After breakfast at our hotel, we walk the short distance to the Eden to pick up kosher tuna sandwiches. When I ordered the sandwiches and our Shabbat meals (shipped from Hermolis, in England), I was struck with the irony that kosher food was availabe-- in Krakow. The person I talked to assured me that the Eden had a separate kitchen for dairy and meat, and that they were familiar with the laws of preparing food for Shabbat and keeping a chulent warm.
While at the Eden, we meet Benzion Miller, a famed chasidic Brooklyn cantor, and his wife Blimi. Benzion's father, like my mother, of blessed memory, was from Oshpetzin--Oswiecim, the city we plan to visit today. In fact, they were neighbors. Benzion is in Krakow for the Jewish Cultural Festival, which he has attended numerous times. This year he has already performed, and will be performing Saturday night, after Shabbat ends, at the open air concert in Szeroka Square, right outside our hotel window. Benzion will also be leading the davening (prayers) tonight and tomorrow, though he is not sure at which shul or shuls. The festival has attracted over 10,000 visitors, mostly non-Jewish Poles, and 100 or so Jews, including a number of Orthodox Jews who will be having their Shabbat meals at the Eden.
Back in Y's Volvo, we take the same route out of Krakow and head toward Oswiecim, after a short detour to retrieve one of my brother's suitcases. (The status of the other is still unknown.) We pass the massive brick house and other sites that are now familiar. For years I've been trying to imagine what Oswiecim looks like--the town stripped of its charm and beauty and branded forever with the infamy of the exterminatin camp that took its name. We enter the town and again I have that uncomfortable ambivalence as we pass pretty buildings.
We begin the search for my mother's apartment. We don't have an address, but several months ago, my mother's friend, also from Oswiecim, showed us a framed photo of her grandfather's large house. "Across the street from the house is a church," she told us, pointing at the photo. "And behind the church is where your mother lived."
We find the church and cross the street. A year ago, while visiting my uncle (my mother's brother) in Israel, I watched a home video he took when he and his family visited to the apartment he and my mother and their parents and five siblings lived in. I was mesmerized by this glimpse at my family history, and I recall seeing a lovely courtyard filled with trees.
"This isn't it," I tell my brother and the others. "There should be trees."
Using his cellular phone, my brother calls our uncle in Israel and puts Y on the phone. We listen as Y, speaking Polish, moves quickly first to one end of the church, then to the other. Still on the phone with my uncle, Y reverses direction and stops in front of a bank.
"Tak, tak," he tells my uncle. Then he turns to us. "This is it," he tell us. "Where your mother lived."
I am skeptical. I still don't see trees. We follow Y along a narrow street between the bank and church and there we find a small square, and the trees. The gate at the back of the bank building is unlocked. We follow Y inside into a small courtyard.
"Your uncle says their apartment had a balcony," he tells us, the cell phone pressed against his ear.
There is no balcony, and we are disappointed. But we study what looks like a newer wall and realize that at some point the balcony was enclosed and is now a room. I am overcome with feeling, standing where my mother lived with her family--parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. We stay a while longer, not talking, each of us lost in our thoughts. A bank guard enters and shoos us out. We look around one last time before we leave.
A few hundred feet from what is now the bank is another builidng, the Mishnayis Shul, where my family undoubtedly prayed. The shul, like most in Poland and in other European countries, is now a museum, restored after the war. I buy a journal with a cover photo of what I assume is Oswiecim (it's not). I also buy a copy of The Jews of Oswiecim --in German, because there is no English translation. I buy it because it has photos of the city, and more importantly, at the back, it has a list with the names of people who lived in Oswiecim--first name, last name, date of birth, date when they were taken to a ghetto in Sosnowice, another date when they were taken to a different ghetto.
My mother's name is there: Sprinca Tadanier. Or is it my mother? The birthday listed is in July--that's correct. But it's the wrong date. Then again, I tell myself, my mother could never recall her exact birtdday. Birthdays in Poland, she would tell me, weren't monumental events.
My eye returns to her name. Sprinca Sara. I feel a stab of disappointment. "My mother didn't have a middle name," I tell Y. "This isn't Mommy," I say to my brother.
"The Nazis called all Jewish women Sara," Y tells us. "And all Jewish men, Israel."
So this is my mother. I scan the page and find other Tadaniers. My uncle in Israel. An aunt and uncle who were killed and whose photos I have never seen. Some names I don't recognize, and some aren't listed.
We enter the Mishnayas shul, beautifully restored, though now empty except as artifact. Then we watch a video of survivors, all from Oswiecim, and are surprised to see a family photo of my father with his parents and grandparents and his extended family. We learn from the pleasant, non-Jewish curator that a copy of the photo was donated by my father's cousin, who also lived in Oswiecim. I find my cousin's name and others of his family listed in the book, too.
"Are there any Jews in Oswiecim?" we ask Y again.
"Two," he replies. "Jesus and his mother."
From the Mishnayos Shul Y drives us to the main Jewish cemetery, which is situate along a wide street. Y unlocks the gate and we enter. This cemetery is much larger than the one in Trzeninia and is filled with beautiful old trees. The trees, and the sun peeking through them, add serenity that is marred by rows of headstones--those that have't been destroyed by the Nazis-- that lean with Gothic eeriness toward each other. My uncle had told us that one of his aunts was buried here. We search in vain for her tombstone and say a "K'el Moleh Rachamim" before we leave and lock the gates.