Poland Trip

by Towson Hillel | Jun 06, 2013

Click here to view Poland Trip photos.

June 5th, 2013

Dear Friends,

On June 3rd, 16 students from campuses in the greater Baltimore area arrived to Warsaw on a nine-day journey exploring Jewish life in Poland – past, present, and future.  This trip represents a unique collaboration between Hillel, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland. While we will be engaging with questions surrounding the Holocaust, our trip’s focus is the broader experience of Jews and Judaism in Poland. During our stay, we will visit historical sites and museums, hear from local scholars and community leaders, and meet members of the Polish Jewish community of today. Our students will have the opportunity to meet and interact with both their Jewish and non-Jewish Polish peers, have a Shabbat experience with the Krakow Jewish community, and participate in an event called “7@Night”, where 7 synagogues in Krakow which are generally closed, open for one night for an incredible cultural festival.


Hillel Staff
Lola Hahn, Goucher College Hillel
Maiya Chard - Yaron, Maryland Hillel
Sam Konig, Towson University Hillel

June 7th, 2013

Dear Friends,

In few hours we will be welcoming Shabbat in Krakow. As a group we will be lighting the Shabbat candles at the JCC in Krakow. Afterwards the students will have the option to attend traditional services at the Kupa Synagogue or at the reform congregation Beit Krakow which is housed in the Galician Jewish Museum. After services we will be joining the rest of the Jewish community at the JCC where we will have a festive Friday night meal. This Shabbat is especially very special because a few hours ago we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, an experience which was powerful and deeply challenging. However, there is a sense of excitement within the group that the students have an opportunity to spend Shabbat in Krakow. As one of the participants posted on their Facebook status yesterday "It is so hard to describe the feeling of being able to openly practice my religion in a place where it's destruction was so recently imminent." 

Shabbat Shalom,

Hillel Staff
Lola Hahn, Goucher College Hillel
Maiya Chard - Yaron, Maryland Hillel
Sam Konig, Towson University Hillel


June 17th, 2013

Dear Friends,

Last Tuesday afternoon students who participated in Hillels of Baltimore nine days journey to Poland where they explored Jewish life past, present and future came to an end. Please find below the last blog which was written by Erica Biegen and Allison Rubinstein, Johns Hopkins ‘16. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in particular the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their financial support and the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland for their on the ground coordination, time, moral support and educational resources. Without their support and guidance this experience would not able to take place. Toda Raba

Kol Tuv,

Hillel Staff
Lola Hahn, Goucher College Hillel
Maiya Chard - Yaron, Maryland Hillel

Sam Konig, Towson University Hillel

Below please find reflections from the following Towson students:

Jayson Hirschman, Joel Wiener and Amanda Levin:

Three days ago we arrived in Warsaw, Poland from JFK on the amazing new Dream Liner plane, with tinted windows and cool cup holders, on LOT Polish Airlines. Not knowing what to expect, 16 students from UMBC, Goucher, Towson, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins arrived to Poland for the first time.

June 3rd

We visited the The Lauder Morasha School Building in Warsaw, Poland. This is the first Jewish school to be established since 1968. This school was started in 1994 by Ronald Lauder and later established their main building in 1999. We found it amazing that the school started with only about 4 students in a house. As the years went on, it grew to 18 students then to 36 students and today there are over 240 Jewish and non-Jewish students who attend this school. The school has students starting from Kindergarten to 9th grade and they are required to learn Hebrew, English and then a 3rd language of their choice (Spanish, French, etc).  The school brings the community together and expands the teachings of Jewish education and values.       

June 4th

We visited the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich.  He originally was from New York, but he traveled to Poland in the early 90s after the country became a democracy.  His trip to Poland was so impacting that he wanted to give back to the community.  He became a rabbi and he was chosen to become Chief Rabbi in the mid 2000s, when more people were becoming rabbis in Poland.  As Chief Rabbi, he talks to many people, holds services with an average of 50 people, and he’s as kind as he is comical.  I think most, if not all of us enjoyed seeing Rabbi Schudrich and see him as an inspiration.

June 5th

On this day we went to the Warsaw Rising Museum, which was an enlightening opportunity to learn more about the history of Poland. It was fascinating to learn about the destruction of the Western and Eastern parts of Poland. Learning about what the conditions turned to as the years went on, and how the people of Poland escaped through sewage tunnels, was so impactful. Having the population go from 1.3 million to 900,000 then to less than 1,000 goes to show the destruction and devastation that arose in Poland in the 1940’s.

Afterwards, we arrived at Lodz Jewish Cemetery, where we saw many graves partially covered in tree roots while some others were completely covered.  However, foundations and volunteers are currently working on cleaning many graves so they can be acknowledged for the future. It’s inspirational to us how many of those working on cleaning graves aren’t Jewish but are still willing to help preserve Jewish history.

We are looking forward to the rest of this exciting experience Poland has to offer.

Written by Julia Ring, Ryan Greenstein, Rachel Safferman, Anna Koozmin, and Samara Cohen - UMD College Park '16:

After a nourishing breakfast in the hotel we left on our luxurious bus promptly at 8:00 AM. We took an hour-long bus ride to Auschwitz. Coming on the trip we had all been anticipating this day. While we have all learned about the entirety of the war, thus far in the trip we had seen the country of Poland how it existed both pre and post-war. Finally, today, we were seeing how the Jews were treated during the war, held in the devastating concentration camps. Many of us were nervous about this tour but also curious about what we were going to see.

Walking into Auschwitz, it reminds one of a well-tended museum.  Many of the structures inside and outside the bunks were replicas of the originals.  There were many exhibits inside each bunk.  One of the most moving exhibits included a pile of 35,000 shoes of people brought to the camp.  There were also piles of glasses, household items, and suitcases.  Many times we talk about the statistics of the Holocaust and it is hard to understand how many people were killed at each camp, but seeing the massive piles of familiar items helped to humanize each person that was affected by the Nazis rather than think merely in terms of numbers.

Something that stood out and was how the Holocaust affected the children of the executors of the Final Solution. The guide told us the commandant of Auschwitz and his family lived right next to the camp and his grandchildren have taken precautions to ensure that their family genes are never passed down. The children of many Nazis were raised to believe their parents were heroes but never knew details of their exploits. The trauma of learning a parent was a mass murderer is unimaginable.

Our experience at Auschwitz was incredibly impactful. We have spent the last week exploring the revival of Jewish life in Poland and this only enriched our experience and understanding of the atrocities that occurred at Auschwitz. This knowledge enabled us to view the Holocaust through a different, more informed lens. With this knowledge, we were better able to contextualize the real impact of the Holocaust on Poles, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Most striking to me were the stories of those who continued to practice their Judaism, secretly and subtly amidst such chaos. In spite of everything, they still clung on to hope and religion to carry them through unimaginable circumstances.

After visiting the camp of Auschwitz, we proceeded further into the town of Oświęcim. Oświęcim is the actual Polish name of the town surrounding Auschwitz, which itself is a German name. In the town of Oświęcim, we visited a Jewish center specializing in explaining the history of Jews in the region. At the Jewish center, we learned that prior to the Holocaust, Jews made up roughly sixty percent of Oświęcim, and today, none remain (the last Jew died in 2000). Despite the fact that there are presently no Jews living in Oświęcim, there remains one synagogue of the twenty that were originally there, which we had the pleasure of visiting. Knowing that despite everything that happened to the Jews of Poland during the Holocaust, a synagogue remains was a very powerful experience that moved us all and reminded the group of the importance of Judaism and the history of the Jews from Oświęcim.

By Erica Biegen and Allison Rubinstein, Johns Hopkins ‘16: 

We were fortunate enough to hear a student at the University of Warsaw speak about how his great grandfather saved the lives of a Jewish couple by hiding them in their house, while they were quartering German soldiers under the very same roof.  Later, this Jewish couple was able to repay their saviors by helping them get out of a Soviet prison. Today, the great grandchildren of these families are still in touch, connecting their pasts to their presents.

This incredible story reminds us that the Jews are not alone.  It is often said that the world is anti-Semitic. And while, yes, there are anti-Semitic people all over the world, the world is not anti-Semitic.  We cannot forget all of the people who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, and certainly cannot fail to recognize those working to restore what was destroyed, preserve what is standing, and create what is needed to rebuild a Jewish community where it once thrived in Poland.  And what is important to remember is that not all of these people are Jewish.  We met non-Jewish people restoring Jewish cemeteries that were destroyed during the war and met non-Jewish people working at the JCC in Krakow.  The world is evolving, and while it is important to remember and to learn about the tragedy of the Holocaust, it is also important to realize that there is an increasing number of people working here to revive Jewish culture. It is our job as Jewish students who met these people and saw their work first hand to spread the word about what they are doing and make their efforts worthwhile. 

In concluding our trip, it is nice to look back on it as a whole and think about some of the things we learned this week.  This trip gave us the unique opportunity to hear from a variety of perspectives and visit an array of sights, allowing us to understand Jewish life in Poland and how it has changed.  One of the great things about this trip is that it taught us about Poland before World War II, during, and after.  Many of us agreed that this trip disproved many of our previous conceptions of Poland before coming on the trip.  Many of us had initially been interested in visiting Poland to learn more about the Holocaust, and had pictured Poland as a grimmer country with little Jewish life.  This trip showed us that while the Holocaust is a crucial part of Poland’s history, it has come a tremendous way since, and that there is important and meaningful Jewish life continuing to grow in Poland.  On this trip, we met so many amazing people, Jewish and non-Jewish, who have dedicated their lives to preserving and rebuilding Jewish life in Poland.

This trip was an inspiring and unbelievable experience.  We are excited to bring everything we learned back to our home communities.  This trip has opened up many more subjects to learn about concerning Poland and Jewish life around the world.

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