Poland is an intriguing place. We have these cultural customs you won’t really find anywhere else. Take hand-kissing as an example. What a doozy! A Polish woman smiles through gritted teeth and rolls her eyes as a gentleman walks up to her and signals a wish to kiss her hand. A joke in the making.
Polish mentality is a bundle of contradictions. I’m Polish and even I don’t know if I’ve fully grasped the complexities of the Polish mentality. I remember hearing all the way back in elementary school how Poles are a virtuous nation suffering for the world’s sins (the Christ of Nations). How pompously romantic. That’s Polish messianism for you. Propaganda? If only. Please read Gloria Victis by Eliza Orzeszkowa. Not much has changed to this day, mentality-wise.
Jews are present in Poland, yet they aren’t present. A former synagogue here, a monument there. It’s a strange state, kind of like Schrodinger’s cat. I can’t think of another place in the world where Jewishness is so embraced and so shunned at the same time. Polish mentality is schizophrenic, contradictory, messianism and grandiosity mix with inferiority and servitude. Our attitude to Judaism and Jewishness captures this schizophrenia perfectly.
When I was in Passaic, New Jersey, to uncover the story of my American grandfather, I’ve noticed quite a few Orthodox Jews walking around. In Warsaw, a city teeming with Jewish life before the Second World War, you’re not going to see many Jewish men walking down the street in yarmulkes.
It’s a rarity these days and you’d definitely attract attention. Not negative attention, mind you, unless you’ve crossed paths with an imbecile using nationalism as an excuse for violence; more like curiosity.
Warsaw-Otwock railway is an area I know well. The area also happens to have a rich Jewish history. Former synagogues and wooden villas aren’t hard to find.
‘’Towards the end of October 1940 the Nazis established a ghetto in Falenica which comprised today’s Lawinowa, Mszańska Chryzantemy, Hiacyntowa, Walcownicza and Patriotów Streets. Several thousands of people of Jewish origin including inhabitants of Falenica and people displaced from other towns and villages were crammed into this ghetto. It is estimated that about 1500 people died there from difficult living conditions, epidemics or casual executions. On August 20, 1942 the Germans dissolved the ghetto sending its inhabitants to gas chambers of the concentration camp in Treblinka.
On the initiative of “Solidarity” Citizens’ Committee a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was unveiled near the train station in 1992.’’
Anyone who thinks Poland is filled with anti-semites ought to understand this just doesn’t reflect reality. This is no propaganda, just the facts, and I’m acutely aware some people hate Poland and nothing, ever, is going to change it. Jewish-Polish relations are complicated and bad blood between the two nations isn’t exactly a secret. Prejudiced naysayers aside, I’m sure there will be many, many more Jewish people who are going to enjoy learning about the rich history of the Jewish people in my area.
Warsaw-Otwock railway is a hidden gem. A remnant of another era. Interestingly, I’ve just found an article from May 6, 1936 stating that A special guard was posted today on the Warsaw-Otwock railway because of frequent anti-Jewish attacks that have occurred on its trains. I was surprised to read it at first, but, given the date, it makes sense.
If you’re interested in the unexplained, or the paranormal, so to speak, then I have a perfect place for you.
‘’Zofiówka Sanatorium is a defunct mental health facility in the town of Otwock in Poland, built at the beginning of the 20th century. In the Second Polish Republic, the sanatorium complex was expanded with more buildings and staff. Zofiówka initially had 95 beds, but this number had increased to 275 by 1935. The Jewish history of Zofiówka came to its end in the course of the Holocaust following the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.’’
You’d be hard-pressed to find a place with a more twisted and tragic history than Zofiówka. It’s as if Zofiówka is made for horror movies. The Sanatorium is known for hauntings and disturbing drawings on the walls. Hardly surprising, it’s a psychiatric hospital with a tragic past.
Who knows, maybe Zofiówka is going to shine again? The former hospital is surrounded by pine trees, maple trees, and birches. It’s a beautiful area not far from Warsaw.