Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

 

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image: Padre

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

I stand alone.

Above me -rich blue of heaven

Below – a place

Of horror I could but feign imagine

 

For Wiesel – this place was night

Even with the blueness of its sky

The darkness of its past

I cannot, nor should any, deny

 

I stand alone.

Above me – rich blue of sky

Below – I offer a tear and a prayer

In memory of those who died

***

For the last decade or more, I have been a Holocaust educator. My training and research has taken me to many of the darkest places in human history. On one such study trip I had the opportunity to wander the perimeter fence at the Birkenau site at Auschwitz. As I did, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s poem, Night.  

“Never shall I forget that night,
that first night in the camp,
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the faces of the children,
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me,
for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God
and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.
Never shall I forget those things,
even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Never.”

I was there seventy years later under the same sky.  The place itself, no longer a killing centre, but a museum of its evil past.  It was the idea of a silent sky which I pondered. Wiesel, I believe was using dual meaning here. The sky was silent, serene even, despite the horror below; but also God did not act.  Heaven was quiet.

It is here that I beg to differ with the late professor. I do not, and cannot believe God was unaffected by the scenes below. Even such unspeakable evil, was of man’s making not His. We are our own worst enemies when we abuse free will.

My poem is an honest reflection of my own powerlessness in the face of the above. All I have to offer is prayers and tears.  And these continue to go out, not just to those who perished there, but to their surviving loved ones as well.

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image: Padre

 

Padre

Three Hours in Warsaw

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Warsaw Skyline

My train arrived at the central station in Warsaw, and I had a three hour layover before proceeding to Lublin.  So what to do? I went on a brief exploration, but one that would risk missing my train.

Has a Holocaust researcher, I headed for the Korczak memorial in the City Park a short walk away. This incredible educator and orphanage director was a celebrity in his day.a So much so that he had allies who would have allowed for his escape the death camps. He, however, ever an example stayed with his children, and led them to the deportation, giving them courage.

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Korczak Memorial

The park is a peaceful place to kill some time on a summer afternoon, and the trees and flower beds make a great oasis in the city landscape. The fountains are especially impressive, and calming to watch.   There are plenty of places to sit, and just relax.

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Dolphin Fountain

After a brief stay, I made my way back towards the station.  In so doing I passed the impressive architecture of the Palace of Culture and Science.  This is a imposing building, but one which has its own beauty.

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Palace of Culture and Science

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Hard Rock Warsaw

I arrived back at the station with an hour still to spare, so what better than Hard Rock Cafe? The Hard Rock Cafe in Warsaw is really easy to get to from the central rail station. The food is good and the atmosphere in keeping with what one expects from a Hard Rock. The usual musical paraphernalia and shop are here, and the experience was good.
I had several soft drinks and nachos for lunch. The portion size was excellent, and the nachos, cheese and salsa were of really good quality as well.  The service was very attentive and friendly. For those with mobility issues there is a proviso. The main dining room (with standard tables) is down a flight of steps, the ground level dining area only has the high tables with long legged chairs. Outdoor seating, however, is available and at street level and proved to be a nice place to eat under the umbrella on a hot summer’s day.

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Hard Rock Veggie Nachos

After a nice late lunch, it was back to the station and onwards to the Lublin Conference. It was a short stay, but an enjoyable and enriching one.

Padre

 

Reflections on Old Lublin

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Lublin Castle

I have written about the Brama Grodzka in the past (link), and its role in preserving the memory of Old Lublin.  I have watched several Yiddish films recently (yes, with subtitles) and found the portrayal of Jewish life at the turn of the 20th Century, amazingly consistent with the images of pre-WW2 life I have studied while in Lublin.

It is purely by coincidence that my wife was reading Singer’s Magician of Lublin, at the same time I was watching the films. Which led me to reflect on the time I spent in Lublin. Lublin is a historic city, and the castle and old town areas are wonderful examples of progress and continuity.

Notable in this are the legacy of the city’s Jewish past.  These include an impressive Yeshiva, and the old cemetery.

The Grodzka Gate is in similar style found throughout the old quarter of the city.  Its features blend wonderfully with those of the castle, yeshiva, and even the train station.

It is easy to imagine the way old Lublin would have been, as many areas still have this distinctive architecture and cobbled streets. Brama Grodzka has some great pictures and models that accentuate this.

The city also offers the elegance of bygone ages as well.   I stayed at the Grand Lublin Hotel (Grand Hotel Lublinianka).  The building is magnificent  and the entire place had the feel of turn of the 20th Century luxury and charm.  The breakfasts were abundant, and very tasty.

This is not to say that Lublin is a “living museum” or a throw back.  It is in many ways a modern city as well with good restaurants and an excellent train service (which I made a great day trip to Warsaw).

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This is a city of the old and the new.  The flavour of its Yiddish speaking past, and its European Union present makes for a great blend.  The prices are reasonable (if not down right cheap by UK and USA standards) and the  people I found to be friendly.  This is a place for culture and for reflection.

Padre

Link to Grand Lublin Hotel

Link to Brama Grodzka