My head is still full of my visit to Birkenau. What most impressed me was the vastness of the camp and what meager protection the barracks gave so death resulted also from just being here. On a winterday the silence was deafening.
Do they speak French where you live Saul asked me. He is surprised my mother tongue is Dutch, no that is not Deutsch. Both of us are waiting for the toilets at the airport of Krakow. He is dressed in typical religious Jewish outfit of one of the more orthodox groups and wears a small grey beard.
I notice the special cases for the fur hats that belong to this attire. The fur hats were originally mandatory to make the Jews easily recognizable. Now they are worn to stress their identity
Saul is from Brooklyn he tells me. Together with a group they are traveling up and down for just three days to pray where once the founder of their religious community lived. He was a great rabbi many generations ago.
Saul himself was born in Kosiçe, now Slovakia, but was there only 2 weeks. His father fled for the Russians and they landed in America. All of the group around his age are all from “here” originally. Their children joined them for this trip.
They can go back to the rabbi’s village but in Poland are no religious Jewish communities left. In Ukraine and Hungary the attitude is are more tolerant and there some still exist.
His son tells me the day before they were physically attacked in the Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow named after the Polish king that originally invited them. They wore their traditional outfit including the fur hats. Some Poles have still strong antisemitic feelings despite all that happened. Also they still deny they were part of it. Ex communist eastern Europe still has to digest all the cruelties of the past.
It is all so distant for Saul now. His religious beliefs stay with him and his friends. He boards the plane to New York, where they can walk around without fear.