I’d like to start by sharing with you my sister-in-law’s comments and research she did regarding what I last posted. Sarah pointed out that I had said that the photographic exhibit in the Galicia Museum showed 2 different Polands – a sad forlorn one without any Jews and a happy hopeful one with a thriving Jewish population. I had also mentioned that we had seen a street mural of Gene Kelly singing with a quote next to it of “I’m happy again” and Sarah felt that perhaps the street art was a reflection of that thought. She googled Gene Kelly and Poland and here’s what she came up: “Street art in Krakow, and even In Kazimierz, is not just about Jewish identity. The street artist Kuba uses street art as a symbol of regeneration of a city. His stencil of Gene Kelly singing “I’m Happy Again” is an engaging message about a city still recovering from the horrors of both WW II and the subsequent Communist occupation.” Fascinating, no? And kudos to Sarah for being curious enough to find this out.👍😃
Yesterday morning we left Krakow. We were picked up by a driver who first took us to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. We initially walked down 350 steps, eventually 810 steps, 400 feet underground. Luckily, there was an elevator (or lift as they say) back up. We saw chambers and statues chiseled out of rock salt, man made underground saline lakes and my favorite – some amazing chandeliers all out of rock salt. It was a strange experience as well as an amazing engineering feat.
Miners (out of rock salt)
After the salt mine, we went to Tarnów. The first Jewish settlers came to Tarnów during the Middle Ages. With the passage of time, the Jewish population rapidly increased as a result of Polish religious toleration. In 1939 there were 25,000 Jews living in Tarnów (45% of the town’s residents). Unfortunately, the Nazis killed them all. Today you can’t get a minyan here.
The first transport of prisoners to Auschwitz came from Tarnów in June 1940. (You can see how this trip hangs together!). The night before the deportation the Jews were locked up in the city’s large Mikva. (Today there’s a restaurant in this spot.). After the war the small square next to the building was renamed to commemorate the deportation to Auschwitz and a memorial was erected there.
The next photo is the site of a 17th century synagogue that was burnt down by the Nazis in 1939. All that remains is the vaulted bimah from which the Torah was read- a striking fragment of what was once a magnificent synagogue. The bimah has been carefully preserved under a protective roof and the surrounding site has been landscaped. It is a rare example of a synagogue ruin that has been consciously incorporated into present day urban space.
And then we drove on to Rzeszów which brings us to the impetus for this entire trip. While my father-in-law was born in NY (on the Lower East Side), his parents & his 3 sisters were born in Poland. They lived in a small town called Futoma which is outside Rzeszów and emigrated to the USA after WW I. Mac was born in 1921. (Yes, he will be 98 this summer.) Marty wanted to try to learn more about his father’s family. He got in touch with a Polish genealogist.
This morning Natalia and one of her colleagues, Chris, took us to the archives in Rzeszów where the 3 of them spent hours combing through old records looking for anything related to Mac’s parents or perhaps to his oldest sister who did not come to the USA with the rest of the family. Unfortunately (& as I had predicted!), they didn’t find anything. (The Germans kept better records!!). It gave me time to write my blog! Here’s the archive building.
After a lunch stop, we drove to the little town of Futoma. The town is so small that there are no street names, only numbers! They numbered the houses as they built them, not geographically! And to make matters worse, at some point they re-numbered everything. So while we had a number which may or may not have been his grandfather’s house (don’t ask!), there was no way to ascertain where it was or rather where it had been.
Marty decided he would like to talk to the mayor of Futoma!! Turns out they have a town leader/manager and there was a sign indicating the person’s house! So we rang the door bell and she let us in! She was very nice, but had no information for us either. She also spoke no English, but Chris translated and took a photo of us. She’s the older woman; Natalia is the younger one.
Given the lack of information and the way it rained all day, I would have to say that this experience was a total washout! I am happy to report that Marty doesn’t seem too disappointed and, in fact, is happy that he tried. And we ended the day with a nice Polish dinner including traditional pierogi.
So until the next report.