It’s about 7:30am on November 4th, 2014, and the 8:00am Intercity from Krakow to Warsaw is already on the platform of the gleaming new Krakow Glowny with flat screens everywhere telling you which platform and which track and train and when it will be there and when it will depart. I was just finished daveneing on my iPhone, but I don’t want to run up to the train just yet. I really want to log into the free WiFi here in the station which I hope works better than the free Wifi on the train. Rachel is tapping away on her phone sitting next to the satchel and a small red backpack we brought down for the night.
And then a man approaches us with a smile on his face, and he says “Auschwitz?”
“Nie dziękuję. Nie chcemy jechać do auschwitz.” No thanks sir, we don’t want to drive to Auschwitz.
And I smile at Rachel and Rachel smiles back and we look at each other and exchange a million words without having to open our mouths. And we have a little laugh, and head over to the train platform. Rachel well knew the story and have another little laugh about just how much has stayed the same as it all changes.
Getting off the overnight train from Budapest to Krakow in May 1991, I had mixed emotions about returning to Poland. Well, in truth I had never actually been to Poland before. But it felt like a return all the same. My grandfathers left Poland before the WWII and I am going to be the first member of my family to step onto Polish Territory in over 80 years. I was convinced that this is pretty significant.
With perspective It was one of the single most important steps that I had ever taken in my life, just behind the steps to my chuppah and the steps behind the casket at my father’s funeral.
I was carrying a large blueish grey internal frame backpack, the latest model, that I have been shlepping since I left Israel a few weeks ago, instantly nailing me for a tourist from the West. And just after I have stepped onto the platform, taking a deep breath of fresh air after a long night on the train without a sleeper cabin, and feeling like I am stepping into an uncertain future without anyone around to reassure me that this was a good idea, a man walks up to me and says, in a matter of fact way, as if asking for directions, “Auschwitz? Auschwitz”
And those are the first words that welcomed me to Poland.