Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lighting Hannukah Candles in Warsaw

Once upon a time I arrived in Berlin on a cold and wet night just like this one, and ended up staying in Adolf Eichmann's hotel. But that's a story for some other time.

Tonight I'm in Warsaw. It's late evening, cold and wet, but the hotel I've just checked into is a modern tower with all the amenities and gadgets. Across the street is the Stalinistic tower presented to the Poles in the 1950s. It takes up a large city block, which was empty at the time, just like the site of this hotel, because all its original buildings had been destroyed in 1943, when the ghetto uprising was put down by systematically razing every single structure. There's something unhealthy, if inevitable, about how I check into a luxury hotel while noting its address in relation to the Shoah, but there it is.

My own family had left by then. One set of my great grandparents - educated, modern, members of a Reform congregation - left Warsaw more than 100 years ago, in 1903 or 1904. They were probably in their 30s, and already had a large family of children, but whatever it was they understood, they picked up and left, thereby saving their lives and enabling the lives of all their descendants. I must be the first family member to light Hannuka candles in Warsaw in 103 years.


Yaniv said...

I've read (in the NY Times) and heard (on NPR's This American Life) that there is a resurgence of Jewish(ish) culture going on in Warsaw, especially among the upwardly mobile young professional set. Would you to read your observations on that.

Yaacov said...

Today I met not a single Jew of any sort, nor had any interaction that was Jewish related (except for one sighting which I'll post in a moment), so I can't say anything helpful. Tommorrow, however, I should be meeting some people from the Jewish Museum that is being set up here, and maybe I can learn something from them.