>in the ghetto
>(okay, bad title)
i remember reading a long time ago that there was still a small section of the jewish ghetto wall still standing in warsaw.
not found anywhere on my map.
not mentioned once in my guidebook.
yesterday i took a vow to find it, and i did.
(i googled it, big whoop.)
the website said the ghetto wall remnant was located at Zlota 62, but when i found Zlota, i realized the street is divided into several sections, cut off by Palaces and tram-ways and parks and gates and construction. i had to go up and down and up and down. finally, down an inconspicuous section of the street, I found an apartment complex. i wandered under an archway, and once deep inside its courtyard, i saw the wall to my right, next to a park.
it was just a corner of old, dark brick, with vines growing up it, now being used as a backyard fence for a resident.
but i immediately grew emotional. my first instinct was to reach out and press my hand flat agasint those bricks. started to bawl.
those bricks were erected in the cover of night, under the sign of extreme ethno-cultural branding and marginalization. those bricks entombed thousands of people who died of starvation, malnutrition, water disease, airborn diseases, or the most basic form of the time — nazi persecution. the inhabitants tried to smuggle, they tried to sneak out, they kept up hope, and even those who survived the ghetto probably weren’t so lucky in the death camps.
the wall, albeit small, is a testament to genocide, and history that has just kept repeating itself (rwanda, darfur, kosovo, bosnia-herzegovina, sarajevo, china…).
bodies pile within its walls. people becoming indifferent to the horrors of death. stealing clothes off a dead body. on the side of the wall, where i stood: aryan calm.
i sat there and cried. what else could i do? 60 years and so much between myself and then, but it felt necessary.
the wall itself is adorned with several plaques all in polish. one from yad veshem in jersualem, 2 from holocaust museums in australia and boston, one from the 1992 israeli prime minister herzog, a map detailing where the boundaries of the ghetto once were, and a single plaque that, when translated into english, says this is where the ghetto limit once was.
bricks line where the rest of it used to fall. the jewish custom of placing a stone over a grave was done here too, several stones had been placed in the holes in the wall.
i looked up at it… 3 metres high, and imagine another metre of barbed wire on top of that.
i was surprised, actually, how i wasn’t disturbed for the 30 minutes i spent in quiet contemplation there. it’s not listed on the maps, the guidebooks. it’s so buried within modern architecture too, that if you didn’t know it was there, you could walk by it a million times and never be the wiser.
no tour groups, no signs, no tourist-vendours, no admission gates.
it’s a site of quiet pilgrimage, not a money-making tourist venture.
i was glad for the solitude here so i could pay my respects.
i rested my forehead against the wall. killed, murdered. slaughtered. executed.
they’re still inside that wall, wondering what it’s like on the other side. what liberation is.
after i cleaned myself up and slowly walked back into society, my feet were dragging. just being there was such a sad experience. every time a tenant walked by, they knew what i was doing there. and why my head was in my hands.
i decided the only appropriate thing to do was visit the Jewish Historical Institute a few city blocks away.
actual photographs and archive footage from within the ghetto. the deprtations. the ingenuity. the dead bodies emaciated and atrophied. the mass graves. the commonality of death. the soaring prices of food, the bridges over the aryan-polish streets. no jews on trams or sidewalks. 400,000 people in a few city blocks. countless diseases. humiliation by the ss guards. children somehow with smiles on their faces. the torching and the liquidation. people jumpoing from flaming buildings. summary exectutions. the outnumbered jewish resistance. the way this was seen as normal.
why no one could change things. it all felt so preventable, like the international comunity pretended not to be see, or they just didn’t care.
they showed a 40 minute documentary in polish and hebrew where i understood very little, but the images really spoke for themselves. it felt like these people are still dying. like they’re still being persecuted. i feel lik i’m walking on the bones of the people.
how will i ever deal with auschwitz? i’ll be there in a few days…
i took the steps of the exit two at a time.
back to the touristy section of the city to calm down. sat on the steps of the monument, which overlooks the Vistula.
the breakdancers were at it again. colourful tracksuits, and early 80s hip hop. people started to gather, clapping and cheering. the dancers responded, their bodies flying without gravity.