After over two weeks away, we returned to our home base in Warsaw in the evening with a full day of activities planned after a quick sleep.
On our first full day back (after grabbing Starbucks for breakfast since nothing is opened early on a Sunday in Poland!), we learned about the Ringelblum Archives, a collection of documents put together by a group of Jewish folks who wanted to ensure that the experiences of those in the Warsaw Ghetto, and beyond. These archives are not yet memorialized in the spot where they were found, but hopefully in the future they will go on to be. In November of 2017, the Jewish Historical Institute will be installing a new permanent exhibition based on the archives. I extend the invitation we were granted to go visit the Institute to view the exhibition, and encourage you to do the same if you have the opportunity and find yourself in Warsaw, Poland!
We learned a bit more about the archives that day and then prepared for a viewing of Swan Lake at the Teatr Wielki. It was lovely – amazing dancing, music, and great company! We were in much better shape than when we viewed (or dozed off to the sound of) Moby Dick, and I think we could follow this wordless performance with a bit more ease.
Our lessons and discussions surrounding the Warsaw Ghetto continued with viewing the 912 Days of Ghetto documentary followed by a 4-hour walking tour about the Warsaw Ghetto guided by the highly charismatic and engaging Professor Jacek Leociak. If you stood close enough to him, the tour became personal and he would speak directly to you.
The Psychology students ended the day with a seminar led by Dr. Michal Bilewicz, a social psychologist from Poland who studies genocide and mass killing. His lecture was really compelling for myself and those that I spoke with afterwards – he highlighted ways to engage with the subject matter we had been discussing for three weeks that some of us might not have thought of before! He is using his research in practical ways, and I believe that many of us were inspired by this.
On our last day of our second stint in Warsaw before heading on another adventure, we continued our discussions about the Ringelblum Archives through a workshop that involved interpreting documents from the archives and discussing their meanings. We discussed ideas of communications inside and outside of the Ghetto and how this communication was conducted and expressed, children’s experiences, culture, and resistance.
Briefly, we learned about the Genealogy Department and the work they do in connecting people and stories and histories for Polish Jews, which was really interesting and special to hear about – this work gives life to histories that others attempted to erase entirely. We then learned more about the New Main Exhibition I mentioned earlier, and had a virtual tour of the 3-dimensional design of the exhibit-to-be! It is incredible to see the thought and intention that goes into designing an exhibit, when often I think we walk through museums and think that the items are set up just to be seen, rather than strategically set up to tell a story or convey additional meaning through their placement.
Finally, we heard from an enthusiastic scholar of Jewish cemeteries who works to attempt to document the graves in Jewish cemeteries in addition to her other research. We would later be fortunate to receive a tour of one of Poland’s largest Jewish cemeteries from her. I think one of the most striking takeaways regarding Jewish cemeteries for me was the fact that so few people exist in the area (or at all) to maintain them; the relatives of many of the individuals buried there perished, and those that lived most likely moved elsewhere if they survived the war.
It was nice to touch base in Warsaw again, but the next adventure was calling.