My Polish Wisnia, Live in Warsaw!
Every language and every culture has a popular song dedicated to Mother. One of my grandfather’s standards is Momele. To know his history and to perform Momele with him in this place is a gift. (He then threw in the Italian Mama Son Tanto Felice, for good measure.)
Performing with my grandfather, songs in English, Polish, Yiddish, German, and Hebrew. Music passed down from generation to generation.
Towards the end of the concert, we left room for a Q&A with the audience. My grandfather answered questions about growing up in Warsaw, the great cantors he studied with, the places in Poland in which he performed, and the song he composed during his time in the Auschwitz concentration camp. And then, one woman rose her hand and approached the stage, and then got on the stage and handed my grandfather a tupperwear container.
Back in January, on our way to the 70th Anniversary event of the Liberation of Auschwitz, we had taken a 2-hour train from Warsaw to Katowice. Sharing our train compartment was a married couple, slightly young than my grandfather. Just slightly. They spoke no English, so I could only guess from facial expressions what was being said until my grandfather later translated for me. It turned out the man, this stranger on a train, had grown up next to Krochmalna 43, the place where my grandfather grew up as a child in Warsaw, the home that was destroyed. Because this stranger was younger than my grandfather and lived on the street, he knew what it was like there after the war. He was able to tell us about the street, the neighborhood, the city. He even later sent us an email with picture of Krochmalna Street through the years, what it looked like and the changes it went through.
And so when Renia and Andrzej planned to see us again at this concert, they came with a present, a surprise for not only my grandfather, but for everyone in attendance. In the tupperwear container, Renia explained in front of the audience, were chestnuts and berries from a tree that grows along Krochmalna Street. Now, David can take the memory of Krochmalna Street back with him to the United States, plant it, keep it alive, and let it blossom.
My Aunt Rickie, my Aunt Margie, my Uncle Richard… these are people that I know and love, that are always there at family holiday celebrations, that i talk to on the phone; these are the siblings of my other grandparents, whose children and grandchildren are such a big part of my life and what I consider my family. When i think about my grandfather’s family that was shot in the Warsaw ghetto, being here in this place makes me truly understand that they are my family too. My family, cornered and killed. Even though i never knew them, they are not so far removed. The history is not so distant.
It is an indescribable feeling to come back to Warsaw and feel like we have made connections, a network of support, true friends. We saw many of these friends at our concert. Pictured below is Alina, also a survivor of Auschwitz, and her granddaughter Ewa, whom we first met in Auschwitz at the event earlier this year celebrating the liberation of the camp. We became close with them over the course of many meals together, and they attended our concert with their entire family. Being able to share history with them and laugh with them is something like magic – you are not quite sure how it is possible, but it is awe-inspiring.
To Wojtek and the people of Fabryka Trzciny, to Iza Rivka, Sebastian, Piotr, and all our friends in the Beit Polska community, to our friends Robert, Anna and the boys of the GRH 101st Airborne Club, to everyone that came and welcomed us to Warsaw with open arms, to everyone that sang and clapped along, to everyone that gave us hugs and handshakes and chestnuts and chocolate and Chopin CDs, i say to you with a full heart: Dziękuję bardzo, przyjaciele!