we searched for another half hour before we found the memorial, which seeks to commemorate the active Jewish life that once was. Gravestones, which Nazis uprooted to pave roads during World War II, line the memorial wall.
It was strange being in the town. I felt no connection to it at all, and yet, it was fascinating to think that my great-grandmother had once walked the streets I was walking. Would she ever have imagined that her great-granddaughter would one day return on her way back to Israel?
What pulls you to different destinations?