Yesterday we visited the village of Dobrzyn for some shopping and a bit of sightseeing. It’s a very small and typical Polish town, population ca. 2000. Nevertheless, there are several things of historical interest.
This is, for example, where (Germanic) Prussia began, as a group of knights organized to defend against another group (confusingly, also called “Prussians”) invading from what is now Lithuania. Prussia began as the Order of Dobrzyn in the 13th century. All that remains is a mound where the old fort used to be, overlooking the Vistula. A few crosses also mark the spot.
Dobrzyn was also a shtetl—a town that had a substantial Jewish population. And there are still a few remnants, which, as a cultural Jew with Eastern European genes, I found fascinating. Jews in 19th century Poland weren’t allowed to own land, and were segregated in their own part of town. Unable to farm, they became traders, merchants, and craftsmen. They were also more literate than the surrounding, non-Jewish population, with the lingua fraca being Yiddish. Because of their mercantile connection with Germany, the second language of the shtetl Jews was not Polish but German.
Several old Jewish houses remain; they are very distinctive and I’m told they are about a hundred years old .
Beyond their segregation in shtetls, the Jews had a horrible history in Poland. There was, of course, the mass slaughter of the Holocaust. Before World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe: over three million. After the war, fewer than 300,000 were left, so that at least 90% of them were exterminated. (Many of the survivors were hidden, pretended they weren’t Jews, or migrated to Russia.)
Because Poles continued to kill Jews for several years after the war (including those who returned to reclaim their property), almost all the remaining Jews eventually left, many going to Israel. Today the Jewish population of Poland is miniscule: about 20,000—roughly 0.7% of the prewar numbers.
In Dobrzyn we visited the butcher shop, which had a lovely selection of homemade Polish sausages.
I was there, however, to buy a bone for Emma the d*g, the first d*g food of any sort I’ve ever bought. They were fresh out of bones, so I purchased a pig foot, which the d*g ate with relish (meaning avidity, not the condiment!) Sadly, the photo of me giving the pig foot to Emma, didn’t come out, but it may have been to much of a shock to the readers, anyway!
The human comestibles last night consisted of a large spinach and cheese pie (made with five kinds of cheese), topped with dried tomatoes and cranberries, with salad on the side.
Dessert: Polish poppy-seed cake (makowiec), one of my favorites:
After dinner, of course, one must have a postprandial cuddle with the cat. Hili is insistent on her fusses:
This is the other cat who lives here, Fitness. As with all black cats, his fur is actually very dark brown, which is evident in the sunlight:
This morning Andrzej and I walked down to the Vistula with a visiting abdominal surgeon, Wojchiech Szczesny (the pronunciation of his name is impossible for non-Poles, even if you hear it), who has his own website and crusades against quackery and homeopathic medicine in Poland.
We were accompanied on our walk by both Emma the d*g and Hili the cat, who trotted along in front, behind, and beside, always aware of where we were but pretending to be on her own.