Trip Report - September 2014

EWST October 2014 Newsletter
The subject of this newsletter update from Wojciech Szczerba is the WMPC mission trip in September 2014.

Poland Study Tour/Mission Trip
September 3 - 11, 2014

Dzien dobry (hello, good day) an amazing study tour/mission trip to Berlin, Germany and Wroclaw, Poland with several meaningful stops between. A group composed of 14 people from White Memorial and 2 from the First Baptist Church Jackson, in Jackson, Mississippi arrived in Berlin, Germany on September 4, 2014. We spent 8 days together seeing many sights both uplifting and unimaginable in a trip that will not be forgotten. We are all grateful to our friends from EWST, Marek Kucharski, Wojciech Szczerba, Joel Burnell, and Janusz Witt, who generously and lovingly shared their time with us for 3 days in Germany and then for the remainder of our trip in Wroclaw, Poland. And to Magda Wrona, Lidia Harcej and Rebecca LeMaster who planned every detail.

Thursday, September 4, 2014
After a flight that seemed too long during a night that was too short, we arrived. Our friends from Wroclaw and EWST, Marek Kucharski, Wojciech Szczerba, Joel Burnell, and Janusz Witt met us in a nice bus with a small trailer for our luggage at about 8:30 Thursday morning. We left our hotel for a walking tour, and found we were not far from where the Berlin wall had once divided east from west, freedom from repression. We paused for our first group photo near an exhibit about the Wall.

The Sony Center, a large entertainment complex stands on what used to be “no man’s land,” and its retractable roof is an engineering wonder. As we continued up the street, we came to the Memorial to the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. It occupies about a city block, and is made up of large concrete blocks of varying heights. The blocks resemble mausoleums or above-ground graves. The memorial serves as a sobering reminder of a horrific attempt at ethnic cleansing.

The Brandenburg Gate is about a block further, and after walking through it, we went to the Memorial to Sinsi and Roma peoples murdered under the National Socialist Regime.

More walking took us to Checkpoint Charlie, no longer in use, but all ready for a photo op depicting the American Sector that was so designated at the end of World War II. The nearby Topography of Terror exhibit showed the remains of some of Adolph Hitler’s government buildings, and an exhibit detailed the site’s history as well as the crimes that were planned there. While there, some of our group met a young woman visiting from Flossenburg, near the camp where theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed. She told us that German children are educated about the Holocaust beginning at age 10. The many memorials we saw serve to show the world that the unimaginable did happen, and to prevent it from happening again.

All of this was a lot to take in after a night that was too short, and a flight that seemed too long.

By Kathy Kidd

Friday, September 5, 2014 good night’s sleep, we are so grateful! We left our hotel at 9:00 am to go to the site of the Wannsee Conference. This beautiful villa was used from 1941 to 1945 by the SS as a conference center and guesthouse. On January 20, 1942 15 high-ranking members of Hitler’s leadership met to decide what to do about the “Jewish question.” Here they planned the mass murder of all European Jews. The house contained room after room of exhibits documenting the plans that were made. After seeing the three memorials to the atrocities of WWII yesterday and this today it is apparent that the people of Germany want to be sure that people know what happened is real and that these horrors should never be forgotten.

Next stop, the retirement home of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s parents. Whenever Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in Berlin , he lived there and on April 5, 1943 he was arrested in this building. Today this houses a permanent exhibit on his life and works. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Berlin Pastor and professor of theology. He resisted the tyranny and racism that ruled Germany during the 1930’s and 1940’s. This cost him his life. On April 9, 1945 Bonhoeffer was executed at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp; yet another reminder of these evil times.

Time to unwind. We lunched in a delightful Berlin restaurant and there Pastor Axel Luther met us for lunch. He accompanied us to the Franzosische Friedrichstadtkirche Church. The church is beautiful and Pastor Luther is a delight. And yes, he is a distant relative of Martin Luther. During the Communist era in Poland, Pastor Luther’s church faithfully took critically-needed supplies into Wroclaw, Poland, to the Lutheran Church.

A little more sightseeing, dinner and we are all ready for a good night’s sleep.

By Judy Tardiff

Saturday, September 6 Berlin at 8:00 to travel to Poland. Sleepy and still recovering from Jet lag. After a stop for lunch we made our way to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp. Unless you have truly studied the concentration camps, the name Gross Rosen will not be familiar. Gross Rosen was a labor camp that used prisoners to “quarry” granite and stone. The people held at Gross Rosen worked the quarry for a private company, slave labor. With the very hard labor, the limited food, lack of sanitation, most people died within 5 to 6 weeks. Typically of malnutrition and digestive disorders. We toured the quarry that did remain active until the 1970s. Gross Rosen had other functions as well. It was called “little Auschwitz.” Though it initially only had one metal crematorium, the prisoners were forced to build 2 brick crematoria to keep up with the dead. Trains would bring prisoners from Auschwitz to be killed and burned in the crematoria at Gross Rosen toward the end of WWII when the Nazi’s were trying to destroy evidence of the death camps. a dead tree on the hill side by the metal crematoria, many simple monuments and stones of remembrance have been erected. As our group stood listening to our tour guide, a golf cart brought a “survivor”, his daughter and granddaughter to the memorial. He laid flowers and lit a large candle. He spoke with his family. I felt as though I was intruding but the Polish members of our group listened intently to his story and were able to share with us later. The reality of the concentration camps and Holocaust became real for me by being present at this time and in this place with this survivor who had been a boy of 12 years at the time of his imprisonment and had finally returned for the first time to share with his family his story. So much suffering, violence and cruelty occurred in this place.

But God is Good! The Church of the Peace in Swidnica is a Lutheran Church that was built under very limited conditions specified by the government after the Thirty Years War. Protestants were told their churches could not be built of “permanent material” such as stone or brick, nor have a bell, nor be taller than the Catholic church, and had to be built outside the city walls. The churches had to be built within one year (the exterior completed). The one at Swidnica is made of wooden beams with “plaster” walls and no nails, yet it seats 3,000 people.. The interior is bright with white and gold depictions of Christ and angels from floor to ceiling. The Church of the Peace reminded me that God’s love outlasts all of man’s restrictions, depravity, divisions and hatred. God’s love upholds us at all times, in all places.

Finally Wroclaw!

By Mary Ann Turner

Sunday, September 7
We worshiped at the Antioch Pentecostal Church in a very different mode from that of White Memorial. The music was provided by acoustical instruments, and young children waved banners in time with the music. The prayers and sermon were simultaneously translated for us by EWST’s Magda Wrona. After the service, we ate lunch with the pastor and several members of the congregation where many of the hosts were able to converse with us in English.

After lunch, we visited the home of the Stein family, where their youngest daughter Edyta (or Edith) Stein (and one of her sisters) converted to Catholicism from Judaism in the 1920s. Edyta had earned a doctorate in philosophy, and taught at the University of Freiburg. She ran into discrimination because of being a female, but did not let that deter her from writing several books on theology and translating more into German. She became a nun and transferred to Holland, but was part of the Jewish extermination along with her sister in 1942. In the late 20th Century, she was beatified, canonized, and made a patron saint of Poland.

Our last learning stop of the day was at the house where Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister Sabine were born. It was in a beautiful setting, but currently is in private hands, so we could not tour it. The Bonhoeffer Society considered buying it, but the purchase price was too expensive, and the house needed a lot of renovation.

By Dot Waugaman

Monday, September 8 began the day with Piotr Lorek, Academic Dean at EWST, who explained that we would be taking a tour of the Quarter of Four Denominations. Along this corridor, four churches of different faiths have started dialogue and conversation that reflect a new openness to cooperation. These faith communities are Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Lutheran. They are united in mutual respect, and they are hopeful of continued conversations. We visited in several of these houses of worship. We had one of several wonderful catered lunches at EWST.

After lunch, Dr. Wojciech Szczerba, who has visited WMPC several times over the last few years, gave us a brief history of EWST and Poland. Marek Kucharski, chancellor of EST, gave his testimony and talked about his academic role. Our group had collected over 300 pair of glasses, reading glasses, and cases in Raleigh and carried them with us on our trip. We learned that they will be taken to the Ukraine and distributed among the Roma, or “gypsies,” who live under very hard conditions. The day ended with another wonderful meal, strolls along the Rynek, and lody (ice cream).

By Gloria Johnson

Tuesday, September 9
Today we learned about life in Poland during and after World War ll, toured and raked in the old Jewish cemetery and had dinner with Wojciech and his family at their home.

Ruth Kowalczuk , who was 10 when the war started, showed us what the human spirit can do. She told us how her family “came through suffering and survived” and said how important their faith was during these difficult times. She told us “We were believers—this was crucial for us.” She described waiting in long lines to get bread, seeing people taken to the Belzec Death Camp, fleeing their home aided by members of a German Baptist church, and of her family hiding a Messianic Jew, a soldier who was fleeing the Warsaw uprising. In August 1945, Ruth moved to Wroclaw where she attended a Baptist church that began as a small group of believers who gathered together even though “everything about God was banned.” Ruth later taught English at the Wroclaw Language School. Wojciech was one of her students! lunch at the college, we took a tram to the old Jewish cemetery located in the southern part of Wroclaw. The cemetery opened in 1856 with the last burial in August, 1942. Our guide told us that five of the ten Nobel Peace Prizewinners from Poland are buried in this cemetery. Our mission team spent time raking and bagging leaves during the afternoon as our way of giving service to the community.

In the evening we went to the home of Wojciech and Magda Szczerba and their two children, Tosia and Tony, where we had a delicious supper of potato soup, salads and a variety of cheeses and breads and concluded the meal with chocolates. At the end of this very enjoyable evening we shared our feelings about the many things we have been thankful for during our time in Poland.

By Diane Payne

Wednesday, September 10
Our final day! Oh my! During breakfast I thought to myself “will we EVER forget the little lady scurrying back and forth to replenish the eggs and bring more coffee to us?”

Following breakfast we brought our bags down from our rooms in the hostel and stashed them in an office for our subsequent bus trip back to Berlin…and home. Soon we were walking through now “somewhat” familiar streets to meet with Wojciech and Magda who took us to meet Dr. Jezierski, vice president of the University of Wroclaw. As he kissed the hand of EACH of us we felt this truly Renaissance man was in his element as he briefed us on the history of this 300 year old institution.

To have even survived the war when 75% of the city was destroyed and a half million people were killed is incredible. Dr. Jezierski delighted us with his mastery of the piano --- playing a number of Schubert selections and amazed us with his talent. The acoustics in this hall were outstandingly superb, made all the more remarkable since two bombs had fallen here during the war. Our last stop was in the Celebration Hall where we saw amazing wall and ceiling carvings to commemorate freedom.

Then for many of us it was off to the pottery “factory” escorted by Magda who served as our interpreter. We hurriedly surveyed the vast array of colorful Polish made pottery and worked at depleting our stash of “zloty” (what Polish currency is called) before we departed Poland.

Regretfully it was time for all 16 of us to schlepp our luggage across the busy street and board our bus to return to Berlin. We had a 30 minute break at the border back into Germany for the bus driver to take his “required” rest time. Our hotel accommodations in Berlin were great --- especially since there was a nearby pizza restaurant where we feasted on more familiar food before retiring for the night and our early morning flight back to the states.

Susan Pittman

Trip participants: From White Memorial; Trip Leader - Linda Robinson, John and Nancy Brothers, Carolyn Elliott, Catherine Johnson, Gloria Johnson, Kathy Kidd, Phil and Beth Lambert, Diane Payne, Susan Pittman, Judy Tardiff, Mary Ann Turner, Dot Waugaman.
From Jackson Mississippi; Jill Holleman, Carol Robinson.