TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Warsaw, Ciechanow and Krakow – July 2009

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 26, 2009


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Tuesday 7/14/09 – Vilnius to Warsaw

Our two week home exchange in Vilnius allowed us to plan a side trip to nearby Poland. We were 5 days in Vilnius, 2 days in Warsaw, 3 days in Krakow, and then 4 more days in Vilnius.

We have now been trained – read “made crazy” – by Ryanair, so we leave for the Vilnius airport far earlier than needed. It’s a short walk to the Holiday Inn, where they call a taxi for us, and we are soon on our way. We are also soon there, more than two hours before flight departure.

There is not much to do at the Vilnius airport. There’s one café with no food. At least we have a place to sit. Finally, the gate opens and we can check our luggage. Through security and into the gate area, where there is a restaurant. I get a hot dog. “No action,” the cashier says as he slides my MasterCard through his machine. He is doing it wrong, too slow and withdrawing before it completes the pass. We tell him; he ignores us and does it his way, so of course it continues to fail. “No action.” I pay with cash, which may have been his objective all along, although I cannot imagine why.

Bristol-Meridian Hotel in Warsaw

Bristol-Meridian Hotel in Warsaw

Time passes and we board for what turns out to be 35 minutes in the air to Warsaw, long enough to serve a cheese sandwich and a coke. We taxi from the airport to the hotel. And what a hotel!

The Hotel Bristol-Meridian is the prestige hotel in Warsaw, built in 1901, substantially re-built after WWII. It is elegant, and the price we are paying is very reasonable. Our room is elegant and large, the bath is superb. We are too tired to go out seeking a restaurant, so we eat in the hotel. Also elegant, and excellent food.

Wednesday 7/15/09 – Ciechanow

Ciechanow is the reason we are in Warsaw. Located 80 km northeast of Warsaw, we believe it is the city where my mother’s parents lived 100 years ago. We have arranged for a car and driver for the day, and Roman is waiting for us at 9:00 am. He is Polish, not Jewish, but married into a Jewish family. First surprise: he has spent two long vacations in Key West, including one when we were already living there.

We talk about what we will see. Most of the old buildings are gone, including the Jewish homes and synagogues. There is the remnants of a cemetery. We pass the turnoff to the village where David Ben-Gurion lived before he went to Palestine and later became the founder of the State of Israel.

DSCN8396-grandpop in carriage

As we drive, Pat wonders aloud how Grandpop Evantash got himself from Ciechanow to London and then to Philadelphia. Was there a train in 1909? From Warsaw, yes, says Roman, but maybe not from Ciechanow. He would have gone on foot, or maybe by horse and wagon, hitching rides with farmers along the way. From Warsaw, there were trains to the west. Roman suggests he might have gone to Hamburg, and hence by boat to London.

Grandpop stayed in London for a short time, then by boat to the U.S., probably to New York, and then on to Philadelphia, where he had family or friends. He worked for several years, accumulating enough money to send for Grandmom and Uncle Dave, the only one of their children born in Poland.

What must it have been like to set out on such a journey, uncertain as to its success? What must it have been like for Grandmom to wait and wonder if she would ever follow. But they did make it. Grandpop avoided 25 years service in the Tsar’s army, and they had over 50 years of married life ahead of them, mostly in Camden, NJ, where I was born.

I knew my grandparents for 20 years. Every Jewish holiday was a family event at their house, with all 5 children and the grandchildren. Later, I drove my grandfather on his routes through Camden, collecting rents from tenants, some of them living in homes that Grandpop had built. But my only recollections of my grandparents are as old people. How hard to imagine them as youngsters, courting, getting married, making the momentous decisions that led to my life as an American.

DSCN8353-Ciechanow cemetery

There are no grave stones at what remains of the Jewish Cemetery in Ciechanow. There is an open field, a small portion Roman tells us of the ground the cemetery once occupied. Before the Nazis, Jews made up 45% of the 20,000 people who lived in the city. Those who were not killed where they lived were transported to Warsaw and then to Treblinka.

After the war, some of the headstones which had been taken up for building purposes were retrieved, along with some of the remains, and these were placed inside a monument which was constructed by the city government in the center of what had been the cemetery. We stood quietly on that ground; perhaps relatives were still buried in unmarked graves in the fields, perhaps their remains were in the monument; perhaps they were under the Soviet flats which ringed the open field but were on ground which was once graves.

19th c. homes in Ciechanow

19th c. homes in Ciechanow

In and near the market square, some buildings remain which are over 100 years

Lew in front of City Hall

Lew in front of Ciechanow City Hall

old. There is the old City Hall, where perhaps Edel and Rebecca Invantarz went to apply for their marriage license. There are the remains of a medieval castle, and grounds around the castle. Is it too much to image my grandparents walking there, holding hands, so unaware of what their lives would bring? Is that where they made the decision to try to escape to America?

In a small gift shop at the old castle, Roman learns about an exhibit of Jewish life at a museum in the town. We walk through Ciechanow, see a few buildings old enough to have been there when my grandparents were there. In the museum, we see a moving one room exhibit of photographs, menorahs, kiddish cups, and a torah, all that is left of a once vibrant community.

DSCN8383-class in Ciechanow

Hebrew school class in Ciechanow

Ciechanow family portraits

Ciechanow family portraits

DSCN8403-Ciechanow artifacts

I must learn more of what life was like for those Jews, including how they got to Poland. Roman says many of them came from Spain, so maybe here is another sequel to my novel The Heretic. In fact, since some Jews who ended up in Kiev (where part of my father’s family originated) also came from Spain, perhaps my family on both sides leads back to the imaginary world of the Sephardic Jews Gabriel and Pilar Catalán that I created in my novel. In the museum is a painting of a wagon pulled by two horses; four men are in the wagon; there he is, Grandpop Evantash fleeing south from the Tsar’s army. Why not?

DSCN8417-Mila 18I have chosen to re-read Mila 18 by Leon Uris while I am in Poland, and we ask Roman to take us to #18 Mila Street, now the site of a monument to those who fought against the Nazis and who perished there. Since Jews from Ciechanow were transported to Warsaw on their way to death at Treblinka, perhaps I have relatives here too, buried in the compounds dug by resistance fighters below #18 Mila.

I would like to think that I have at least one relative who killed at least on Nazi.

Old Town Warsaw is a strange place, since every “old” building is a replica of a building totally destroyed during the war. What’s amazing is that the Soviets permitted reconstruction to match the truly old buildings that preceded them. These definitely not in the stolid gray Soviet style, and it is a wonder that the Soviets allowed them to be built.

We have another excellent dinner at one of many outdoor restaurants in the Old Town, then back to the Bristol Café for an ice cream dessert.

Thursday 7/16/09 – Warsaw to Krakow

DSCN8455-Warsaw synagogue

in the Warsaw synagogue

The morning has one more surprise. As we’re packing to leave, Pat produces a yellowed (2005) clipping from the New York Times describing the one remaining synagogue in Warsaw. We taxi to the synagogue for a brief visit on our way to the airport and Krakow. It is a synagogue like many others, remarkable in that it is the only one of over 100 to survive the Nazis. How did they miss this one? That is enough to make it special.

We are again very early to the airport, waiting longer than the flight itself. In Krakow, we taxi to our hotel. We are in a small square, surrounded by outdoor cafes. It’s Szeroka Street, part of the city of Kazimierz, founded in 1340. We are staying in the Rubenstein, and we have the premier room, with decorative elements from the 16th century.

our room at the Hotel Rubenstein

our room at the Hotel Rubenstein

The room is huge, with high ceilings, columns, and two large windows. Furniture includes a large bed,round table with four chairs, a small desk with a leather chair. The bathroom is modern. The hotel is named after Helena Rubinstein, who lived on the street as a young girl in the early 1900s before leaving Krakow to make her fortune in the cosmetics industry.

The small square is loaded with atmosphere and restaurants. We look at the menus and choose a plain looking place directly across from our hotel. There is a wonderful back garden, and the meal is exquisite.

Friday 7/17/09 – Krakow

In the morning, we find our way to the Old Town square, which is huge. In the center are several large towers, an enormous building that was once a merchandising center, and a church. There is always a church in Krakow. Lining the square are at least 30 restaurants, most with outdoor dining. It’s a busy place, with lots of tourists and street entertainment. Very little English is heard, but all the waiters and waitresses are fluent; we snack on nachos and beer.

DSCN8473-Krakow Square

I visit a small synagogue next to the restaurant from last night, and also a Jewish museum at the far end of the square, then make a reservation for dinner at a Jewish restaurant two doors down from the Rubenstein. Recognizing that Pat will find little to eat at dinner, we have an aperitif with bruschette at Italian restaurant next to the Rubenstein on the other side.

DSCN8581-Grandmom's cookingDinner is a celebration of Grandmom Evantash’s cooking. The gefilte fish doesn’t match my memory, but the roast beef with potato kuegel is as good as I can remember. Pat struggles with a plate of dumplings, gracious in her indulgence.

The square is quiet and charming; parts of the movie Schindler’s List were shot here.

Saturday 7/18/09 – Krakow

Schindler’s factory is a 10 minute taxi ride. A museum is under construction but not yet open.

Schindler's factory

Schindler's factory

You can see the outside of the factory but cannot enter. We have asked the taxi to wait for us, which turns out to be a good plan since we are far from the center and no other taxis are around; there are many small electric tour mini-buses.

DSCN8617- in the Pope's houseWe taxi to the outside of the enormous Wawel Castle, and the adjoining street of elegant mansions, one of which housed Pope John Paul II when he was a priest and then bishop of Krakow. The Pope’s personal stuff is there, including skis and a bicycle, and an office with a small bed.

There is only one church that charges to enter, the church of St. Mary just off the square. They charge a separate fee if you want to take photos. The church is outlandish and overdone, such a concentration of wealth taken from the poor. Pat says this cannot be what God intended.

There is a sign for a Hard Rock Café, but no food, not yet, come back in September. We walk home through different streets, to have dinner at the Italian restaurant. As we sit outside, the wind picks up, a storm is brewing. We and other diners retreat inside, where we are cozy as we watch the rain, wind and dark clouds outside. I must still have had Hard Rock on my mind, since I order a hamburger; it was actually very good.

Sunday 7/19/09 – Krakow to Vilnius

After a nice buffet breakfast, with eggs, our ordered taxi arrives at 7:30 am and we are again very early to the airport. We will take two flights, to Warsaw and then to Krakow; the luggage is checked through to Vilnius. We meet a young American girl on the plane; it takes less than a sentence for her to pick up on Pat’s Philadelphia accent. She has been traveling with her boyfriend and will now join her mother. In Vilnius, we invite Amy to share our taxi and drop her at her hotel; we agree to have dinner with her and her mother on Wednesday night. Every travel day is exhausting, so we stay home in our wonderful apartment, have wine and cheese, and I don’t break any more glasses.


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6 Responses to “* Warsaw, Ciechanow and Krakow – July 2009”

  1. Laura said

    Iam looking for a good home exchange website which is free to start with. Is anyone using http://www.visitswap.com?

  2. Guess said

    Thank you for sharing your journey. The photos are wonderful, and your narrative interesting. I did not know that your father's family came from Kiev….. my father's family came from Konotop in the province of Kiev……… who knows, perhaps we are related from more than one direction.; Thank you for sharing your journey. The photos are wonderful, and your narrative interesting. I did not know that your father's family came from Kiev….. my father's family came from Konotop in the province of Kiev……… who knows, perhaps we are related from more than one direction.;;

  3. Barbara Brown said

    Thank you for sharing your journey. The photos are wonderful, and your narrative interesting. I did not know that your father’s family came from Kiev….. my father’s family came from Konotop in the province of Kiev……… who knows, perhaps we are related from more than one direction.

  4. Anne Trieber nee Wasser said

    I enjoyed reading your blog because I too made this journey in parts. I was in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Zacopany. I made this trip with my father after my mom’s passing. She was Sima Wasser, who was the daughter of Chana Inwentarz. The Inwentarz family branched upon arrival at Ellis Island. Vantosh, Wentosh, Van Tosh, as well as Evantosh were the result of interpretations of the name. I went to retrace my mother’s life. My grandmother died before the war, and is still buried in the Warsaw Cemetary. Her married name was Chana Gleichgevicht. I took pictures of her gravestone at the cemetary. The whole trip was cathartic. I can relate to your emotions as you imagined how our ancestors lived. My mother was a survivor. My parents emigrated to Israel after the war. In 1959 we emigrated to the US. (Brooklyn). My mother’s father was Pesach Inwentarz. He emigrated to the US in the 1920’s. When I saw your picture…It was amazing, you look so much like some my great uncles. I currently live in Monroe Township, NJ.

  5. This is a very interesting article.
    I am Susanna Clapham’s brother and have been helping her to discover new relatives.

    If the Evantash’s left from Hamburg to get to London there will be passenger manifest from the shipping line they used. Furthermore if they entered into the US via NY (Ellis Island) then there will also be a record in the Ellis Island archives although I doubt they would have entered as Evantash, more likely Invantarz or Inwentarz.
    The story of transit from Poland to the US would be very interesting. If you can pinpoint when they came into London then I can figure out if they met any other family. (who were living in the UK at the time). Most of the immigrants who left the UK would leave from a port in the South ie Southhamption or in the west ie Liverpool.

  6. Eileen and Ron Friedman said

    To walk on the same earth as your grandparents did is a great mitzvah. I for one was touched reading this blog. the energy was powerful.

    For me, it was interesting that you met up with a young girl traveling with her boyfriend, who is meeting up with her mom. Reminded me of a possible similar energy your grandmom had while traveling to meet up with your grandpop.

    It is wonderful that you did this trip. One really can feel the energy that once was…because what once was, in some ways, still is, just differently! And maybe you are sephardic… or as my kids says…Askenphardic! Welcome to the family, Lew!

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