Recently, my wife and I spent ten days in Poland. It was the first time that either of us had been there. In his chapter on Poland in A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, Ben Frank writes: “Someplace along the line, dear reader, if you travel to Poland today, you will shed a tear.” Indeed, that was to prove true for my wife and me, but it is not the whole story of our visit to Poland. To write is to remember and to remember is to recall not only the bad but also the good. In the over one thousand year history of Jews in Poland, there was much of both. I will have more to say about this later when I write about our visit to the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
We left the morning of October 15th from Tel Aviv on a direct flight to Warsaw. Upon our arrival, we immediately took the train to Kraków. We planned to spend our first seven days in Kraków and our last three days in Warsaw. On her mother’s side, my wife’s ancestors were Galician Jews or Galitzianers from the south-eastern corner of Poland in and around Kraków. A cousin, Shnayer Leiman, Professor Emeritus of Jewish History and Literature at Brooklyn College, CUNY, provided us with information concerning towns and cemeteries of family importance.
Our train seats were reserved. Each row had four places, two by the window and two by the aisle. I had looked forward to viewing the Polish countryside on our way to Kraków and was disappointed to learn that we were both seated on the aisle. From where I sat, I could catch only small glimpses of the view out the window. Then one of those beautiful things that sometimes happen when one travels happened to me. The man seated next to me, somehow sensing my desire to see the country, graciously offered me his seat. I gratefully accepted his offer. From that point on my gaze seldom left the window. I saw farmland, fields, farm animals, and forests; a variety of houses and outlying structures dotted the landscape. Many of them were new, but there were also some older wooden buildings.
As we neared Kraków, I studied my Polish phrase book’s transliteration for “thank you.” I wanted to thank the man for giving me his seat. I am terrible with languages and Polish is not an easy one. Even the transliterations can be confusing. But I did as Lady Macbeth advised her husband and screwed my courage to the sticking place. I approached the man and mumbled “Dziękuję.” Roughly it sounds like “jyen-koo-ye.” He smiled and then handed me something, a gift, a music CD. It was only then that I noticed his guitar. The man, Ryszard F. Styła, is a Polish composer, jazz, and rock guitarist. There are many YouTube videos of Styła. One which I especially enjoy is Koncert imieninowy dla Jarka Śmietany.
We left the train and took a tram to our hotel in Kazimierz, the historical district of Kraków. Next time, I will write about Kraków. Until then, “do widzenia.”
*The featured image for this entry is Market Square in Kraków by Józef Mehoffer.