Like every other Jewish moment in this country, its not easily reducible to words. The ceremonies here, in Warsaw, couldn?t be duplicated elsewhere. Neither could the context.
We were about 750 of us, huddled together under a canopy, vainly attempting to escape the cold rain which was whipping us with the help of strong gusty winds.
The very ground upon which we stood was the site of the Gensa prison in the heart of the Ghetto. 150 meters away was where Mordechai Anelewicz and his fellow fighters died at Mila 18 and another 100 meters beyond that, the Umschlagplatz from which 300,000 of us were taken to Treblinka only 65 years before.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski could have read a politically correct speech which would have been a Polish version of what George W. Bush or Tony Blair might have said.
Instead he sounded like the president of Israel. He spoke without notes and his words could not have been more passionate about Jews, anti-Semitism and how this museum will be for Poles to learn and know. He spoke of the Yiddish language. His words rang with pride as he veritably boasted that we must not forget that Polish Jewry contributed much to Polish culture, but also to Jewish culture throughout the world.
This was really a Polish occassion. Less usual were the Jews coming back to their homeland to remember and to show the world ?am yisrael chai? (the Jewish people yet live). It was Poland?s day to express pride at its Jewish Heritage. Can one imagine?
Unprecedented. And we were soaked by these awful gusts of wind and water as several speakers took the dais when Rabbi Yisrael Lau stood.
Rabbi Lau told us what many of us were thinking: these rains were tears. But he said he didn?t know if they were tears of sadness or joy, but he wished for joy. And then, as though it was stage managed by G-d, the rains stopped and the sun began to break through and over my shoulder I could see an opening in the blue sky.
Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Polish Jewish survivor of the Shoah, Rabbi Lau intoned the names of shtetl after shtetl. We were reminded that this museum of the history of Jewish life in Poland would tell the story of who we were, the poets and the tailors, the scholars and the peddlers, the writers and the thinkers.
When the ceremony reached its climax a smaller delegation of us went to the City Hall where a luncehon buffet was served.
Several tables overflowed with food. Many of the tables were marked with small signs to let us know the food there was kosher catered and it seemed to be the favorite of all. Warsaw?s recently elected mayor, Hanna Gronkiewiecz-Waltz, warmly embraced us.
There was not the usual distance between governmental officials representing a country and people representing an ethnic group, a lost nation. I guess this day the common denominator of all these events of offcialdom was that there was a oneness. It felt like we were all Jews this day.
And, you, know, maybe we were. If we did not share a common ancestory (and that is up for discussion) we certainly shared a memory.
A few hours ago, amid the elegance of Poland?s National Opera House, we attended a concert of the Vienna symphony. Although I doubt there was a plan to cap the day with the stirring music of an orchestra of that cultured nation which brought upon us the catastrophe of which we were all so conscious this day, I could not avoid thoughts of the irony.
Now it?s 04:30 and the sun has risen over an hour ago.
I?m looking out of my 15th-floor condo windows and Umschlagplatz lies beneath and the site of the museum about 250 meters away. And all the Ghetto remains beneath the unnaturally gently rolling topography created by the 20 mln cubic meters of crushed humanity which lies below the disguise of grass and post-war construction.
We won?t forget them.
Michael H. Traison is a principal of the firm Miller Canfield whose practice is concentrated in all areas of international law, commercial law, and debtor-creditor relations, with particular emphasis on the representation of unsecured creditors, committees, trustees and debtors under Chapter 11 and out-of-court workouts. He represents Israeli companies with interests in Eastern Europe and North America, and North American clients in Israel and Eastern Europe, as well as major unsecured creditors in federal bankruptcy cases, out-of-court workouts and assignments for the benefit of creditors. Although resident in the firm?s Detroit office, he also works out of Miller Canfield?s three offices in Poland.
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