Orna Raz

Day 261 Of The War: A Visit To Poland

An old  house in Szpitalna street in Tarnow where my family used to live.
An old house in Szpitalna street in Tarnow where my family used to live.

Last night, I wasn’t in Kaplan. Right now, I am in Poland with a group of women friends visiting the sites of the Holocaust and the hometown of my ancestors, the Witzthum and Rubin families, in the small Galician town of Tarnow. We made plans to go to Poland long before October 7 because, for the last several years, one of our friends, an educator, has been cooperating with peers in Poland on many cultural enterprises. It sounded fascinating, and we asked her to organize such a visit for us. She agreed and finally, last Thursday, our group of eight women arrived in Krakow.

It wasn’t my first time in Poland. For my 60th birthday, I decided it was time to go to Poland and see the camps. My uncle and grandparents were murdered in the Holocaust, and another uncle barely survived the war. Last time, I also decided to go with a group of women, and it proved to be a very good plan.

But this visit is totally different, as each site resonates with October 7. For example, after we left Tarnow yesterday, we visited Buczyna Woods, where the massacre of 6,000 Jewish men, women, and children from the Tarnow Ghetto and an orphanage took place. They were buried in mass graves. It wasn’t possible to be in the woods and not see, in my imagination, the young people in Nova who were hunted down and slaughtered at the Nova site.

The visit to the woods took place after we walked around my family’s hometown of Tarnow. During the Second World War, my great-grandparents were already dead, and their children were spread across Europe and sent to the camps from all those other places. Nobody survived.

My family in Tarnow lived in the Jewish area of town near the Mikveh and the New Synagogue. They had a good and comfortable life. They probably never imagined what was yet to come. The Polish man who showed me around Tarnow was a colleague of our friend, and he said that most people probably thought and believed that things would eventually improve and that those were empty threats, mere rhetorics. I dare say that many of us believed the same about what was going on across the border in the south of Israel.

I grew up believing that the Holocaust transcended history and could not be compared to any other tragedy. Still, it is impossible for me to be here at this time and not draw comparisons. The only thing that gives me solace, both here in Poland and in Israel, is seeing kind and generous gestures that prove to me that we are still human.

About the Author
I hold a PhD in English Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, specializing in writing about issues related to women, literature, culture, and society. Having lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994), I bring a diverse perspective to my work. As a widow, in March 2016, I initiated a support and growth-oriented Facebook group for widows named "Widows Move On." The group has now grown to over 2000 members, providing a valuable space for mutual support and understanding.
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