As the audience sat in complete silence after I had sung the last note of Krzysztof Penderecki's "Kadysz" with the Warsaw Philharmonic, I realized it was not because they did not like the performance but because the power of the music and the even greater power of ending on a very soft note in plaintive harmony with the magnificent male choir, had made the obvious, real. We had just finished "Kadysz" in the center of Warsaw and everyone felt the irony and history of the moment. No one moved for about 15 seconds (it felt like an eternity) until I closed my score and opened my eyes. The applause was overwhelming.
I have witnessed similar scenes throughout Poland in a land that takes memory of the disaster of WWII seriously. The young lady I am sitting next to on the LOT flight back to Chicago tells me that every elementary school child learns about and visits Auschwitz followed by another visit when they are in High School. I tend to sound like an apologist which is not at all my intention. Can I ever forget that my father Moses was dragged from Athens to Auschwitz to witness and somehow survive that depravity and murder? No. It is understandable that there is a segment of our people that cannot imagine ever visiting Poland because to them that country means "Holocaust." Yet many will travel to Berlin because it is such a new cosmopolitan "in" city.
My point is, Israel has very strong business and military relations with Poland. The fledgling Jewish community in Warsaw and Krakow have a foothold and are part of mainstream Polish culture, and even Jewish music (Hazzanut in the hinterland) is extremely popular. I feel that every Jew, given the opportunity, should visit Auschwitz. At the same time, take the opportunity to see the rejuvenated Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz and the many other places that housed Jewish life for a thousand years, and from which the majority of Ashnkenazic Jews in America can trace their families' roots. A short flight to Israel would then put the Jewish present and future into better