Today was my first full day in Poland. To say the least . . . it was powerful. Before I get into what we did, I just want to say the highlight of my trip was to get to meet Howard Chandler. He’s a Holocaust survivor who will be traveling with us. Having his person experiences will be priceless and something I’ll hold onto dearly. He is so kind, and even allowed me to take a photo with him at dinner on Sunday. What a blessing it is to have him and his two daughters on this seminar.
Back to Monday, we first started at the Polin Museum of Polish Jewish History. I was surprised to learn that this museum was only built in 2013. Why not sooner? But then you realize after going through that 90% of the Jews were killed here and their history was almost erased. I’m grateful for those who donated their money and made the museum a reality. It’s beautiful. The museum not only talks about the Holocaust, but showcases the history of the Jews in Poland before and after the war. It’s a must if you ever visit Warsaw.
We then headed to the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. My big question was why had the Nazis not destroyed it? Most of the buildings in Warsaw had been destroyed in World War II. Our tour guide said why would they focus on those who were already dead. The cemetery is a strong example of how vibrant the Jewish community was before the war. It was massive. There were over three million Jews in Poland before the war. 90% of the Jewish population in Poland was murdered in the Holocaust. The sea of graves reminded me that many of those buried here had their entire families murdered in the war. It was heartbreaking. I learned instead of flowers many people being rocks to honor their loved ones. The memory I’ll take away from visiting there is the two mass graves covered in large rocks of those who will always be nameless. Many were brought here that were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. Thousand were put into these mass graves. A chilling visual reminder of the Holocaust.
The end of the day brought a glimmer of hope. Only one synagogue was left after World War II. We got to enter its doors and meet the rabbi. Even though it had been abandoned for a time, these walls stood strong and now the growing Jewish population in Warsaw is rebuilding their faith.
Through all the horrors that happened in Poland, I’m comforted by the history being preserved at the museum and the strength of the Polish Jews who are bringing light back to this country. Sometimes I hear people ask why would God allow this to happen? But I know the horrors of the Holocaust can make each one of us better by teaching us we must stand up to evil and speak out when we see something that is wrong.
I just look over at Mr. Chandler, and when I see him smile I know the world is going to be better. I’m so grateful to be part of this seminar and cannot wait to find out what we will be doing next.