Apparently, studying at a distance-education university does not only mean that I can study from anywhere, but also that they are taking me on trips. As part of my studies in history, I’ll be going on a field trip to Poland, starting tomorrow. And of course we picked the Polish city steeped in history the most: Krakow.
The four-day workshop is called “Policies of memory and history in a Polish metropolis from 1900 to 1970”, encompassing anything from cultural history with art nouveau, Polski Jazz and a visit of the Wyspianski Museum as well as Jewish artists, the example of Socialist city planning Nova Huta, student protests and anti-Semitism in Poland after 1945. But I am not even sure if we are still allowed to discuss that topic in Poland now. In any case, the current debate just makes the seminar even more timely.
A large part will of course be taken up by the German occupation from 1939 on and by the Holocaust. We will visit both the city of Auschwitz and the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The former ghetto in Podgórze and the camp for forced laborers in Plaszów are topics as well, as is Oskar Schindler. As always, I got stuck with a legal topic, so I will present my thoughts on the question whether claims for compensation are a path or a hindrance to reconciliation.
In a way, I am surprised that I haven’t been to Poland yet. After all, it’s a neighboring country. – And even my grandfathers already visited or rather invaded it in 1939, trying to create Lebensraum for Germans, not having the slightest clue that only two generations later, their families would die out with me anyway. (And trust me, even the largest living space thinkable wouldn’t convince me to produce any offspring.) But I have always been curious about Poland, hence I am using this academic trip to stay in Krakow for five additional days, until 20 June. If I like it, I will return to explore more of Poland.
There is only one thing that worries me. When I find myself in places of mass murder, which is hard to avoid in Eastern Europe if you travel with open eyes, I prefer to be alone. I like to take my time there, reflecting and sitting in the forest or the grass for a few hours. That’s obviously not an option when I am part of a group of well-prepared students. We will see how that goes.
As always when I go on a trip, if you want a postcard from Krakow, just send me an e-mail.
Wow. That field trip sounds really interesting! Unlike mine that I remember;) you will enjoy Krakow a lot, I promise.
And I didn’t even mention that we are going to Jazz Club Harris.
I am really impressed by this university. There was a mandatory preparation course and tons of mandatory reading, so everybody should be well-prepared. – And the Przegorzaly Guesthouse of Jagiellonian University looks like a nice place to stay, surrounded by forest.
What did you do for your field trip?
Visited countless churches and palaces, listening to /or reading out their descriptions/ history etc. I think because of this I don’t buy nor read travel guides anymore;)
I wish you the best. I wish I’d just stuck to Krakow when I went.
I am also happy with the decision to stay there longer instead of trying to squeeze in trips to Warsaw, Zakopane or Katovice. It’s such a huge country, if I like it, I will just have to move there for a year.
I visited Krakow on my own for 5 days in 2017. Loved it!! yes, I did the tour to Auschwitz and as you say I wish I could be there on my own and not with the masses of people that are pushed through. Highlight for me was the Wieliczka mine. Enjoy your trip
Thank you very much!
I very much understand the wish to be on your own and not with a tour group, on the visit to Auschwitz – although I don’t know if I could even bring myself to visit there, the place where my grandparents were murdered.
I would be interested to read your thoughts on the question whether claims for compensation are a path or a hindrance to reconciliation.
Now that I am back, I have dozens of pages of notes and will get to write the articles in summer. Hopefully.
Therefore just briefly on the two point you have raised:
1) I had dreaded the visit to Auschwitz for years, although I had been to other former concentration camps. When I was there, I actually found it anti-climatic. This was probably a combination of being very prepared after studying the Holocaust for years, of being in a guided group that was rushed through behind and in front of yet more groups, and the fact that the place now looks like a peaceful park with luscious green grass and shady trees lining the paths. It was weird.
Honestly, I have been much more moved by (and learned more from) some books by Primo Levi, Eli Wiesel, Jurek Becker or Balys Sruoga.
2) I think that compensation can be part of reconciliation, but it must not be the only one. I see the danger of the perpetrators (or their legal successors) paying and then thinking “Ok, that’s it. Now let’s move on.” And the victims may care more about criminal prosecution, public acknowledgement or initiatives like “Aktion Sühnezeichen” instead of a one-time payment with which they can buy a new fridge.
Hi Andreas, isn’t it illegal now to talk about anti-semitism in Poland ??? The Sejm passed this new law in amended form on January 26, 2018. As another blogger (Jacobin) wrote:” ….This legislation allows them to indulge racists, homophobes, and antisemites on the one hand and, on the other, to prosecute “communists,” foreigners, historians, publishers, and witnesses to the Holocaust…”
And as a foreigner, a historian and a publisher (did I forgot something) you fit nicely into their profile of target suspects.
I was wondering about that, too. Unfortunately, our university course didn’t include any Polish academics, although I would have found it very enlightening to speak with them about this.
Of the Polish guides whom we had, one of them was quite open about it, the other one mentioned it briefly in one sentence.
I stayed longer and met with some Polish non-historians, and some of them shocked me with their opinions. As one Polish girl told me, without thinking that there was anything provocative about her opinion: “It’s better not to speak of the Jews. We people here in Krakow don’t particularly like the Jews.”
So, whatever the new law says, I would say there still is a problem.
I´m also going to Krakow next week for a week! I did A TON of research into our trip (restaurants to try, etc.), I am happy to share our itinerary with you if you would like!
Thank you, but I am already running out of time regarding the things I wanted to see. I made some friends here, so I am just sitting in cafes or bars for a few hours every day, which I have to catch up the next morning.
But you are right to devote a full week to Kraków!
This is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. And very good quality of life. You can even just walk around residential neighborhoods and it’s beautiful and interesting.
As to restaurants, I can’t recommend much because I just get stuff from the bakery and eat in the park. But the few times I was in restaurants, it often took more than an hour to prepare the meal. So factor that in your calculation.
For a beautiful setting with a view above the river, you could go to Przegorzaly to restaurant U Ziyada in a castle. Bus 409 takes you directly there from Cracovia Stadium or Salwator (in the evening, the buses only go to Przegorzaly itself and you have to walk up/down the hill).
The bus and tram network is very good and easy to understand. I got a weekly card when I arrived and it has already paid off repeatedly.
My article about Kraków won’t be written until after your trip, but if you have any questions, I will happily answer them in the meantime.
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It’s really cool that you get to go on field trips during your studies. :)
I went to Auschwitz on a school trip and I remember that there was no time or space for thinking. Even if you go there alone, there’s always a number of other groups. So you see the place and listen to the guides, but solitude and thinking are things you need to put off.
Can’t wait to read about your observations from Krakow. And I do hope you met some more open-minded people here…
Best regards from a Cracovian by choice :)
I had exactly the same feeling after visiting Auschwitz. It was almost anti-climatic, because you expect so much to happen (emotionally), and then you are just one group of many, being pushed through.
I felt like I had learned and felt much more in Yad Vashem or other, smaller memorial sites, or of course from talking to Holocaust survivors/refugees.
But I really loved Kraków! Such a beautiful, interesting, cultural, yet somehow relaxed city. I could really live there for a while.
I took so many notes that the articles will be quite long and thus it will still be a while. There will be one about Kraków, one about Auschwitz and a separate one about Nowa Huta.
So great that you visited our country andl liked it. Hope you come back some day! :)
I hope so, too!
In Krakow, I only got a first glimpse, but I am happy that I decided to stay for another week after the university seminar to explore Krakow and Nowa Huta in-depth. I found it fascinating, beautiful, cultural and friendly. It seemed to me that Krakow is a great city to live at, too.
How did you get to Krakow? Unfortunately, the first time I flew in I did not have an ordered transport from the airport (the airport is about 14 kilometers from Krakow) – my late arrival meant that I had to wait for the train about half an hour. Fortunately, the transport from the city center to the airport when I came back I booked in the KrakowTransfer company. The driver came to my hostel and drove to the airport – I never had such a professional and comfortable journey. How did you deal with it?
There are public buses between the airport and the city center. And even waiting for half an hour for the train is not a big deal.
There is really no reason for overpriced private transfers that clog up traffic and pollute the environment.
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