We left Hostel Helvetia and Warsaw in the morning and went off to the northeast region of Poland, the Lake region called Mazury, where we would be spending the next four days (see blog photo above). It is a beautiful area where Poles and Germans go to vacation. Our schedule made us confront the huge contrast between natural beauty and horrible historical events.
For the first time, we saw Poland outside of Warsaw. Many of us had no idea that Poland would be so full of green pastures, rolling hills, and lots and lots of cows eating grass.
The scenery was like out of a dream, complete with giant marshmallows in the fields, which were actually harvested and packed hay that was covered with white plastic to prevent weather damage. People in this region build huge platforms on their property to encourage migrating storks to nest there. It is considered good luck.
|Nuclear stork family|
Inside our own air-conditioned bus, we had our own nests of backpacks, jackets, and music, but even the roads are different than that in America. The highways are typically one lane for each side with no passing lanes or shoulders, so if you’re stuck behind a tractor there’s nothing to do about it except take risks to get ahead. Many of us used the time to catch up on lost sleep, only to wake up from the bus hitting bumps in the road.
|Remnants of Jewish lives|
In the middle of forested rural country is the memorial site where the death camp Treblinka once stood. Now it is a cleared area surrounded by forest, hidden from the world outside so as to hide that it murdered people in secret. At odds with its horrible past, the place is tranquil and quiet, the sky blue, the sun shining, and birds chirping. We went through the little museum that showed Treblinka’s history and included a scaled replica of the functioning camp. The Germans destroyed Treblinka in 1943, so other than documents and memoirs, there were not many artifacts to show its existence: some buttons, spoons, pots, bowls, a star of David tile, surgical equipment. On display were several broken Jewish tombstones that the Germans had taken from nearby cemeteries and used as the bottom level of the road through Treblinka. Here they are now being seen by museum visitors, the epitaphs translated, testifying to German desecration and cruelty.Treblinka’s memorial site has no explanations and signs, so all the elements were open to our own interpretation. Jagged pillars 6-7 feet high bordered a cobble-stone road like the uneven streets of Old Town. On the side were big flat stones spaced apart to resemble train tracks. The main site looks like a surreal cemetery: thousands of these rocks appearing like tombstones, many of them inscribed with names of cities, towns, and villages that are arranged in an order we did not understand. In the midst arises a huge stone sculpture 20-30 feet high. One side has a menorah (a Jewish candelabra), the other had faces.
A plaque on the ground in front says, in different languages, Never Again. In front of the sculpture was a trench filled with a long block of burnt charred wood, rock, and other materials that symbolized Treblinka’s large cremation pits. Weirdly, during our visit wasps were everywhere, buzzing, low on the ground. For some, this was a haunting reminder of the lives lost, or a sign of disturbed nature. We could see the signs of respect and grieving left by previous visitors: memorial candles, little stones that Jews place in respect on top of the tombstones, and poems written on stone and clay tablets. Walking through the tombstones was overwhelming and powerful, and no one tried to put it into words.
|Aleisha taking a morning stroll through the garden|
After that, we drove on the winding roads to our lodging, a reconstructed farmhouse called the strange name Folwark Lekuk. There was nothing strange about our delightful rooms, the charming wooden walls and furniture, and the serene lakeside setting, and the stork family living in the nest out front.