Chicagoan at Groundbreaking for Museum of Polish Jews
By Adv. Michael H. Traison
July 6th, 2007
WARSAW -- Like every other Jewish moment in this ccountry, it's not easily reducible to words. The ceremonies here, in Warsaw, Poland, couldn't be duplicated elsewhere. Neither could the context.
The occasion was the groundbreaking for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, slated to open in 2009, designed to focus on the millennium of Jewish life in Poland.
We were about 750 of us, huddled together under a canopy, vainly attempting to escape the cold rain which was whipping us with the help of strong gusty winds. The very ground upon which we stood was the site of the Gensa prison in the heart of the Ghetto. 150 meters away was where Mordechai Anelewicz and his fellow fighters died at Mila 18 and another 100 meters beyond that, the Umschlagplatz from which 300,000 of us were taken to Treblinka only 65 years before.
The president of Poland could have read a politically correct speech which would have been a Polish version of what George Bush or Tony Blair might have said. Instead he sounded like the president of Israel. He spoke without notes and his words could not have been more passionate about Jews, anti-Semitism and how this museum will be for Poles to learn and know. He spoke of the Yiddish language. His words rang with pride as he boasted that we must not forget that Polish Jewry contributed much to Polish culture, but also to Jewish culture throughout the world.
This was really a Polish occasion. Not Jews coming back to the homeland to remember and to show the world "Am Yisrael Chai" (the Jewish people yet live). It was Poland's day to express pride at its Jewish heritage. Can you imagine!?
The awful gusts of wind and the rain continued
as Rabbi Yisrael Lau stood up to speak. Rabbi Lau said what many of us were
thinking: these rains were tears. But he said he didn't know if they were tears
of sadness or joy, but he wished for joy. And then, as though it was
G_d, the rains stopped and the sun began to break through.
Former chief rabbi of Israel, and Polish Jewish survivor of the Shoah himself, Rabbi Lau intoned the names of shtetl after shtetl. We were reminded that this museum of the history of Jewish life in Poland would tell the story of who we were, the poets and the tailors, the scholars and the peddlers, the writers and the thinkers.
When the ceremony reached its climax, a smaller delegation of us went to city hall where a luncheon buffet was served. Several tables overflowed with food. Many of the tables were marked with small signs to let us know the food there was kosher, and it seemed to be the favorite of all. Warsaw's recently elected mayor, Hanna Gronkiewiecz-Waltz, warmly embraced us.
There was not the usual distance between governmental officials representing a country and people representing an ethnic group, a lost nation. I guess this day the common denominator of all these events of officialdom was that there was a oneness. It felt like we were all Jews this day. And, you, know, maybe we were. If we did not share a common ancestry, we certainly shared a memory.
A few hours ago, amidst the elegance of Poland's national opera house, we attended a concert of the Vienna symphony. Although I doubt there was a plan to cap the day with the stirring music of an orchestra of that cultured nation which brought upon us the catastrophe of which we were all so conscious this day, I could not avoid thoughts of the irony. Now its 430 a.m. and the sun has risen. I'm looking out my 15th floor condo windows and Umschlagplatz lies beneath and the site of the museum about 250 meters away. And all the Ghetto remains beneath the unnaturally gently rolling topography created by the 20 million cubic meters of crushed humanity which lies below the disguise of grass and post-war construction.
We won't forget them.
Michael Traison is a Chicago attorney who travels frequently to Poland.
Adv. Michael H. Traison: Weekend of Remembrance and Dedication Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin
Adv. Michael H. Traison: Memory and Memorial (Wysokie Mazowieckie)
Shabbath in Pinczow
Adv. Michael H, Traison: Angels and Heroes
Jewish Heritage, Poland (Ada Holtzman's Web Site)
Adv. Michael H. Traison
Last updated July 20th, 2007