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Lexington resident forges bridges to Poland, and to healing

Lexington resident Leora Tec, founder and director of Bridge to Poland.
Lexington resident Leora Tec, founder and director of Bridge to Poland.

After Holocaust survivor Nechama Tec’s memoir, “Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood,” was translated into Polish, her daughter accompanied her on a book tour in 2005.

While in Poland, Leora Tec was surprised and moved by the heartfelt commemorations of Jewish life by non-Jewish Poles — particularly in Lublin, the city in which her mother was born. During World War II, Nechama was forced to flee Lublin and survived by passing as a Catholic girl with false papers.

Those unexpected discoveries of healing and hope stayed with Leora Tec. In 2015, the Lexington resident founded Bridge to Poland in order to offer workshops, presentations, and travel experiences highlighting commemorations such as the ones she witnessed.

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“It seemed like a beautiful secret that no one knew about,” said Tec, who is currently working on a book about her experience with her own Polish identity.

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She leads a handful of small, interfaith groups to Poland each year, typically for seven to 10 days. The trips combine sites of martyrdom, the rich history of Jewish and non-Jewish life in Poland, and a view of present-day life of Jews in the country.

In addition to coordinating hotels, buses, and meals, Tec provides detailed pre-trip materials including a reading list curated by Holocaust scholars. Perhaps her most important role, however, is “meeting each guest where they are and creating a safe space.”

Participants interact with expert guides, scholars, and intellectuals, as well as musicians, artists, and others who are nationally renowned for their memory work. According to Tec, her personal relationships cultivated over time with her colleagues create a warm and inviting atmosphere for all in which to “confront difficult questions and challenging material.”

While travelers brace themselves for the visits to concentration camps, many find that witnessing the ceremonial efforts at reconciliation and memorialization to be equally emotional — in a positive sense.

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“I’m not denying anti-Semitism in Poland, and I’m not afraid to talk about it, but my focus is on the rescuers of memory,” she said. “It’s ironic that hope can be found in the ashes of the Holocaust.”

The early bird deadline is Dec. 30 for the next Bridge to Poland trip, which takes place from June 21-30, 2018. For more information, visit bridgetopoland.com.

Cindy Cantrell

Cindy Cantrell can be reached at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.