KRISTALLNACHT –

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November 1938.

Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – was a pogrom against the Jews of Germany in which synagogues were destroyed, Jews were killed, injured, and sent to concentration camps.  Kristallnacht was not, however, one night of broken glass, but three days of broken glass.   David Cesarni’s Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1939, provides an analysis of this pogrom and the fateful conference held in its aftermath.

What the pretense for starting the pogrom?

In October of 1938, the Polish government announced its intention to bar any Polish citizen residing abroad from ever reentering the country unless he or she applied for and obtained a passport revalidation by November 1.  This had to happen on Polish territory.  Well, there were many Polish Jews who were living in Germany.  So, Germany, knowing that it wanted to somehow expel these Polish Jews from its land, rounded them up and delivered them to the Polish border.  This way, they could get their passports revalidated and keep open the possibility of later expulsion from Germany.  Poles refused to let these Jews into Poland to revalidate their passports and many languished on the border.

Among the deportees were the parents of Herschel Grynszpan, a young Jew living illegally with relatives in Paris.  Herschel was angry at the treatment his parents received and he took revenge by walking in the German embassy in Paris on November 7, 1938 and shooting the third secretary, a young diplomat named Ernst vom Rath.  Von Rath died the next day, which was the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putch – Hitler’s 1923 coup attempt.

Goebbels used the death of vom Rath to inflame the German people against the Jews.  He exhorted the people, as an act of self-defense, to revenge vom Rath’s death – against the Jews.  Beginning with November 9 and lasting until November 11, a “spontaneous demonstrations” took place.  I would call it a pogrom.

“That night fires were ignited all over Germany, and the shattered plate glass that was to give the pogrom its name littered the streets of German towns and cities.  Synagogues and Jewish institutions were burned to the ground.   Over 7000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and killed nearly 100 people.” (Dawidowicz, War Against the Jews at 136)

As the Jewish community picked up the pieces of their destroyed infrastructure and egos, the Nazis were busy planning to further destroy the body and soul of the Jews of Germany.  On November 12th, just one day after the streets quieted, Hermann Göring, the second most powerful man in Germany, called a meeting of approximately 100 people – all the major players in Germany’s economic and domestic affairs to discuss the “Jewish question.”

Göring began:

“I have had enough of demonstrations! They don’t harm the Jew, but me, who is the ultimate authority for co-ordinating the German economy . . . It’s insane to clean out and burn a Jewish warehouse then have a German insurance company make good the loss.   . .  the fundamental idea in this programme [sic] of the elimination of the Jew from the German economy is first, the Jew being ejected from the economy transfers his property to the State.’”[1]

Göring continued, that although the Jews were to be deprived of their livelihoods. they would not benefit directly from the sale of their property: “they would be compensated with bonds that would generate enough income for them to live off.”[2]

During a four-hour meeting, this group of esteemed Nazis agreed to forbid Jews’ entry to cinemas, theaters, and concerts.  Resorts, beaches, woods or parks would be off limits to Jews.  They could only rest on park benches marked for Jews.  Jewish children would no longer be allowed to attend state schools.[3]

Officials of the German insurance industry attended this meeting. They were concerned about paying out claims for all the lost and destroyed Jewish property from Kristallnacht.  On the one hand, they did not want to pay the claims of these Jewish property owners.  On the other hand, if they did not pay the claims, their reputation in the world economy would be tarnished.  “It was eventually agreed,” states Cesarani, “that the claims would be met, but the payments would never reach the German Jewish claimant.  As Reinhard Heydrich put it, ‘That way we’ll save face.’”[4]

After several hours of debate and discussion, Heydrich felt that the conversations were drawing to a close. So, he spoke up: “‘In spite of the elimination of the Jews from economic life, the main problem, namely to kick the Jew out of Germany, remains.  May I make a few proposals to that effect?’”[5]  He recommended that a Vienna-type emigration system be put in place that would send 8,000 – 10,000 Jews out of the country each year for the next ten years.  For the remaining Jews in Germany, would be impoverished and isolated to keep them out of “normal German routine of life.”[6] Undeterred by the realization that this would lead to overcrowding and mass starvation of Jews, the group agreed that driving licenses of Jews should be confiscated and car ownership prohibited.  Further, Jews should not be allowed into spas or resorts and should be restricted to “Jewish-only” health services.[7]

During the closing moments of the meeting, Göring obtained agreement from all present that the Jews should be fined for the damage caused during Kristallnacht.  They would be fined one billion marks, “as punishment for their abominable crimes.”[8]

Goering finished with a doozie:

“Incidentally, I’d like to say again that I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.”[9]

 

[1] Cesarani, David. Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949 at 203.

[2] Id. at 203-204.

[3] Id. at 204.

[4] Id. at 205.

[5] Id. at 206.

[6] Id. at 207.

[7] Id. at 207.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

GENOCIDE VS. CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

Nuremberg

     Crimes Against Humanity

     Genocide    

Both legal concepts were born at Nuremberg during the prosecution of Nazi criminals.  I read East West Street: The Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity,” by Phillippe Sands, and learned this fact and more.

OK, let’s start with the difference between these two legal terms.

Crimes Against Humanity is “the killing of individuals, if part of a systematic plan.”

Genocide is “killing of the many with the intention of destroying the group of which they were a part.”

“For a prosecutor today,” Sands explains, “the difference between the two was largely the question of establishing intent: to prove genocide, you needed to show that the act of killing was motivated by an intent to destroy the group, whereas for crimes against humanity no such intent had to be shown.”[1]

Before and during the Nuremberg trials, there was an undeclared war between Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin over which legal term would win out.

Hersch Lauterpacht, a professor of international law at Cambridge University, was a scholar who advocated the creation of an International Bill of Rights for the Individual. He called for “governments to embrace the ‘revolutionary immensity’ of a new international law that would protect the fundamental rights of man.”[2]  He coined the term – “crimes against humanity’.  He was on the British prosecution team at Nuremberg and was successful in getting this crime listed in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter, which was used to prosecute 24 German defendants.

Lauterpacht was aware of the Lemkin’s concept of Genocide, but felt that this misplaces the focus.  If genocide is a crime, it will reinforce negative feelings towards both the perpetrators and the victims, creating an “us” versus “them” scenario.  By pitting groups against each other, it will make reconciliation difficult and exacerbate the negative situation.[3]  Better to focus on the human rights of individuals, Lauterpacht felt, and not pit groups against each other.

Rafael Lemkin, a lawyer, who fled Poland in 1939, settling in America, worked with the American prosecution team.  But Lemkin was not invited to be in the group of lawyers that tried the case in Nuremberg.  Lemkin was disappointed that genocide was not included in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter.  But he tried in myriad ways to slip genocide into the proceedings.  His main success was that genocide was included in count 3 of the crimes – under “war crimes.” So, both crimes against humanity and genocide were included in the trial, but genocide did not gain traction during the proceedings and was not in the judgment issued at the end of the trial.  Lemkin was devastated.

In contrast, “crimes against humanity got a central place in the judgment and for the first time in history, were recognized to be an established part of international law.  The courtroom listened in silence to the narrative: murder, ill-treatment, pillage, slave labor, persecutions, all giving rise to international criminality.”[4]

But all was not lost for Lemkin.  In December of 1946, after the trial was over, the United Nations General Assembly passed two resolutions.  First, Resolution 95, the General Assembly affirmed that “crimes against humanity” were part of international law.  But second, Resolution 96 was adopted, overruling Nuremberg and affirming that genocide is “a crime under international law.”[5]  Lemkin had done it.   The General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, “the first human rights treaty of the modern era.”[6]

The author of the book, Phillipe Sands, is a barrister of international law and someone who prosecutes both genocide and crimes against humanity.  He was surprised to learn that both Lemkin (born 1900) and Lauterpacht (born 1897) were raised in Lvov (also known as Lemberg).  Both great legal minds came from the same city and attended the same university.  He was especially interested because his own grandfather, Leon Buchholz, was also born in Lvov in 1904.

The book traces the lives of these three men – Lauterpacht, Lemberg and Sand’s grandfather Leon, searching for truths that are buried in the dust of history.   He weaves these stories in an artful narrative of the lives of three men from Lvov.  His search for facts about his grandfather reminded me of my own journey into the lives of Sam and Esther.  As an attorney, I found the lesson on Nuremberg and the development of modern international laws of human rights to be fascinating.

Sands fundamentally agrees with Lauterpacht that prosecuting the crime of genocide, which emphasized the group, pits “us” against “them” and is not the best way to heal our fractured world.   But he accepts that fact that humans are born into groups and as the biologist Edward O. Wilson wrote: “group-versus-group was a principal driving force that made us what we are.”[7]  “It seems,” Sands continues, “that a basic element of human nature is that ‘people feel compelled to belong to groups and, having joined, consider them superior to competing groups.’”[8]

In this “us versus them” world, we each must work hard to find each person’s humanity and respect each as being created in the image of God.  Yes, we are members of groups, but we are also members of the biggest group – the human race.

 

 

[1] Sands, Phillippe, East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity” at 11.

[2] Id. at 104.

[3] See id. at 365.

[4] Id. at 351.

[5] Id. at 361.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 365.

[8] Id.

Antisemitism – Some Background

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Peter Hays’ new book, Why? Explaining the Holocaust is a worthy read.   In it, he asks a series of questions:

  • Why the Jews?
  • Why the Germans?
  • Why Murder?
  • Why This Swift and Sweeping?
  • Why Didn’t More Jews Fight Back More Often?
  • Why Did Survival Rates Diverge?
  • Why Such Limited Help form Outside?
  • What Legacies, What Lessons?

In 343 pages, he attempts to answer these questions.  In doing so, he puts together many pieces of the Holocaust puzzle in a coherent way.

In the first section – Why the Jews?, he reviews some of the factors that pre-dated antisemitism (please note – no hyphen).

He begins with a problem that arose for the new Christians.  Because the Jews rejected Christ, they had to suffer as a “physical representation of the consequence.”[1]   But at the same time, Jesus was a Jew and was God’s chosen one.  “Indeed,” states Hays, the Jews “had to be allowed to live, albeit in misery, until the wondrous day when they saw the light and converted, for that development would herald the Last Judgment and the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.”  Hays states that the Jews were the only religious minority who remained legal under Christian rule.  Their “adherents were not automatically and always slaughtered,” he continues, “as the Cathars, Lolards, and other dissenters were.”[2]

The contradictory positions that Jews must suffer, but that no harm should come to them, created an impossible situation and the people couldn’t live in that tension.   In response to a crisis that they could not control, the Christians blamed the Jews.  Mob violence erupted against Jews, culminating in the blood libels.  A Jew or Jews were accused of murdering a Christian to take his blood to make matza needed for Passover.  These charges became opportunities for massacres, at first in England, in the 12th century, and later in other parts of Europe.[3]  Hays points out that the charge of taking a Christian’s blood to make matza was a “projection of a corrupted form of the Catholic belief in transubstantiation – the creed that the communion wafer and wine becomes the real flesh and blood of Christ during the Mass.”[4]  This association between crisis and massacre of Jews can be seen in the massacres that came after the Italian famine of 1315-1317 and the outbreak of the Black Death in the Rhineland in 1347.[5]

The Christians separated themselves from the Jews and forced the Jews to be restricted in their professions.  The Jews were stuck with “despised or dangerous activities, such as moneylending or leather tanning.”[6]   Negative images of Jews became part of the landscape.  For example, at Easter time, people put on Passion Plays, which showed the Jews as the murderers of Christ.

Before the reformation, in the 16th century, the hatred of Jews centered on the idea that Jews were parasites who would  take Christian wealth.  It also rested on the idea that Satan sent the Jews to serve his purpose and to cause problems for pious Christians.[7]

The era of Enlightenment arrived in Europe in the 18th Century and this changed the attitude of many Christians and the lives of many Jews.   The problem of the Jew could now be solved, with “kindness and opportunity” rather than “cruelty and suffering.”[8]  Hays states that Emancipation attempted to make the Jews more like Christians and with the Declaration of Rights of Man on August 26, 1789, all people were considered free and equal.   To this end, in the 1780’s the Austrian Emperor Joseph II abolished residential and occupational restrictions on Jews and opened universities and schools to them. Later, Napoleon Bonaparte did the same in France.[9]

Jews took advantage of their new access to education, moving to the cities in droves.  Industrialization and advancements in transportation created more competition and opened markets.  Hays cites some statistics from 1880-1910 that blew me away:

  • Austria – Jews were 3-4% of population, but 17% of the university students. In Vienna – Jews made up 62% of the lawyers, 50% of the doctors and dentist, 45% of the university medical faculty, and 25% of the total faculty, 55% of the professional journalists, 40% of the directors of publicly traded banks, and 70% of the board members of the Vienna stock exchange.
  • Hungary – Jews were 5% of the population, but 25% of the university students & 43% of those at leading technological universities; Jews accounted for 34% of the lawyers and 48% of the doctors.
  • Prussia (one part of Germany)- Jews were less than 1% of the population, but 5.4% of the university students, and 17% of those at the University of Berlin; in 1912, 20% of the millionaires in Prussia were Jews.
  • Germany as a whole – Jews were 0.95% of the population, but accounted for 31% of the wealthiest families.[10]

Hayes argues that the era of antisemitism, beginning about 1880, was not religious, but rather, a political movement.  It was a reaction to the era of Enlightenment and the visible upward mobility of the Jews and the new competition the Christians had from this newly liberated group.

The science of evolution and biology led to a study of skulls and facial features that indicate intelligence and superiority.  And the idea that Jews were “like” Christians was rejected.  Julius Langbehn, “a widely read German antisemite, put the matter: ‘A Jew can no more become a German than a plum can turn into an apple.’”[11]  Once Jews were identified with undesirable physical characteristics, their extraction was “justified as a form of racial hygiene.”[12]  Antisemitism did not focus on how a Jew behaved, but rather on “what they intrinsically and unchangeable supposedly are. . .. Jews could not be changed, but only contained and then eliminated.”[13]

This new political idea called antisemitism was not the reason the Holocaust happened, but it laid groundwork for Hitler’s rise to power.

Figurines at Randi's house

 

[1] Why at 9.

[2] Id. at 10.

[3] Id. at 12.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id. at 14.

[9] Id. at 14-15.

[10] Id. at 28-29.

[11] Id. at 16.

[12] Id. at 19.

[13] Id. at 15.

ANTISEMITISM – TO HYPHENATE OR NOT TO HYPHENATE?

 

Memorial to the Jews of Europe

What is a semite?

Semite comes from the name of the oldest son of Noah in the Hebrew Bible, Shem.  Since neither Greek nor Latin have the “sh” sound, the name became “Sem.”[1]  “Semite” was used in linguistics to describe a person who is part of an ethnic, cultural or racial group who speak a Semitic language.[2]

In the late 1800’s, there were a lot of “isms,” and “anti-isms.”  For example, there was communism and anti-communism, socialism and anti-socialism.  These are belief systems with which people agree or disagree.  The idea of “anti-ism” was bastardized to describe negative political action against Jews.  Jews were singled out as the only speakers of a Semitic language to be found worthy of the “anti-ism” label.

In 1879, the German journalist Wilhelm Marr wrote a pamphlet called “The Way to Victory of Germanicism over Judaism.”  This pamphlet popularized the newly-coined term “antisemitism” to describe a new form of hostility towards Jews.   Marrs’ followers founded the “League for Antisemitism.”[3]

The German word is Antisemitismus.[4]  Though most English-language writers spell this word: “Anti-Semitism” with a hyphen, the original German word does not include a hyphen.  Placing a hyphen between “anti” and “Semitism” implies that there is something called “Semitism,” which there is not.[5]

After I read about the hyphen controversy in Peter Hays book, Why? Explaining the Holocaust, I decided to drop the hyphen and spell the word: “antisemitism.”   Now this is a challenge because I use word to type and it keeps underlining “antisemitism,” trying to convince me that I am spelling it wrong.  But I will persevere and continue to spell it sans hyphen.

I encourage you to do the same.

 

 

[1] Includes Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.  See My Jewish Learning: Who are the Semites, by Bernard E. Lewis.  http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/who-are-the-semites/

[2] Semitic People – Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semitic_people

[3] Id.

[4] Hays, Peter.  Why?  Explaining the Holocaust at 5.

[5] Id.

SHLOMO, MEET IDUL LIS, YOUR COUSIN

     To meet a cousin you never dreamed you had, does not happen every day.  For both Shlomo Goldberg and Idul Lis, this is what happened last Sunday.  They spoke by video phone, between Seattle and Marki, Poland.

    When the Nazis arrived in Bagatele in 1939, there was chaos in the small farming village.  The Nazis were burning houses and shooting.  People ran in every direction.  In the chaos, Idul, age six, was separated from his family.  He found himself alone in the forest. 

     He survived by hiding in the forest and in barns of Polish farmers.  Some farmers were kind and some were less kind.  One farmer allowed him to hide in his barn in exchange for watching his animals and an occasional beating.  He was a boy, but he knew he was being hunted.  He never knew which adults were safe and which were enemies.  He hid until 1948 because he did not realize the war was over. 

     Idul felt abandoned by his family.  After the war, he discarded his Judaism, served in the Polish military, married and had three daughters.  One of them, Marta, was with us on the phone call and served as translator.  But Idul never lost his feeling of abandonment. He waited and hoped that someday his family would find him. 

     “Do you remember my grandparents, Zelig and Faiga Goldberg?” Shlomo asked him.

     “No,” he said. “But I remember that when I would walk down the street to my Goldberg grandparents’ house, there were some people who stopped me and gave me hugs on the way.”

     That may well have been Sam Goldberg’s family, as they lived a few houses down from Idul’s family, on the way to his grandparents. 

     “I hope to come and visit you,” Shlomo said at the end of the call.

     “Yes, please,” Idul said.  “Don’t wait so long.”    

    

THE FLYING FATHER

THE FLYING FATHER

Eleven kilometers above earth, flying between Bologna, Italy and Wroclaw, Poland, I had an encounter with a flying Father that I can only say lifted my spirits even higher than the airplane.

Father Ludwik Myeielski is an 82-year-old Benedictine Monk.  He has been serving God in this role for 61 years.  The Order of St. Benedictine is an ancient order of Catholic Monks originating around the year 500 CE.  We sat side by side, in the very back row of the Ryan Air Flight.  If you have ever flown on Ryan air, you know how cramped it is.  I was in the window seat and Father Ludwik was in the middle seat.

I settled into my small space and planned to enjoy the next hour and half reading Why, Explaining the Holocaust, by Peter Hayes (one of the finest books I have read on the Holocaust – I highly recommend it).  I noticed that the man next to me was wearing priestly clothing, but I was not sure what sect.  I noticed that as soon as the plane lifted, he crossed himself and then began soundlessly reading a small, well-worn book with very small print.  Within a few minutes, he noticed the title of my book and told me that many members of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.  Not sure that I wanted to engage in conversation, I simply said:

“I am so sorry to hear that.  The war was a terrible time.” And went back to reading.

He did not give up.

“Do you have relatives in Poland?”  he asked.

“Yes, I do, actually.”  I responded, thinking of Marta and Idul (Yusif) Lis.

Then my extrovert endorphins kicked in and my desire to engage in conversation with this friendly Monk took over.

“What are you reading?”  I asked.

“This is the Gospels,” he replied.  “I read it in ancient Greek.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“One hundred kilometers outside of Wroclaw,” he responded.  “In a Benedictine Monastery.”

“My name is Karen.  May I ask your name?”  I said.

He told me his name, but there was no way I could spell it, so I asked him to write it down for me.  He wrote: “Ludwik Mycielski, OSB.”

“What does OSB stand for?” I asked ignorantly.

“Oder of Saint Benedict,” he responded.

“Why were your relatives murdered in Auschwitz?” I asked next.

Father Ludwik explained that when the war began in 1939 he was a young boy of 5.  He may have been young, but he remembers everything. The Germans killed and imprisoned many Poles. Many were sent to Auschwitz where they were imprisoned and later killed. His father had a cousin, named Wlodzimierz Szembek, a priest of the Order of Salezjanin.  He was arrested and held in the special barrack at Auschwitz for Polish clergy.   His mother used to send this cousin packages at Auschwitz – until they heard in 1942 that he had been murdered.  Today, if you go to this clergy barrack at Auschwitz, you can see Father Szemberk’s picture on the wall – it is the first one upon entering the barrack, on the left side.

Then he explained that his father was a wealthy land owner in Poland.  He owned 17,000 Hectares (compare to Zelig of Bagatele who owned 25 Hectares and that was considered a large farm).  Because of his wealth, he was pursued by the Nazis and their family was forced to move from city to city to evade capture.

I remarked that his English is very good and asked how many languages does he know.  He responded, if I recall correctly, five.

“Wow,” I said.  “I only know two – English and Hebrew.”

“I wish I knew Hebrew better,” he lamented.

He then sat up very straight and began to recite the beginning versus of Genesis:

Bereishit Bara Elohim Et Hashamayim V’et Haaretz.  V’Haarets Haita Tohu Vovohu, V’Choshech Al Pnai Tehom.”  (“In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. And the land was Tohu V’avohu and there was darkness on the face of Tehom.”)

I could not resist, I joined in – and together we intoned:

V’ruach Elohim merachefet al pnai hamayim.”  (“And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water.”)

We smiled at each other and nodded.  I did not verbalize it at the time, but I was thinking, “Yes, this we share – our humanity.  We are all created in the image of God and hold a spark of the divine within us.”

The plane landed safely in Wroclaw.  When we exited the plane, I introduced Father Ludwik to my daughter, Esther, who was sitting in a different row.  We parted ways, but agreed to stay in touch.

Friendships born in heaven are sure to last.

BIALYSTOK – A VISIT

Bialystok train sign

Esther Wisznia lived in Bialystok between September of 1939 and September of 1940.  She had “the time of her life.”

Young people filled the street and theaters.  Yiddish and Jewish culture were everywhere.  The Yiddish theater – Habimah – was just down the street from the center of town and just a few doors from the beautiful home of the wife of the Nobleman – Jan Klemens Branicki (yes, she had her own home – sometimes you just need to get away from the Palace).

In 1939 Bialystok had over 100 Synagogues, a Jewish Hospital, a Yiddish library, Yiddish newspapers, and many Zionist organizations who held events, including speeches and classes.  Coming from the small town of Stoczek to the big city of Bialystok for the 19-year-old Esther was exciting.

Her family lived together, at first, in an apartment building that was inhabited by refugees from Stoczek.  The city was crowded with refugees from the German-controlled side of Poland.  Bialystok had electricity and many buildings had running water as well.  Esther got a job at first knitting hats and then later working for one of Bialystok’s wealthy families.  We saw some pre-war homes that are still standing and they are beautiful.  Here is an example.

Bialystok fancy home

As we exited the train station on a cold April morning, I looked at the long building and knew that this is where Esther arrived in September of 1939.  As we went from the train station towards the center of town, I imagined Esther walking this path.  The pre-war buildings, with their stunning adornments and intricate wrought iron balconies are impressive.  This was a wealthy city.

On one side of town near the train station, there is a broad white church with a tall steeple, topped with gold.  The main street leads to the center of town where there is an even larger church made of red brick with double steeples and three grand doorways in the front.  It looks like the Stoczek church on steroids.  Just before you reach the red church, the white clock tower draws your eye.  It is not as tall as the red church, but it is topped with a round cast iron dome.  A crown-like appendage sits above the dome like a cherry on top of an ice cream cone.  Just to one side of the clock tower is an open square with a fountain in the center.  After visiting Rome, this fountain is modest, but for Esther, coming from Stoczek, I am sure it seemed quite grand.

In 1939 Esther would have found dirt streets that were filled with people walking, riding horses (some pulling buggies, some not) and cars.   There was a “bus station” where jeep-like cars were lined up to take people to other cities.  There is a picture from the early 1930’s in which you can see cars lined up on a dirt road with signs: “Bialystok – Grodek” or “Bialystok – Lomza.”  In this picture, most of the men are dressed in suits and the women in dresses and coast.  It gives a sense of a cosmopolitan city where things were happening and people were enjoying themselves.  A few trees dot the main road, but if you head down past the red church, you arrive at the Branicki Palace.  Modeled after Versailles, it is a monumental building with an impressive courtyard in the front and a beautiful, manicured garden with naked and semi-naked roman style, sculptures in the back.  While the Soviets used this palace as administrative offices, the gardens were open to residents to enjoy.  Just next to the garden, there is a long park that stretches for a couple of kilometers. The walking path in the park is tree-lined and very green, even on a cold April day (which it was – freezing – it snowed, hailed and rained during our visit!)  I imagined Esther and her family or friends taking a spatzir (walk) on Shabbes afternoon here in this beautiful setting.

Bialystok park

Though he did not live there when Esther did, Bialystok was the home of Ludwig Zamenhof, the inventor of the language – Esperanto.  His hope was to make a language that would be used all peoples and would unite the world.  He moved to Warsaw before the war and died there.  He is buried in the Warsaw Jewish cemetery.  We visited the site of his home.   On the outside wall of the building where his home used to be, there is a mural that depicts him, as well as two others who were supporters of Esperanto.

Bialystok Zamenhof

As we walked down the main street, just next the big red church, I glanced across the street and could not believe my eyes.  Through the snow flakes, there stood, what looked like, German soldiers from World War II.  They were standing in a group, talking, with one especially scary looking soldier, smoking a small cigar.  I thought – either we are on a movie set – or no one told Bialystok that the war is over.  With some trepidation, I crossed the street to take a picture and find out who they were.   It turns out that they were participating in a World War II reenactment.  We left them to their cigars and guns.

Bialystok soldiers2

There were many choices in Bialystok as to where to send your Jewish child to school.   We saw the building – rather plain, but sturdy, with a grey concrete exterior – that served as the Jewish gymnasium.  Then we walked over to see the Tarbut School – this was a Zionist school where all classes were taught in Hebrew.  It is a beautiful old building that was used as a Polish school after the war, but now stands empty.  The exterior used to be adorned with Jewish stars.  But these were taken off the building after the war, under Soviet control.

Bialystok Tarbut School

Getting back on the train for our return trip to Warsaw was a relief.   We had been walking around outside for three hours and we were frozen.  I never thought I would be so happy to get on a train heading towards Malkinia.

Bialystok freezing Esther