Meant to Be: A Special Visit to Lodz on Day Five, March 29, 2012
because life is a wilderness and they were savage
because life is an awakening and they were alert
because life is a flowering and they blossomed
because life is a struggle and they struggled
because life is a gift and they were free to accept it
~ from the poem “Bashert” by Irena Klepfisz
We board the tour bus in Krakow which will take us on an unpredictable journey to Lodz. Each morning we read a Holocaust poem together, and this morning Sondra passes out copies of “Bashert.” The words are dedicated to those who died and to those who survived. Each person in our group reads a line aloud.
Perhaps, we think, our blog entry for this day might focus on the idea of Bashert. The word encompasses those special moments when the timing is too perfect to be just coincidence, when the only response is it was meant to be. We have experienced several such moments on this trip, including interesting timing when the wind whispers or the sun rays, and unexpected glimpses of hope in the exact moments when we feel we might not lift out of despair. But will moments of Bashert cause us to pause and wonder again today?
After a three-hour road trip, we drive through Lodz and see a city of contrasts. Lodz, we find out, is home to opulent mansions, such as the Poznanski royal palace. It’s unbelievable that this magnificent building was once a single family home. Poznanski earned his fortune in the textile industry when Lodz became known as the textile capitol of the world.
This city of beautiful architecture, however, also has an ugly side. What we don’t expect and what repulses us is the graffiti. Lodz once had one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe, but it is not home to Jews any longer. The Star of David, however, can be found everywhere, spray painted on buildings throughout the city. Sometimes the Star of David is even depicted as hanging from a gallows. Our tour guide Jacob tells us that rival sports teams insult each other by putting a Star of David and attaching to it the name of the other team. We wonder why city officials don’t stop this hateful vandalism. It’s sobering reminder there is yet much work to do in the world.
Our first stop is the Jewish Cemetery in Ulicka Bracka. We pass by Poznanski’s grand mausoleum. We also see a grassy area with markers for Jews who died in the Lodz ghetto but who did not have a proper burial. Post-mortem, these heroes who fought for freedom are honored as Israeli soldiers.
Memorial Library Board President Mark Berez tells us he hopes to find the grave of his grandfather Abram Dymant, who did not survive the Holocaust and whose grave is located in this cemetery. Our Polish tour guide Artur had called ahead to find out the location. An employee holds a slip of paper with the plot number, and he takes us there. To everyone’s disappointment and especially to Mark’s, when we get there it is not the right grave. We must be close, though, and so we gather as Mark recites Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead.
These words are dedicated to those who died.
The next stop is the Radegast Station. This small train station was the arrival point for about 38,000 Jews, and for about 5,000 gypsies who were massed into the Lodz ghetto during 1941 and 1942. The inside is a museum room which contains long tables with tall stacks of detailed transport lists. The Nazis kept careful records.
Hundreds of pages are bound together by rings, and people can search for family members. Sondra walks up to a random stack, looks down to the page on which it is open, and sees a familiar name: Abram Dymant. The record states that he arrived in 1942 from the same town where Mark’s grandfather had lived. It also lists his occupation as Schneider, or tailor, the same as Mark’s grandfather. A birth date is listed, too, which Mark does not know. This may be his grandfather, and it may lead to more information. Bashert!
These words are dedicated to those who survived.
Last night, Mark’s aunt Assia, who lives in Israel and is accompanying us on our trip, told us the story about how she survived the Holocaust as an adolescent. Her story is one of strength, perseverance and hope. She had lost her loving parents, was taken in by another wonderful family, and then lost them too. After the war, her father’s friend who had lost his own family took Assia into his home as a daughter. During the war, she had been afraid to tell anyone she was a Jew. Finally, she could stop hiding her identity and restart her life. Today, as we drive through the streets of Lodz, we find ourselves in the area of the home where Assia’s life again was able to blossom.
We get out of the bus, walk a few blocks, and then Assia recognizes the place that she has not visited in 63 years! We walk around to the backside of the building and she points up to the second story windows of the kitchen and the bathroom. Artur knocks while Jacob tells us that, in his experience, 60 percent of the time people will open their doors. Yes, Assia is welcomed inside! Bashert!
She tells us afterward that there were young people inside, it was very nice, and that she was able to view a neighboring apartment in the building.
“It is a miracle that I am standing, and that at my age I came to see it again,” Assia says.
In the evening, we walk through Old Town Warsaw. The rain mimics the tears we have shed over the past week and causes the waves of cobblestones that we walk over to glitter. We are travel weary and the dampness only causes us to huddle closer to one another. We break bread at the restaurant Pod Samsonem and reflect on the day’s events. We have shared so many emotions already this week. We have inquired, marveled, cried in each others’ arms, and prayed as a group. For years, HEN has been an important part of our lives on both personal and professional levels. We cannot help but think that our HEN friendship has taken on a new layer of understanding today after sharing these private and deeply personal experiences with Assia and Mark. It feels like we have been welcomed in as family. As the day ends and we check into our hotel, we plan for an early morning wake-up so we can journey to Israel. We are eager to keep learning and to accept this gift we have been given.
~Heather Hollands & Amy Laitinen