Home' LOTL : January 2006 Contents 22
JACKIE BRAW RETURNS TO POLAND,
HER ANCESTRAL HOME.
My father died in April this year after
a long battle with cancer. He lived with
cancer for twenty years and thankfully,
for most of this time, he led an active and
fulfilling life. But the last few years were
very difficult and despite his strength and
youthful soul, he was an old man and his
body began shutting down.
All my friends tell me I am my father’s
daughter. I look very much like him, minus
the height (unfortunately). I even walk like
he did. So when I took my first steps in the
city of Krakow – my father’s birthplace – I
was him. Proud, strong and tall. With each
step I felt a sense of accomplishment – at
somehow reclaiming his territory. Because
in 1939 he was forced to leave his home to
escape the Nazi invasion.
I had no particular plan in mind. I decided
to visit Poland because I wanted to see
where my parents were born and I had
an idea that somehow this might help
me grieve the loss of my father. Having
constantly struggled with the question of
my identity as an Australian, far away
from my family’s cultural origins, I
wondered what Poland could tell me about
myself. And, like my Dad, I love to travel.
I couldn’t resist the offer of my good
friend Lauren (pictured) to travel together
for a few weeks through Eastern Europe.
This is a story about part of this journey,
my journey through Poland. It was only
five days in total – beginning in Warsaw
and ending in Krakow, including a visit
to the Auschwitz ‘museum’. (They call
it a museum because tourists might feel
strange visiting a ‘death camp’.) This
journey has helped me understand myself
a little better – as a 44 year old Jewish
Polish Australian lesbian.
I remember feeling anxious about my
visit to Poland, worried that people
would be rude to me and even unkind.
My impressions of Poland were formed
largely by my parents’ stories of pre-
war anti-Semitism and wartime ghetto
life. But when we flew into ‘Warszawa’
I felt exhilarated. I was so lucky to be
a tourist in a place that continues to be
impoverished, only gradually rediscovering
a cultural and economic identity, post war
and communism. More importantly for
me, I was alive in a country where most
of my relatives died, along with millions
of other Jews.
Warsaw’s old town was totally destroyed
during WWII but has been restored.
Although quaint it seemed too perfect, as
if it were a Hollywood set. The city itself
– the business district – is a bustling grey
precinct which is less attractive but far
more interesting. My mother lived in this
area until 1939 so we journeyed there by
crowded tram to take photos to bring
home to her.
The next day we took a train to Krakow.
It was a most beautiful journey, passing
fields of mist, farmhouses, churches and
Krakow’s old town and square is original.
The Nazis were based in Krakow and so
it was spared the destruction experienced
elsewhere in Poland. Kazimeriz was the
Jewish district and today it offers tourists
a taste of former Jewish Polish life with
restaurants, shops, synagogues and
cemeteries. Schindler ’s factory is here and
myself a little
better – as a
44 year old
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