Meet Chaim: tales from the other side of the EU

Chaim the Kraków fiddler

The little statuette of an old Jewish fiddler from Kraków is a present from my mother Katharine Mori, who recently returned from a holiday in Poland. (It’s not as bad as Cambodia!)

Katharine spent much of her week-long stay in Kraków, and also visited the museum that was the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’ve invited her to blog here about the Auschwitz experience. She agreed without hesitation, but it may take a while as my dear old mum could procrastinate for her country.

“Chaim” now sits on my desk next to the computer screen, keeping his warm but half-closed and world-weary eyes on me while I go about my journalistic trade.

Looking at the old klezmatic reminds me how much I love Polish folk music. The country has a vibrant traditional culture, and with excellent ensembles such as the Warsaw Village Band and Kroke Polish folk music has a great future ahead of it.

I found it difficult to keep up with my mother’s rapidly-delivered holiday tales, but it’s clear that she enjoyed her time in Poland. There were a couple of negative moments, however. For example, the Auschwitz experience was described as being like a factory processing tourists. I’ll leave Katharine to write about this at length, but I’m not at all surprised that the old concentration camp is in danger of becoming a holocaust theme park.

One peculiar aspect of contemporary Polish urban culture that struck my mother is the students who hand out prayer cards and hustle for money. Give them nothing and they swipe the cards back. This tacky religiosity reminds me of Ireland in the 1970s, before they swapped gods and replaced Our Lady of the Sorrows with Mammon.

Perhaps the Polish practice is the 21st century equivalent of selling indulgences.