My second trip to Warsaw was another set of revelations. The first involves basic facts: my grandfather's sister, Doba Rajsman, married a man named Icchak Srodogora, whose mother, I just learned, was a woman named Rojza Rajsman. Were Doba and Icchak cousins, or is the shared last name just a coincidence? It's hard to know. On one hand, it is very common for Orthodox Jews to marry cousins, especially at that time. On the other, the Srodogoras lived in what was then a neighboring impoverished town (now it is part of Warsaw), but maybe my grandfather's parents had also lived there before moving to the Warsaw neighborhood of Powisle, which was a dangerous slum. More research is needed, I think. The second revelation was how much I love Warsaw itself and how much I feel like I belong there, even if I can't speak the language. I love its streets and its parks. I love the street art and the museums. I love the people who I have been fortunate to meet, Varsovians of my generation who are interested in the past and thoughtful about the future. I love the sense that I am returning to finish something, even if it is maybe something that should be left unfinished. I'm not really sure it will be finished.
This genealogical story is a puzzle. I have a few pieces of the border, a few pieces of the middle, and a wide open space in which many pieces are probably lost forever. When I spend time in Warsaw, my mind starts to fill in that space. When I knew my grandfather, the only feelings he expressed toward Poland were anger and bitterness. I probably would feel that way too. I don't think he'd approve of my love of his former hometown - he was done with Poland, never to return, and I think he wanted to keep us far away from the place that caused him so much pain.Yet when I am there, I feel closer to him than I do in the US. Warsaw, in its different forms and times, is something we share.
When I am in Warsaw, I am surrounded by ghosts, but somehow it also feels like I have come home.