By Jasmine Lu, Regular ContributorJuly 3, 2015
Flying into Warsaw, Poland, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard that over eighty percent of the city had been destroyed over the course of World War II, so most of the city has 1950s and Stalin-esque styled or much more modern buildings. And after checking into our hotel and exploring the surrounding area, it really was quite different from the other European cities we had traveled to.
Though the immediate city wasn’t as full of culture and history, my stay in Warsaw was my favorite by far,
because I was able to really contemplate what the purpose of my trip across Europe was.
image via the dailyquirk.com
During our stay in Warsaw, we had the pleasure of being entertained by a family who has lived in Poland for generations. The great grandfather had lived through Auschwitz and a German prison camp. Fortunately, he had lived until the age of 80 something to tell the tale; therefore, his daughter (the now grandmother of the family) was able to explain to me that was it not for his young age (only about twenty-one) he would never have made it out alive. She also told me of how her mother would refuse to speak of experiences during the time of war; though in multiple parts of her childhood, it was apparent that her mom had very troubling memories.
And in her own lifetime, she was educated with the restrictions of being in an “Iron Curtain” country and had to raise her daughters with food stamps. She told us stories of the tendency towards corruption during the more difficult times and how it contrasted with her excitement for the lives of her daughters and their families in this new age where international travel was increasingly accessible. I couldn’t help but feel her contagious excitement as she listed off the ways in which the world was improving.
Her stories were echoed by walking through the new Polin Museum or the Polish Jews History Museum (which I highly recommend - an unbelievably educational experience). The museum took you through the incredibly complicated history of the Jewish community in Poland, from the first communities to the persecution with exchanges of power during wars to the increasingly anti-semitic climate through the Holocaust and afterwards. The museum provided tons of personal narratives and detailed accounts of the lives of the Jewish community, taking you into the homes of Jewish families or even into the arts such as journalism or film. Most shocking for me was learning that of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, almost half of them were in Poland. Even despite the grim history of Jews in Poland, the exhibition ended on a positive note, noting the improving climate for Jews in Poland.
And I was able to see that as well in my adventures at Poland by sitting in on an outdoor, free Chopin concert with over a hundred other people or walking through the many beautiful parks and seeing so many people relaxing or children playing freely.
In a city that has seen so much loss and hardship, it was extremely uplifting to see how the community was able to put it past them and live on happily.
And while I have been able to learn a lot about the city from history books or articles, I would have never gotten the same experience as I did from talking to the people who were directly affected by these events.
Where have you traveled to? What have you learned from this experience? Tell us below!
Jasmine Lu will be attending Duke University in the fall and will be pursuing a degree in Biomedical Engineering. She has many interests including global health, computer science, and film. You can learn more about how her mind works at her personal blog j-------lu.tumblr.com
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