Day 16 – April 21, 2010 – Krakow

When we were driving to Auschwitz last week, as Eva told us about the death of President Lech Kaczynski, she alluded to John Donne’s famous “Meditation 17” in which he states, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Today, we touched the famous bell in the tower of Wawel Cathedral, which rang on Sunday, the day of Kacynski’s funeral mass and burial in the crypt inside Wawel. The belief here is that by touching the clapper of the bell and making a wish, the wish will come true. Most of our group probably wished to go home as soon as possible; however, due to our extended stay, we had another wonderful day in Krakow, thanks to Eva, our guide.

We were welcomed by teachers and students at a university preparatory high school, V Liceum Ogolnoksztalcace im. Augusta Witkowskiego, established in 1871 by Franz Joseph I. We attended two English classes, during which our students conversed with the Polish students and asked questions about each others’ culture. We also viewed a safety demonstration, and toured the biology classroom, which was complete with a Nemo fish and a chameleon, among many other habitats and live animals. The teachers gave us all Krakow donuts, which they said were the equivalent to Dunkin Donuts. They actually were better: a little less sweet, and a little more substantial, with raspberry filling.

We spent the afternoon touring Wawel Castle, which dates back to the middle ages, and was restored completely in the early 20th century before World War II. We admired the many fabulous, elaborate tapestries which were woven in the 16th century, along with paintings and furniture from the renaissance time period.
Going into Wawel Cathedral, we walked past the wreaths of flowers from different countries that were sent for the funeral of President Kaczynski. Inside, we saw the sarcophagi of many Polish kings, queens, and important Polish leaders. Most surreal, however, was walking through the crypt with the sarcophagus of President and Mrs. Kaczynski, viewing the cold marble, the golden inscription, and the etched cross on the top. After watching the funeral on CNN and being in the streets of Krakow during the funeral procession, actually descending the steps into the crypt felt eerie. Here we were, in line with other Polish citizens, touching the sarcophagus, and mourning the death of their leader with them.

“Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” How fitting for us, teachers and students seeking history, seeking the truth about the Holocaust and the past. Living history in the present, and creating memories of a lifetime.

20 comments

  1. The significance of the bell is extremely ironic. The fact that when you touch the bell your wish is supposed to come true, and you guys most wished to come home very soon. It's just really ironic you got to see the bell on your extended stay.Just think if you weren't stuck you would never get to see the bell or everything else including the slide lolcome home soon!! -Margaret

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  2. Hey guys, seeing some of you over Skype made a lot of people happy yesterday. Also, I think you guys have had a very unique experience being able to mourn the death of the leader of a Country with its native people. Hope to see you guys soon –Rob.

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  3. Going to a new school for a day in a different country seems like a great experience. I wish i had the chance to talk to those kids about thier everyday life. I can't believe you guys were standing next to the sarcophagus of the Polish president and his wife. Although most of you must want to come home this must be an incredible time to be where you are. -Brendan

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  4. I think the things that you guys are getting to experience are amazing and in a way im kind of jealous lol.(not in a mean way though)just by getting to interact with students your age from another culture in a way is very enriching. i think you guys can really get a better understanding of the things that we've been learning in class such as the holocaust by learning the opinion of not only the students but maybe even your tour guide just for example.i cant imagine the feeling of walking through the crypt where President Kaczynski was. it really must've been surreal especially since he just passed..that must've been an honorable moment. -shamirah

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  5. Todays blog was very interesting. I wanna touch the bell!!! lol. but being on the streets with all those people mourning is probably really depressing. Even though you arent from there you guys probably feels just as bad. I'm also wondering if the school days in Poland are just like at home. Also do they dress like us over there? or is there styling different… are there classes more advance than us? – marty -_-

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  6. You guys couldn't be stuck over in Poland at a more enriching and emotional time. To get the chance to meet other students from a different country and lifestyle must have been incrdible. Also, being able to mourn with Polish citizens over the tragic loss of their president is definitely a privelage. Take advantage of your extra time over there and come home safe!–Ashley

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  7. That's really interesting that you got see the bell, not alot of people get a chance to see something like that. Does there school have a better budget then us? it must have been fun to talk to some people your age. reading about everything you've seen has been helpful in understanding things that we have learned.

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  8. You guys are really lucky to experience all of these things. Especially going to the presidents funeral. It must have been fun talking to the student at the school and learning about their culture and stuff. Take advantage of the time you have there.-Alexa

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  9. I read about the English classes you went to and I was wondering how similar they were to our English classes. Do they read the same classic novels we do, like Great Expectations? Or do they even consider those to be classics? It could be an American thing!

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  10. What a great opportunity to be in Europe with so much going on historically! Not only are you learning about Holocaust history and being a part of present history but I also think it's cool that you are learning about other history, like when you viewed art from the Renaissance. It looks like you guys have been having a great time and learning about many different cultures. Donne's Meditation 17 also reminds us that every one is interconnected- \”no man is an island; every man is a piece of the continent.\” I'm sure this is a lesson that you all are learning by experiencing different cultures, and I am very jealous! Please return safely!

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  11. Being able to touch the actual bell that John Donne alluded to in his \”Meditation 17\” so many years ago is so cool.I kind of wonder, like Bill said, how modern day English classes are over there. I think it would be very interesting to have a conversation with a student there to learn how they understand our language. I also think that it is so cool that you guys get to walk through such famous places like the Wawal Castle and Cathedral. Learning about such ancient history is cool enough, but being able to walk through them and experience them is amazing. Being there during the death of their president must be quite an experience as well. Everyone must be in mourning during such a major event.

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  12. i wanna touch the bell! i think its really cool that you guys get to do all this stuff on your extended unplanned stay. mourning the president must have been somewhat depressing, i know that the death of anyone brings an uneasy vibe to the environment. but at the same time it must have been somewhat of an honor to mourn the death of someone so important to the people who live there. come home sooon!

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  13. hope you all had a good time learning and experiencing new things in Poland.Going to high school in Poland must have been a different experience with learning the Polish ways of life and how their classes work. The Wawel Castle must have been an intresting site to see seeing that it dates back to WW1. GOing to the funeral procession for the President must have been very memoriable especially when you experienced the funeral teh same way the Polish citizens did like touching the sarcophagus, and mourning the death of their leader with them.

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  14. It's nice to see that you all visited a school similar to ours in Europe. It makes me wonder if their curriculum is similar to ours. Since literature is mostly subjective, do they still focus on some of the same types of books, poems, etc. that we do in America or do they learn about other types of work that might connect more to their lives. It seems like personal upbringing, as to country, might play a large effect into the differences of what they would get out of a piece literature compared to us in America. If not, that would definitely speak to the power of literature.

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