2018 March of the Living travel blog

Memorial to Janus Korczak

Our amazing kids


If not for the fact that there are four other Holocaust Survivors with our group, all of whom have been on the March of the Living numerous times, I would have ended the day believing that I had made a huge mistake thinking I could do this. Fortunately for me, all agreed that the pace of our first day was brutal.

Everyone was operating on no sleep for at least 50 hours. We had all dressed in warm clothes because the weather forecast called for temperatures no higher than the mid 50's. Before the flights from Los Angeles to Poland were over and we had toured the largest Jewish cemetery in Poland and we had walked for blocks and blocks to a beautiful square for a late lunch and then walked blocks and blocks heading back to our buses and endured temperatures in the high 70's ... before that all came to an end after MILES of walking, all of us "older folks" were ready to head to dinner on stretchers. We wound up skipping the last event (viewing a beautiful memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising) and took a cab back to the hotel. We sat in the lobby to wait for the buses to return with the kids and I promptly fell asleep in a chair.

Now let me walk you through our day at a more leisurely pace.

When we boarded our flight from New York to Warsaw I was flabbergasted to see that I was booked into business class with a seat that turned into a bed. I was so excited! I was convinced that, for the first time in my life, I would actually sleep through a long overnight flight.

Hah!

I can no longer say that I can't sleep on planes because I can't sleep sitting up. Reality is that I can't sleep on planes ... period! It was nice to have all that room but sleep was not in the cards.

Another thing I learned is that shepherding over 200 teenagers on six buses is an ordeal for the staff that takes a lot of time. It lulled me into believing that the pace for this trip was going to be leisurely.

Hah again!

It did take quite a while to get going from the airport but, once the bus arrived at our first destination, the pace was furious.

Oka Powa cemetery was established in 1806 and is still in use today. It's the largest Jewish cemetery in Poland at 83 acres and one of the largest in the world.

When our group arrived we were herded to an area where we all sat on benches in a huge square. To kick off the official beginning of the program we put our arms around each other and sang Hinay Mah Tov, a Hebrew song that translates to "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"

I could barely sing because the sight and sound was so overwhelming.

This cemetery was within the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto. There's a huge empty field that is the mass grave of thousands who died there. Altogether it's estimated that over 250,000 people are buried in this place.

There's a beautiful statue honoring Janus Korczak, a Polish pediatrician who operated an orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. When he was ordered to prepare the children for transport to a death camp, he was offered his freedom. Dr. Korczak refused and went to his death with the children so that they would be calmed by his presence.

Before the war, 30% of the population of Warsaw was Jewish. Of the six million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis, half them were Polish.

The memorial that I missed seeing, a beautiful granite sculpture honoring the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. When the uprising was finally put down by the Nazis, Hitler ordered a statue be made to celebrate the Nazi victory. By the end of the war, the statue had still not been made. The granite that he ordered for his celebratory piece is the same granite that now commemorates the heroes of the Uprising.

I hate the nine hour time difference between Santa Clarita and Poland. When I finally gave in to my exhaustion and found a shady spot to wait for our cab ride to the hotel, I wanted desperately to call Bill. I wanted to tell him how much I wished he was with me ... how much I wanted simply to fall into his arms and have a good cry. But it was 3 a.m. in Santa Clarita. Although I knew he wouldn't have been upset at a 3 a.m. call from me, I didn't want to do that to him.

I hate the nine hour time difference.



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