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Ghetto and Good

In Apologetics, Devotional on September 4, 2016 at 6:06 pm

WP_20160804_16_59_26_RawBecause I dabble in philosophical questions, I sometimes make comments that don’t go down very well at parties: I suggested that I thought human beings are naturally evil.  There was some disagreement, and then all conversation, as it always does, turned to Donald Trump.

There’s quite a bit of evidence that human beings are naturally evil–watch the evening news or read the comments on pretty much any post where someone offers an opinion.  But there’s also quite a bit of evidence that people are basically good. Everyone knows lots of people who are good and not too many who are bad–bank robbers and such.  I know lots of people who are good too.

I picked up a book in Warsaw at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  The book contains excerpts from The Ringelblum Archive, a collection of documents and testimonies collected by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his team of researchers between September 1939 and January 1943.  Dr. Ringelblum did not survive, but his collection did.

In one interview a man named Aron Einhorn says,

It is difficult to say whether this moral swamp which we see around us nowadays is the result of the abnormal conditions prevailing in the ghetto, or whether the ghetto uncovered that which had previously been covered up, masked.

He goes on to describe this “moral swamp” of thefts, looting, cheating, cruelty, indifference, oppression, and WP_20160804_16_57_37_Raw corruption.

The ghetto was filled with a large proportion of people who used to be good.  They were good because they had homes, clothing, food and hope.  Many had money, respect, freedom and safety.  It’s easy to be “good” when you have these things.  When these things were taken from them, or at least became scarce, their true nature came out to the surface.

When I look around my community, I see a lot of good people.  I also see a lot of people who have homes, clothing, food, safety and hope.  Many have money, respect and freedom.  But are they really good?

Am I really good?  If I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear and self-centeredness slithering around inside me.  As I walked within the area that was once the Warsaw Ghetto and stood at the sight where the residents of the ghetto were put on trains bound for Treblinka, I wondered what I would have done if I had lived there in 1942.  I’d like to think I would have been good, but there’s a very good chance I would not have impressed Aron Einhorn.

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The only remnant of the wall that surrounded the Warsaw Ghetto.

If the Bible is right, we are naturally evil, and we will be judged accordingly.  What people don’t realize is that we will not be judged by what we’ve done.  It’s not what we do that is the issue, it’s who we are.  What I would have done had I lived in the Warsaw Ghetto is a much better indicator of who I really am, than living in my townhouse near a lovely golf course.  I will be judged for who I am.

This is pretty scary,  but if the Bible is right, there’s also some good news; the best news.  It’s been arranged that, if you want, you can judged as if your very nature were perfect and someone else will take the judgement that you deserve.  You need only ask him to take your place.

 

Why Poland?

In Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 at 9:47 pm

When we told people that we were going to Poland for our holiday this summer, they invariably asked, “Poland? Why Poland?”

The main reason we wanted to go to Poland, I suppose, was because it’s in Europe. My wife, Dani, and I love Europe. We love European history and culture, so anywhere in Europe is great.

Now that we have returned from this trip, I can report that Poland is an incredible vacation destination and I am much more qualified to answer the question, “Why Poland?”

The History

WP_20160715_17_24_38_RawI found myself regularly and meaningfully interacting with Poland’s incredible history. Recalling the Tartar invasions of the 13th century, every hour on the hour we heard a trumpeter in Krakow playing the Hejnal, or Hymn to our Lady, out of the tower windows of St. Mary Basilica. Tradition has it that when the Tartars appeared on the horizon, a trumpeter sounded a warning which saved the city.  After the battle, the trumpeter was found slain by an enemy arrow. This is why, at each sounding of the Henjal, the song is interrupted mid-note, commemorating the sudden death of the trumpeter. It was awesome to even hear the trumpeter clearly through the open windows of our room just off the square (Tango House).

We also stayed at in the renovated stables, converted to a charming hotel, of 16th century Palac Stuga. On our WP_20160721_08_11_44_Rawpersonal tour of the old palace we saw the original circular wooden staircases and wall decorations, and also Renaissance additions. The palace itself suffered from Nazi and Soviet degradations, but with government grants, the proprietor hopes to restore Palac Struga to its former glory. One evening, I took a four kilometer hike through fields and forest to the ruins of the much older Cisy Castle. We also took a look at Książ Castle, which, they say, Adolf Hitler planned to make one of his residences.

WP_20160719_11_22_47_RawIt is an understatement to say that Hitler and the Nazis were a significant part of Polish history. It was probably in Poland that Nazi atrocities were the greatest. The murder of Polish Jews was essentially accomplished and the enslavement of the Polish people was well underway. Visiting Birkenau you walk among the physical remnants of an ideology that came dangerously close to conquering Europe, or more. We walked along the railroad tracks, and through the large area where people were sorted–live or die–and down the road which led to the crematoriums. We’d been to Dachau, but the scale of Auschwitz-Birkenau is overwhelming.

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Built on top of the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto

Although very little of the Warsaw Ghetto wall exists, for me, the idea of the Ghetto dominated our visit to Warsaw. What shocked me was the size of the thing. The northern point of the ghetto was the train yard where, in the summer of 1942, 250,000 Jews were loaded for the 75k trip to Treblinka. From this point you can see the very tall Palace of Culture and Science, which stands at the most southern point of the Ghetto’s former boundaries–it’s a long way down there! Some neighbourhoods in this area are 15 feet higher than the streets around them. This is because they are build on top of the rubble of the Ghetto.

We went to several museums including the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Solidarity Museum, but by far the best was The Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum is probably the best narrative museum I have ever been too.

Food

I often say that the only reason I go to the historical sights is to give me something to do between meals. I love good food, and Poland has a lot of it.

WP_20160729_14_46_47_RawMilk bars have been in Poland for a long time (late 19th century). They were government subsidized canteens where workers could get a nutritious and affordable meal. Every time the Polish people found themselves in dire economic straits, bar mleczny (milk bars) flourished. It seems as if the requirement for the middle-aged women who work in the milk bars, besides hard-working efficiency, is that they speak no English. So you point to items you think you’d like to eat, and nod in the affirmative to any clarifying question they ask you in Polish. They you pay the equivalent of about $4 and enjoy your pork knuckle with mustard, beet soups and cabbage roll.

Before we left, we were told by a former resident that we’d be eating nothing but pork and cabbage. We did eat a InstagramCapture_0a5dc3e4-5b5e-43a7-9f07-94277fb849f1lot of traditional polish food, and, yes, there was always pork knuckle, neck, breaded pork steaks, but there was almost always duck and trout on every menu. There was also bigos, a cabbage and meat stew and amazing soups: zurek, which has several kinds of meat in a sour base, and tasty beet soups, served both hot and cold. But we had some incredible non-Polish meals as well, including Italian, Thai and Spanish. These meals were almost always significantly better than what I have eaten in North America.

One of my favourite things about my previous trips to Europe is the restaurant patio. The inside of restaurants WP_20160724_12_18_10_Raware empty; the seating that spills out onto streets and squares is full. This culture is alive and flourishing in Poland. Each day, we ate at least two meals and made several beverage stops in an outdoor restaurant.

If all this sounds good to you, wait till you hear about how much it costs! Poland is very inexpensive. Museums cost about $4. A B&B in the center of all the action is less than $80, and in the country closer to $50. Most of our dinners, a generous main and a beverage, were less than $30, often less than $20, for the two of us.

So that’s why I loved traveling in Poland this summer.  If you are looking for a wonderful European experience, full of history and great food, try Poland.