The Past

Every time we come to Poland, I find myself searching for little corners that are just like I remembered them in the mid-90s when I first arrived in Poland. Truth be told, they’re harder and harder to find. Poland has changed so much in the last twenty years that even familiar streets seem somehow new.

This weekend, I went to Nowy Targ to visit with an old friend, probably my oldest friend in Poland. We wandered around NT reminiscing, looking, at my request, for little spots that still look just like they did in 1996. For the most part, what remains are elements. whispers and shapes of the past buried here and there.

The “Dom Handlowy” (“House of Trade” you might translate it literally, but in reality a department store) has received a complete remodel. But it still has traces of its past.

“The sign is the same one, I think,” said my friend. If it’s not, I think they at least recreated it with an almost-identical design.

Some street corners look just like I remember them, or if I don’t remember them, just like I would imagine them to look in 1996.

But other things have disappeared. The nearly-ubiquitous Maluch has all but disappeared from the roads, and only every now and then makes an appearance as a novelty item at a wedding.

Every now and then you stumble — literally — on an old sidewalk, made of concrete squares that over the years have settled unevenly to create something that only in one’s most generous moments could one call a sidewalk.

Tractors are not as common on the town streets of NT as they once were, but every now and then, you see one. I doubt there are any more horse-drawn wagons delivering coal in the winter, but perhaps if you looked diligently enough, you just might find one.

One thing has not changed, though. Not at all. Not in the slightest: the movie theater in NT.

Top to bottom, left to right, it is absolutely the same. The dated architecture, the tired signs with failing neon, the crumbling corners — it’s just like I remember it from 1996.

My friend’s wife explains that it hasn’t been renovated because it used to be a synagogue, and various groups are preventing renovation. But it doesn’t look like a synagogue in any way. At all.

Yet a little searching on the internet reveals this:

Podczas II wojny światowej Niemcy zdewastowali synagogę. Po wojnie zniszczony budynek powrócił w ręce reaktywowanej gminy żydowskiej, jednak wkrótce przejęły go władze i otworzono w nim kino „Tatry”, które działa do dziś. (Source)

And this, from the theater’s own web site: “Nowotarskie Kino Tatry istnieje w zabytkowym, przedwojennym budynku, w którym kiedyś była… żydowska synagoga” (Source).

Certainly if Jews of the early twentieth century came wandering around present day Nowy Targ, they would see even less that they find familiar.