Some time in Eastern Poland and a visit to my great-grandmother's hometown.
30.03.2013 - 31.03.2013 -4 °C
We made it to Lublin without too much trouble although on a rather crowded train. Poland has a surprisingly sophisticated train network for having been totally destroyed and then neglected, even if the trains themselves are a little less luxurious than the ones in Western Europe. We had a really short time here so our first evening after we dropped off our bags at the hostel we went out to see the old city and have a bite to eat.
The reason we came out to this eastern city is really to see Hrubieszów. It still amazes me how well every village in Europe is so well connected. You can get quite literally anywhere you could ever want to go, if you’ve got the patience to work with the sometimes limited train/bus schedules. Anyway, we used this convenient bus service to take a day trip out to the town one day, although unfortunately I’m completely ignorant and thought Easter was a set date, or at least always in April, and we ended up in a rural Polish village on Easter Sunday, which this year was in March.
Needless to say, the town was dead, although I’m not really sure if it ever “comes to life”. The reason we went here is because it is my great-grandmother’s hometown. I never knew her, but it was really humbling to be walking where she walked and seeing what she saw, even though the town has completely changed since WWII. She left for Canada with another Polish Jew in the early 20th century, and eventually I ended up in eastern Canada. Nearly half of the residents of the town before the war were Jewish, and now they’re virtually all gone. For me that’s the most revolting part of the whole Holocaust – that it accomplished one of its sick goals. There are virtually no Jews left in Europe. Don’t get me wrong, the extremely small communities that are left are extremely vibrant and active, but in terms of numbers they don’t compare to the pre-war situation. It’s unbelievably depressing to think of the potential that was lost and the lives that were wasted, and even more so to think that some of my relatives would have perished under such awful circumstances, but seeing the Jewish communities thriving today in Europe, Israel, and everywhere else in the world, is probably one of the most inspiring things I can think of. What else could they have possibly lost? A people reduced to living in sub-human conditions under constant starvation and torture, not only forgives their oppressors, but moves on and creates some of the most lively and successful communities we have today.
We saw the Jewish cemetery there, which was decimated by the Nazis upon the deportation of the Jews in 1942. What’s there now is a memorial to the Jews made of the smashed grave stones found after the war. The town, and the whole country, really, has been changed in irreversible, unimaginable ways, but I think the memorials in Eastern Europe really are amazing. They're always thought provoking and have so many levels of meaning.
It was really great to be able to make it out to Hrubieszów, and I’m glad everything worked out despite the fact that we probably chose the worst possible day of the year to go. We went back to Lublin after a few hours in the town and managed to find I think the only restaurant that was open to get some supper. Nothing like a proper easter feast we’d get at home, but close enough.
Next we’re going to Kraków, which is our last stop in Poland. It’ll be most of the day tomorrow getting there, but I’ve got lots of reading to keep me busy!