Gann in Poland: Journey of Reflection and Connection 2024

Over the February break, a group of Gann students, staff, and faculty embarked on a journey to Poland to dive into the rich history of Jewish Poland and engage with its present-day community. The trip aimed to immerse the group in the profound impact and devastation of the Shoah while providing opportunities to engage in discussions with various speakers, offering an insider’s perspective on the experience of being Jewish in Poland today. 

Day 1- Arrival and Nozyk Shul

The group landed in Warsaw after a full day of travel, ready to learn and explore. They started with a visit to the Nozyk Shul. There, they met with Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich for an intimate Q&A session about the vibrant pre-Shoah Jewish community of Warsaw.

Day 2- Warsaw

The first full day was spent exploring more of Warsaw, including visits to Grzybowski Square, Okopowa Cemetery, Janusz Korczak’s orphanage, Mila 18, and Umschlagplatz. The day concluded with a discussion featuring present-day Polish Jewish life journalist and activist Konstanty Gebert. 

Reflecting on the day, Noa R. ’24 shared, “We started in the Jewish Quarter of Grzybowski Square, discovering the rich pre-war Jewish life. The Okopowa Jewish Cemetery was a moving experience, reminding us of the immense loss in Warsaw’s Jewish community.” Noa emphasized honoring those who passed away and highlighted meaningful moments during the ghetto walking tour and at the Umschlagplatz Monument, such as singing B’Shem Hashem together while looking at the names on the monument.

Day 3- Krasnik and Majdanek

The group headed to Krasnik, where they met with students from Krasnik School, a local public high school with over a thousand students, to learn about the Jewish community that once filled the town.

Jacoby G. ’26 and Benjy L. ’26 shared more about their visit: “Exploring the Jewish heritage at Krasnik was eye-opening. We not only learned about their history but also connected with Polish students, fostering cultural exchange.”

Together, Gann and Krasnik students headed to Krasnik Shul, where Gann students taught the Polish students about the important aspects of a synagogue. The group then explored the Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin. Reflecting on the experience, Jacoby and Benjy stated, “We gained a deeper understanding of how Majdanek played a role in the war as well as how it was unique compared to the other camps.” 

The day concluded back in the Krasnik Shul with reflection and song, balancing the intensity of the Shoah with the joy and Kavanah (intention) that came from revitalizing a once dormant shul.

Day 4- Lublin, Lancut, and the Journey to Krakow

The day kicked off in Lublin as the students began a day of travel to Krakow with numerous stops along the way, each with a focus on bringing simcha (joy) and ruach (spirit) back to lonely shuls and communities of Poland. 

Libby S. ’25 provides the details of the day’s events, recounting a visit to a shtiebl in Lublin filled with artifacts from when the city boasted a thriving Jewish community before World War I. Welcomed by the shtiebl’s owner, who considered himself to be the last Jew in Lublin, the visit wrapped up with the group joining together to dance and sing around the abandoned shtiebl, bringing back joy to the lost space.

They then made their way to Lezajsk to visit the grave of Rav Elimelech and learn about the history of Chasidut. From there, they went to Lancut, where they walked around the property of a historic castle and visited another shul. At the shul, they met a non-Jewish Polish man who dedicated his life to preserving the shul and teaching himself Hebrew. The inside of the sanctuary was beautiful and unbelievably intact. The group davened mincha inside the shul, followed by even more singing and dancing to appreciate the space.

Reflecting on the day’s activities, Libby shared, “The theme of today was bringing simcha and ruach back to spaces that were longing for their lost communities. We got to perform the Mitzvah of visiting those who believed that there were no Jews left in the world. The feeling of ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ rang true.

Upon reaching Krakow, the group concluded their trip with a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The intensity of the day was powerful, yet we anticipate that this profound experience will leave a lasting impact on our students.

We are grateful for the unique opportunity our students, faculty, and staff have had to experience Poland’s rich Jewish history and community. While the time in Poland is coming to an end, we know this experience will stay with our students forever.

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