Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Spain! Travelling in Retirement I

This summer Tony and  I decided  to maximize the (somewhat waning) abilities of our bodies for strenuous travel and to do two trips  a year.  We decided to go to Spain this fall.  Next year we hope to go to Budapest in February and to the Baltic states in autumn.

Our itinerary:  November 1:  Fly to Madrid, five nights; train  to Segovia, two nights; train  to Toledo, two nights; train to Barcelona, 4 nights. November 15: Fly home from Barcelona.  It seemed a great plan when we made the reservations.

Since then, Catalonia (Barcelona) has declared independence, and Spain has entered into its most serious constitutional crisis since 1978.  We are watching the news with care.  We still plan to go to Barcelona at the end, as we have  to fly home from there.  But whether we will spend four days there or go somewhere else and  then get to Barcelona the night before leaving depends on what's going on.  We are pretty hopeful at this point we will be able to enjoy Barcelona, so fingers crossed for an easy trip.

Still it will  be strenuous.  Not just the overseas flights, but  also all the to-ing and fro-ing of three train trips (with connections), the wheeling of luggage, the getting  to various hotels, etc.  It's not an endurance trial, of course, but it does take energy.  How many more years can we wheel our luggage around Europe?  I  hope a lot, but just in case, we are going to do as much travel as our bodies and budget can afford.

All my life I said I would travel in retirement.  I love to travel and traveled a lot when I was working.  But now the impetus is stronger. Next year both Tony and I will  turn 70.  Who knows what will happen. Of course whoever knows what will happen.  But this seems to be the kairotic moment:  carpe diem.

Travelling light, I'm  taking an ipad not a computer.  So I won't be blogging from Spain, though I will be on the internet.  I hope to do some Spain  posts when I return.

Hasta luego!


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Jedwabne: The Massacre of a Polish village and Its Aftermath

Note:  As one of my summer reading projects,  I researched the World War II massacre of the town of Jedwabne in eastern Poland on July 10, 1941 .  The massacre at Jedwabne gained attention with the publication of Jan T. Gross’s Neighbors.  The book sparked a great deal of controversy in Poland and elsewhere and revealed fissures still present in Polish memory of World War II.  At the end of my reading, I decided I wanted to try to write about my response, basically as a way to think through the material I had read.  I am  posting this to my blog because  it does show a  different kind  of reading in retirement, and because I like to write about important things I read. 

Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne Poland.  Jan T. Gross  Princeton University Press.  2001.
The Crime and  the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne.  Anna Bikont.  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2004.
The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy Over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland.  Ed. Anthony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michelin.  Princeton University Press, 2004.

As I remarked earlier on the blog, I have been recently read a number of books in which the writer tries to discover the identity and fate of individuals who perished in the Holocaust, primarily in eastern Poland.  But as I read these books, I was also reading about a particular town which has become infamous for what the historian Jan Gross describes as a day in July 1941 when “half the population of a small eastern European town murdered the other half.”  The town was Jedwabne, a small community in Eastern Poland that had been occupied briefly by the Nazis until the German-Soviet Treaty was signed in 1939, then occupied again after the outbreak of the Russian-German war in June 1941. 

What happened at Jedwabne became a hugely controversial issue  in Poland after the publication of Neighbors.  According to Gross, a group of citizens of Jedwabne and neighboring communities rounded up the Jedwabne Jews on July 10, 1941.  Most were gathered in the town square.  Some were killed in the square, some in other  parts of Jedwabne, and many were marched into a barn which was then set on fire.  Several Nazis were there to film the activities, but the killing was done solely by the non-Jewish Polish population of the town.  Also present, according to Gross, were families in wagons from neighboring villages who had prior knowledge of the Jedwabne pogrom and had come ready to loot the empty Jewish houses.  At the end of the day, Jedwabne’s Jewish population—Gross estimates it as 1600 men, women and children—was virtually decimated. 

The fact of the Jedwabne massacre is undisputed, but what remains contested in Gross’s account, by many of his Polish readers, is his claims that the German soldiers had no part in the killings; that the Polish killers were not coerced; that Jews were killed because of Poland’s  historical  anti-Semitism, not because they had purportedly collaborated with the Russians in the period between the two Nazi occupations; and that the Catholic priest in Jedwabne gave tacit approval and encouraged anti-Semitism (a charge Gross further levels against the Catholic church as a whole). 

Published first in Polish and then English, Neighbors was (is) extremely controversial in Poland.  This controversy has played out in terms of the degree to which the Nazis were (or were not) involved in the massacre, the degree to which the Catholic church supported Polish anti-Semitism, the historical depth of Polish anti-Semitism, the relative status of “victim” in Poland during World War II, the appropriate way to memorialize the event, and most importantly whether living Poles who were not a part of Polish pogroms bore any collective responsibility for what happened.

The complications  of understanding, much less accepting, what occurred at Jedwabne on July 10, 1941 is the subject of Anna Bikont’s book The Crime and the Silence.  Bikont, a journalist, spent 2001 and 2002 interviewing people about Jedwabne.  These interviews included Jedwabne citizens who had witnessed the massacre first hand, including the one surviving man who had been among the 10 men convicted of the crime in the trial held by the Russians in 1953 (all but one of whom received sentences of 5 to 10 year) and the few Jews who had escaped Jedwabne or the neighboring village Radzilow which was the site of a pogrom on July 7, 1941; the then-mayor of Jedwabne and members of the town council who were engaged in the controversy about how to memorialize the killings; and the prosecutor from the Polish Institute of National Memory, who was charged with investigating the case after the publication of Neighbors.  What astonishes about her book is her inability to get almost anyone to talk about the event or to accept what seem to be uncontroverted facts including the following:  1) that while there were German soldiers at Jedwabne during the pogrom there is no evidence that they were there in any number and the only actions they seem to have taken were photographing the events; 2) that even though the exact number of victims will never be known (1600?  900?), the whole of the Jewish population was killed on that day; 3) that the majority of victims had not earlier collaborated with the Soviets by targeting Polish citizens; 4) that looting had occurred during and after the massacre; 5) that the Polish killers had not been coerced; and most alarmingly, 6) that present-day Poles bore no responsibility not just for Jedwabne but for the many Polish-initiated killings in World  War II.  (There had been pogroms in nearby villages in the days surrounding the Jedwabne massacre.) Even the woman credited with saving one of the survivors was afraid to speak because she feared repercussions from other inhabitants of Jedwabne, sixty years after the event.

Among the exceptions to this willed silence were the then-mayor of Jedwabne, who tried to work with Jewish leaders and other concerned Poles to mark the 60th anniversary of the Jedwabne killings, including changing the memorial stone which then said that here the Nazis killed 1600 Jews (the mayor has since  been voted out of office; a few former Jedwabne citizens; the few survivors of Jedwabne, and the Polish Institute for National Memory. 

Because it was written just after the publication of Neighbors and just before the 60th anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre, a good deal of Bikont’s  book concerns debates about how to memorialize the event.  The Jedwabne Town  Council—with  the exception of the mayor and one other member—wanted the city to have no official part in the memorial service, even though they accepted funds to repair the streets to accommodate visitors.  The Catholic church, including the local priest, did not participate, though there was a smaller service in Warsaw on another date.  And almost no local citizens were there.  A group of Jewish rabbis from the United States,  including one who had grown up in Jedwabne but left before the war were there, as were other international visitors.  Also present was the President of Poland who apologized in the name of the Polish people. 

Bikont’s book is vivid example of books of a certain Holocaust genre:  the attempt to locate the identities, actions, and fates of specific victims.  The book alternates excerpts from Bikont’s journal during the two years she spent researching, and mini-biographies of people who had a part in the Jedwabne pogrom.  The book thus tells two stories:  one, Bikont’s two  year journey (though Poland and several other countries) to track down “what happened,” and 2), the story of what happened,” to the degree it can be known The book ends with the National Institute of History’s prosecutors statement that “The perpetrators of the crime, strictly speaking, were the Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne and its surroundings—a group of at least forty men.”

The closure promised in the statement  of the Prosecutor has not been achieved in regards to Jedwabne.  Controversy remains about almost all the fundamental questions—how many victims, how many Nazis, how many Poles.  The degrees of controversy and kinds of arguments are ranged in a collection of primary sources about the debate reproduced in The Neighbors Respond.  These include sections of articles about the following topics:  the initial reporting of Gross’s allegations, the moral debate, official statements, the debate in the Catholic church, voices of Jedwabne’s inhabitants, historical methodologies, and the response outside Poland. This volume makes clear that important questions still survive in Poland  about Polish social memory and national identity.  It also clearly documents that anti-Semitism is still a powerful force in Polish society, though its depth and nature are highly debated topics.  And it challenges how history is made about events, such as the Holocaust, where almost none of the victims themselves survived.  

Jedwabne is a metonym for Polish-Jewish relations—before, during, and after World War II  As the controversy it inspired makes clear, more is at stake than the history of one small village.  Jedwabne became a touchstone for complex questions about Polish identity—national, historical, ethnic—that appear to be as yet unanswered.  

However what remains is the stark knowledge that, in the words of Hanna Swida-Ziemba from The Neighbors Respond:  “Regardless of whether there were more or fewer Germans in Jedwabne, whether 1,632 or significantly fewer (say, for example, 933) were burned in that barn, how many Poles took part in it, and whether the Germans played the role acquiescent observers or active provocateurs, nothing will change the simple  truth, cruel for us today, that all [sic]* the residents of Jedwabne were burned alive, and that the crime was committed by the local population.”

*  It is now known that most of the people burnt in the barn were women, children and the elderly; men and older boys were killed elsewhere and there corpses placed in the barn.    


Monday, October 23, 2017

Fire Rainbow: Leaving Lake Medora

As we were leaving Lake Medora for the end of the summer, about about 4:00 in the afternoon, we saw a beautiful mackerel sky.  (Picture from the car.)

Then the sun came in at an angle and suddenly produced this array of colors.  We pulled over and I tried to capture it (though I didn't have the right filter) before it fled.  Here is a sense  of what we saw.

PS  A Fire Rainbow is really a Circumhorizontal Arc.  Per Wikipedia:

"The misleading term "fire rainbow" . . . is neither a rainbow, nor related in any way to fire. The term. . . may originate in the occasional appearance of the arc as "flames" in the sky, when it occurs in fragmentary cirrus clouds."  In reality,

"A circumhorizontal arc is an optical phenomenon that belongs to the family of ice halos formed by the refraction of sun- or moonlight in plate-shaped ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, typically in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. In its full form, the arc has the appearance of a large, brightly spectrum-coloured band (red being the topmost colour) running parallel to the horizon, located far below the Sun or Moon. The distance between the arc and the Sun or Moon is twice as far as the common 22-degree halo. Often, when the halo-forming cloud is small or patchy, only fragments of the arc are seen. As with all halos, it can be caused by the Sun as well as (but much more rarely) by the Moon."

Whatever it was, it was a gorgeous farewell to summer and  to the lake!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The End of the Summer

Tomorrow we leave here for Louisville.  We had an often wet and gray summer but it finished up lovely.  Here are some highlights. 

I cooked a soufflé. (It actually rose higher than it looks; the pan was too large.)

We had a family reunion.

I had a birthday.

Tony played the ukulele in the Fourth of July Parade.  (This was probably more of a highlight for me than for him.)


We had wonderful guests.

We hosted a couple of mini-golf championships.

We went to a Democratic fundraiser and Cindy and Dickie Selfe's featuring the musician Billy Payne.

We enjoyed several martinis at the Harbor Haus.

We shared what may be (but we hope won't be) our last meal at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge with our friends.

And last night we saw this spectacular sunset while eating at The Fitz. 


Monday, October 9, 2017

Lake Light

Some of this summer's  best light shows.

The one below is shadows of the eclipse on the lake surface.

The one below is of an incredibly clear early morning when the sun illuminated spiders' webs in the trees.