We started off our day in Lodz with a lecture given to us by Dr. Ela Durys, a professor at the University of Lodz. We were presented with very interesting slides on the history of Poland and what is happening today within politics. Dr. Durys informed us that Poland is a very past-oriented nation, meaning they look to their past a lot when explaining their nation. This brings about two separate distinction among Poles: those who view their past as a constant struggle being the victims of various events and those who view their past as a fight with many small victories along the way. After the slides, we watched a movie about an independent women who gets her book published during the communist period in Poland called ‘The Art of Loving’. Although the movie was not what I expected at first, I found it to be very empowering and an all around great movie.
Next we went to our main event of the day which was cleaning up the largest Jewish cemetery in Poland located in Lodz. Upon walking in, I was really shocked with how overgrown everything was, but later realized that families take care of their loved ones headstones, and after World War II a lot of these peoples families were not around anymore to take care of it. We were assigned a gated area to clean up and in an hour and a half we accomplished so much; which makes me wonder if more people were to help clean up, it would pay dividends in the end. After a draining, but satisfying clean up, we headed over to the Ghetto field were we saw over 43,000 unmarked graves of Jewish people who died in the Lodz Ghetto. This was a very moving experience and it really put into perspective how many individuals did die in the Ghetto due to horrible living conditions and executions and not just from the camps. Next, we passed by the depressions in the land dug by the few remaining Jewish people in the Lodz Ghetto where the Nazi Germans planned to execute them. This shocked me and I can only imagine how they must have felt knowing that they were digging their own graves. I also like how the cemetery kept these depression in tact for people to see to get that perspective.
Finally, as we were leaving, we ran into Israeli groups who were visiting the Lodz Ghetto while on a tour. Our group was informed that these groups only visit Poland to see the extermination camps and the Lodz cemetery. I find this very problematic, because with these tours they are seeing Poland as a place of horror and death. If they visited more than just these places, they could get the feel for Poland’s culture and in general meet the Polish people living in these places to ultimately stop the idea that Poland is only a place where Jewish people were killed.