My week is up and I am heading home today, reflective and satisfied with the visit. Having met so many remarkable and passionate people, I feel an special bond to Warsaw and to Poland. My relationship with the country previously was through my mother’s eyes, and visiting as a tourist, as an outsider, but now I feel more connected, as if this were my country too. The country’s past inspires me. My parent’s story is my story too. Being of Polish descent, speaking the language, trying to pass some traditions down to my children, I don’t think I ever personally bought into being Polish in the true sense, the spiritual sense.
I was in Warsaw last year for a few days for the first time ever while visiting a newly rediscovered cousin who lives in another part of Poland. I was a tourist in her town of Opole and a tourist in Warsaw. This time I came for a conference and as fate would arrange, I stayed in an apartment, where actual families live. The accommodations were adequate in a minimal sense, but what was interesting to me was walking the streets like other residents as if this city was my city, learning short cuts back and forth from different parts of the city. The cabby that picked me up this morning for the airport thought I lived in Warsaw, because I spoke the language so well. I think it was more that he picked me up at the apartment and not a hotel, but I’ll take the compliment nonetheless.
The physical history of the city fascinates me, the buildings, old and new. To know that Hitler totally destroyed the city after the Warsaw uprising in 1944 and how the city is transforming itself today is remarkable. There is so much rebuilding going on now after years of communism, which is great, but the old remnants that represent the past are slowly disappearing.
I walked around to find the only remaining wartime era synagogue that survived, relishing the time inside the walls. If only the walls could speak. Although desecrated during the war, it was rescued from the flames, restored and renovated.
Some of these historical locations are tucked away on small streets and inside courtyards with very little to identify them, unless you are persistent. I wanted to find the old abandoned building that I read about with its boarded up and broken windows and decaying mortar. It had been apart of the Jewish Ghetto. Online reviewers posted photos of it, with a comment that if you want to see the building in its abandoned state, you need to see it soon, before the renovations begin. I was fortunate to find the building and to see some of it in its original state. When I stood still, I could hear children playing in the courtyard, women shouting from window to window, and the men discussing the latest rumors floating through the streets. There is virtually no visual history left in Warsaw except for monuments, plaques and museums. I am so glad I was able to experience this bit of visual history before it disappears forever.
Realizing that buildings need to be renovated for safety reasons, and that photographs do preserve history, for me there is nothing like seeing this building and thinking of the people who lived there, feeling their presence, practically hearing them speak, but knowing that they were all exterminated.