Day 07: Jewish Lublin

After another night of fitful sleep we emerged from our room just after 9:00, ate breakfast at the hotel and were on our way.  We had originally intended to either go to the nearby town of Chelm (it’s known for the Chelm Chalk Tunnels), or to Kazimierz Dolny for a day trip but we were tired and not really in the mood.  Instead, we opted to give Lublin a second chance and spend the day sightseeing in town.

Gate to the Old Jewish Cemetery

Gate to the Old Jewish Cemetery

For years prior to WWII Poland had been known as a welcoming country to the Jewish population and many lived a comfortable life there, raising families and flourishing amongst the otherwise mostly Catholic population.  Lublin was no exception, in fact the Jewish community accounted for 35-40% of the pre-war population.  As we all know now, the Jewish population in Poland and abroad were tragically brutalized and massacred by the atrocities of Hitler and his henchmen, and Lublin’s Jews were no exception.  I had read about a walk the tourist office put together called the Heritage Trail of Lublin Jews that highlights some historic places in and around what used to be the thriving Jewish Quarter (of which almost nothing is left, as the Nazis razed it all and the Soviets rebuilt the area with a completely different layout).  While at the TI the day before I had asked about the Heritage Trail of Lublin Jews walk and was handed a piece of paper that had a map on it, which I tucked into my bag until we started the walk this morning.  It was only then we noticed it appeared to be a faded black and white photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, where many street names were barely legible and what used to be a two-toned map (that at least differentiated streets from buildings) was now only one tone.  Further, our difficulty following the map was compounded by the fact many Polish street names were practically incomprehensible to us in the first place even when visually legible, as the Polish alphabet is comprised of unfamiliar letter combinations that include letters we don’t use in the English alphabet, and seemingly endless strings of consonants with no vowels.  So it is here that I have to chide the Lublin TI a bit and urge that you can do better than this.  I know you can.  And while it was wonderful you made the effort to commemorate and preserve the memory of the Jewish Quarter, this map handout is an embarrassment and does great disservice to the walk and important sights highlighted on it.

The New Jewish Cemetery, the field in the background being where the gravestones use to be

The New Jewish Cemetery, the field in the background being where the gravestones use to be

At any rate, we did our very best to visit most of the 13 sights listed, although we did get turned around a couple times and wound up roaming large swaths of Lublin we otherwise hadn’t intended but didn’t mind seeing.  The route starts at the castle, as the immediate area surrounding it was the Jewish District pre-WWII, and it was here where there used to be synagogues, stores, office buildings, and homes.  We could only visualize what it must have looked like back then, as literally nothing was the same post-war after the Nazis – and then Soviets – were finished with it.  Among other sites, we visited the Old Jewish Cemetery and New Jewish Cemetery, both of which were mostly destroyed by the Nazis, and the former Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva, which was funded by donations from around the world and erected in 1930 as the biggest and most prestigious rabbinical school in the world until the war broke out.

The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva

The Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva

After spending a few hours traipsing all over Lublin we headed back toward Old Town and stopped for a coffee break at what would soon become one of our favorite spots in all of Poland, a restaurant called Browar Grodzka 15 that was located 2 doors down from our hotel and had an awesome outdoor terrace overlooking the castle and surrounding environs.  It was Jim who had spied the terrace from our room the evening before and it didn’t take much to figure out how to get to it, even for us.  The super friendly waitress hooked us up with a couple of delicious coffees and we enjoyed this break immensely.

After a quick visit to the room to change shoes we once again popped into the TI to confirm which trolleybus would take us on our next journey, a grim visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp.  The same two men were working at the TI as the day before and informed us we can take trolleybus #156, #158, or bus #23 from just outside the Krakowska Gate (cross the busy street and turn left down the hill a little to the stop).  We then asked which stop we should get off at and they both looked at us like it was the first time anyone had asked that question.  Well, huh, we have no idea, they said, but it is such a large site you will see it from the bus and know where to get off.  Interesting.  (For the benefit of those who might travel here, there are 3 stops listed as Majdanek and you should get off at the second one, which drops you in front of the Visitor’s Center.)

Because of the subject matter, I am providing a link below for anyone who cares to read on about both Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau, which we visited from Krakow later in the trip.

Click HERE to continue reading about our visit to Majdanek.

Beers from our beloved Brovar Grodzka 15

Beers from our beloved Brovar Grodzka 15

After spending a sobering 3 hours at Majdanek, we took trolleybus #158 back to Old Town and headed straight to our hotel for a much needed rest and quiet time.  We had no such trepidation about a Dinner Stroll because we had already decided to eat at the lovely restaurant next door, Browar Grodzka 15, so we made our way over there around 18:30.  Fortune was on our side as we snagged the very last outside terrace table available.  Our first waiter was a guy who was very timid about trying English with us, so he ended up sending over the very friendly waitress we’d had earlier in the day.  She was all smiles, we were all smiles, and everyone was pleased with the new arrangement.  Dinner was fantastic, Jim had a rigatoni with what they called chorizo but was more like pepperoni and I had a salad with chicken breast tossed in a delicious light garlic dressing.

After it had been dark for a couple hours and we’d had a few beers we headed back to the room where we each said I Love You before throwing down the gauntlet in the War of Covers.

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