Fun Wednesday

As you know, I’m a bit fascinated with signs. The arrows on the stop lights all look hand-cut. I find it odd and kinda neat.

There is also graffiti everywhere, I kind of assume it’s because it’s a largish city coupled with a huge student population. But it was still a bit surprising /how much/ graffiti there is. I don’t remember even New York  being this tagged.

It’s not a very good photo, but I wish I had my bike here. The road we are on out of Lublin is twisty and fun and quite pretty.

We are discussing comedy. Our guide is a very good English speaker but says he has trouble with jokes. I say that comedy is difficult to get in other languages because you have to understand the background, the context and usually the pop culture. I use blonde jokes as an example, and he says that blonde jokes are everywhere.

There is a McDonalds on the road to Belzec.

We pass a train tracks where a transfer station was and pass through a small town, Zamość that was built in the 16th century and modelled on Renaissance theories of the ‘ideal city’ by Italian archetect Bernardo Morando. We talk about coming back here for lunch after the memorial.

We arrive in Belzec. The parking area for the camp has a rather ironic sign.

A chilly wind comes up as we cross over the train tracks and enter the gate.

The words at the beginning of the memorial look to me like they are crying.

We walk through the entrance into a courtyard and face the monument. It is powerful without even walking any further.

Before experiencing this outside memorial, we go inside to the museum. The eyes in the photographs haunt me.

The exhibit is well done. From both an aesthetic standpoint and an emotional one, it is amazing. There are recordings playing – video interviews with a woman survivor and a voice over of the writings of another survivor, Rudolf Reder, at the model of the camp.I would prefer silence, but the cacophony it creates is perhaps fitting for the turmoil I am feeling.

These are concrete numbers plaques that were given to the victims as a sort of deposit-slip for the valuables before they entered the gas chamber. “Here, have a receipt for something we know you will never come back to retrieve.”

Keys to doors that will never be opened again and most likely no longer exist.

It is overwhelming. So much pain. It would be much easier to pretend it didn’t exist than to acknowledge that such pure evil can exist in our world. (I wrote, “That the reflection of that evil might be too bright.” I was thinking about how perhaps why some people can not accept that this Holocaust happened is because when they look at the evil, they see a reflection of a part of themselves and can not accept that. I know there are other reasons, but perhaps this is one.)

One of the jobs some Jews had was to lead others to the gas chambers and then to pile up the corpses after. On occasion these helper Jews would be send to their death and replaced by new arrivals. If you already knew you were going to die, how could you participate in this? Would you not rather die a quick death than to be tortured each day and die a little at a time?

There is a guard walking around. While I know that it is necessary to have security, especially at a place like this, does the uniform really have to be so … militaristic? Perhaps it does lend an authentic air to this museum, but does it really need any more authenticity?

I keep glancing at him, and he at me. I want to take his photo, but I am worried about getting in trouble. (I’m good at that). I wait and snap a clandestine shot as he walks away.

I am ready to go home. It is much easier to live in a little bubble than it is to face so much reality.

As we start to walk up the ramp towards the exit, our guide mentions a room at the other end of the ramp. He asks if we went inside. My mom and I look at each other and shrug our shoulders. What is it? It is just a large room, he says. Part of the exhibition.


We open the tall, narrow door. It clicks and groans and the sound echoes eerily to the end and back with a distinctly metal reverberation. We are in a large concrete room. It is probably about 30 meters long. The door shuts with a very. final. click. It is dark with only a soft spotlight on a close-by plaque and a soft white light at the other end. At the far end of the room, there are two vents near the top of the wall. Every movement of our feet and every sound we utter becomes an ominous echo throughout the chamber. The physical sensation is all-encompassing.

My camera can’t capture the vastness of this chamber, but you can just make out the soft glow at the end. I do not know what the stone says.

We are outside walking around the memorial. This is the walkway to the gas chamber.

Around the perimeter, each Schtetl and town from where Jews were transported to Belzec is listed on the walkway.

It appears to be unending.

We walk and read.

The entire area of the former death camp is covered with piles of slag, symbolizing a mass grave.

I can smell smoke from a near-by factory. It is making the air hazy and creates a disturbing atmosphere to this walk. We descend into the chamber area.

The names of the Jews who were killed here are chiseled into the granite.We look for a family name and find two possibilities.

We ascend the stairs on the side opposite to where we came down.
Hello, little ladybug.

Back to the light. Sort of.

It is time to make our way out of the memorial. We are drained.

We leave Belzec and head back towards Lublin. We stop at Zamość, which is about 50km from Belzec and go to an underground gen-u-ine Polish restaurant. I have perogies full of mushrooms and cabbage.

My back and right shoulder are hurting from lugging my mom’s giant heavy suitcase around Warsaw the other day and even though both my mom and the guide say that I am doing impressively well with the time-adjustment, I am very tired. I order an espresso. Do they even put caffeine in espresso over here? It doesn’t feel like it and I wonder if I should have gotten a double.

We walk through the old town square and find the synagogue, which was built in 1620.

It is quite beautiful inside the synagogue.

Of course, there is an interesting old door inside.

I learn all sorts of interesting history that I’m too tired to take in. All I want is some ibuprofen and a bed. I sit down on a marble step next to the computer mom and guide are looking through a video of the history of the area. I keep nodding off, so go outside and sit on a cold concrete step.

Finally, they are ready to go. My back and shoulder are aching so much that each step sends a painful jolt through my body. We get back to the car and I immediately take three ibuprofens. I sit in the back seat and look out the car window. The low sun is peaking through the clouds and creates beautiful oranges splashing across the cloudy horizon.

I consider telling them to look, but I’m feeling selfish and want to keep the view to myself. We are stopped in traffic so I can take the photo, but I can’t capture the beauty of the sunset with my camera.

We get underway, and as usual, the rocking of the car puts me fast asleep.

More photos can be viewed here.

to Opole Lubelskie

Tuesday 18, Oct. 2011

I’m going to apologize up front if this post is a bit scattered. My notes are a little chaotic with some linear writings and some random thoughts interspersed. I’ll do my best to make it coherent.

I will start with something of little consequence that amuses me probably a bit too much. I’ve become somewhat obsessed with signs here. There are a few street signs I haven’t made sense of yet. However, the little running man now has a purpose. He is running to the door behind which there are stairs.

This morning we had a guide. He arrived at a little after 09:00 to take us to Opole Lubelskie. But first my mom needed to find a bank or ATM. We found one in a Lublin Mall. Apparently, “Coffee Heaven” is something like “Starbucks” in its ubiquity.

UPS trucks are the Renault equivalent of Sprinter vans. I see a lot of this style of vehicle (mostly for work use like Ambulances, delivery, etc.). There are Renault, the Sprinter van which is Mercedes here but I think it’s Ford in the U.S., Citroen and Fiat and little Renault Kangoo vans.

The drive to Opole Lubelskie is quite pretty.

This trip seems to have a soundtrack of 1980’s American pop music. We are in our guide’s car and “Abracadabra” is playing on the radio.

I spend the drive listening to my mom and guide (whose name I have regrettably forgotten) discuss the history of Poland. I am not very knowledgeable on the subject so I share with you what I gleaned: in 1968 there was an abundance of anti-Semitic sentiment from the Polish government and a lot of Jews left. Not that there were many left to leave…. But lemme go back a ways…My great-grandfather left here about 1907 after he got tired of Russian pogroms. Poland belonged to Austria in the 1790’s. Napoleon Wars happened and somewhere in there Poland was somewhat independent 1805-1809, I think. Then from 1809 – 1815 this part of Poland was Austrian, but Austria was weak so Poland went back to  Russia from 1815 – 1915. I have in my notes “1915 – 1918,” but I’m not sure what I mean there. Poland independence happened in 1918. Whew.

The main industry in Opole Lubelskie is this 19th century sugar factory. The sugar is made from locally grown sugar beets.The guard gives me a funny look when I took the picture. “Why would anyone want a photo of a factory?”

This is the place for me – parking on the sidewalk is fine! (Same in Lublin). This is our guide, whose name I have regrettably forgotten (oops).

Apparently a UFO landed in Opole Lubelskie at some point and so now the spot is an attraction.

I want to go see it, but instead we go to a craft museum. On the way, I see yet another little Fiat 126. I like these little cars.

“Tak” apparently means “Yes.” I also learned how to say “Thank you” in Polish -> “dziękuję” Of course, I keep forgetting, so I have to refer to my notebook where I wrote it semi-phonetically “Zchinqueya”  with the emphasis on the “que”. Yep.

I find it interesting how after listening to a language for a while, I can start to make out meaning even without knowing the words. It’s inflection, emphasis, and tone that convey meaning. I am able to get the gist often of what is being said. Neat!

We are at a little craft museum. I am not terribly interested. Perhaps part of my apathy is because of a strong craving for coffee. The curator shows my mom a local book of Lublin history. Apparently, it’s impossible to find for purchase.

I do quite like some of the batiks, however.

We finally leave the museum in search of coffee. I like this little shop. It’s pretty.

Yay! Espresso!

I have two.

We find a nice pizza place to have our coffee. It is 11:00. Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love” is playing overhead. Followed by The Pretenders “Stop Your Sobbing” and Huey Lewis. It is odd hearing this music with a backdrop of Polish murmur.

Why is there a stove-pipe coming out of this door?

This house is old. My mom and our guide like it.

This guy owns the house. His mother lives here.

He tells us it’s over 118 years old. Then he invites us in and I make a new friend.

I don’t get their names, but the man and his mother are fantastic. Turns out he’s a local historian and was one of the people who created that book the museum lady showed us! Neither of them speak one bit of English, and since all my mom and I know how to say is “tak” and “dziękuję” so it’s very helpful to have our guide with us.

The mother ushers me into the kitchen to show off her secondary money-making venture. Making cigarettes in bulk. She has dry tobacco leaves which she cuts up and then shreds with this little manual shreddy contraption. Then she rolls the shreds with the blue cigarette making device.

She is quite proud of this but apologizes for the mess. The tobacco leaves are under the table and spill out on the floor.

I try to get a photo of the hamster that lives in a Sisyphean little cage on top of the small fridge. When she notices this, she tells her son. I tell them that I used to have hamsters. He says that he also has a snake. I reply that I used to have snakes as well! We have a bond. He brings out his pretty snake (I think it is a Smooth Snake, except his has a lot more red) and I play with it for a few moments. (sounds all like a bad sex joke, doesn’t it? well, it isn’t.)

The man offers to show us around town. We accept and since he has to get back to Lublin today, we offer him a ride in exchange. We are all happy.

This sidewalk was built on top of Jewish headstones. On occasion part of an inscribed stone pokes out of the concrete.

We come to a schoolhouse. I don’t remember what it used to be, but apparently legend has it that it is haunted by a headless woman from the French Revolution.

This plaque on the side of the school is in Polish Latin. Latin Polish? Latin.

It’s quite pretty inside.

I have always been fascinated by doorways. Gates can be included in that sometimes, but not usually. I don’t know what this says, I just like the way it looks. I held myself back from taking a couple of photos of doorways earlier today and now I wish I hadn’t.

Here is an actual doorway. Fascinating, isn’t it?

This building has been here, just like this, since our new second guide friend can remember. He did not know how that upstairs doorway was used.

We drive with our two guides to an old cemetery. I am too hungry to get out of the car. I am glad we brought a breakfast roll and a banana with us, but I am annoyed at myself for leaving my energy-bars back at the hotel. When they get back into the car, the man suggests if I am not feeling well I need to have “beer soup.” Or just beer.

There is a small memorial along the road between Opole Lubelskie and Lublin. There was a small death camp here and the area still bears the burden of the double-row barbed wire fence. The memorial is close to the road and easily accessible. There is another memorial inside the building, but it is closed right now.

Apparently, I am jet-lagged and I fall asleep for almost the entire one hour drive back to Lublin. At our hotel, we say goodbye to our new friend and will see our guide tomorrow morning for Fun Wednesday at the death camps.

I can’t figure out why the elevator has two door open buttons but no close door buttons.

It is dinner time and are both starving. We head out to the old section of Lublin on foot to find a traditional Jewish restaurant.

On the way, I see this cool motorcycle. It has a sidecar and I don’t know the make.

Unfortunately, my flash kinda wipes out the logo.

It is neat looking though.

We find a little restaurant that looks promising. My mom found it online or in a tour book, so we figure we’ll give it a shot.

At the restaurant, a man at the next table buys us vodka. This little glass is only a few inches tall and full of tasty vodka.

As we walk back to the hotel in the crisp (brrrr) night, my mom is talking about “inter-ethnic relations” and I’m thinking about doorways.

There are more photos from today here: Pictures!

Time for me to (try to) sleep.

Good night!

Morning in Lublin

I failed to take any photos of breakfast today. It really wasn’t anything spectacular, however, the croissant were quite good and there were crepes. Yum!

It is Tuesday and we are now getting ready to go to Opole Lubelskie – where my great-grandfather was from – then we will return to Lublin as our guide as to be back by 17:00. Tomorrow, we will go to the two death camps – Fun Wednesday!

I’ll post photos of Opole Lubelskie this evening.