Austria and Jews

Jul 22 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

More from journals:

But I have still not touched on the Jewish question of Austria. I am trying to organize how I perceived each country's view of WWII, the Holocaust. I do not mean to be glib, or dismissive. But each was different, and these are just my shorthand, my perception. Poland was filled with guilt. Auschwitz / Birkenau is a national monument. There is a National Museum of the History of Jews in Poland, albeit heavily financed by American Jews. Remembering is paramount. Here is where the Nazis killed Jews.

Hungary, which lost the same order of magnitude as Poland, was less public, national but still there. There are memories and memorials and indeed, the Budapest ghetto was never liquidated and more Jews survived. The list of Righteous is longer, and even though Raul Wallenberg was Swedish, he worked here. He is honored here. But Hungary seemed more obsessed with the Soviet Union. Did I use the word strident before? Very well, I use it again. The "House of Horror" was dramatically in your fucking face about what the Soviets did.

But Austria, Austria struck me as a set of whinging self-pitying European fops. When historically they step away from the damn Hapsburgs, the message was "we were victims of the Nazis, too". No mention of 400,000 people enthusiastically welcoming Adolf Hitler, who never used the word "Austria", giving up their identity to his greater Aryan vision. No mention of Kurt Waldheim, no mention of ongoing anti-semiticism,

The only museum about Jews and the Holocaust was private, nearly empty, and  entirely Jewish/Israel funded. But it is clean and marble and modern. The doors are blast doors, and likely designed by Israelis with an eye to security. There is an archeological site in the basement, a synagogue from the middle ages.

Someone said that the outdoor memorial (a block of books with their spines inward) was in the movie The Woman in Gold and that the Helen Mirren character had the same response to it as he did "meh".

The emptiness of it all was what hit me. The emptiness of current people, the emptiness of what happened. The emptiness of Jews in this part of the world.

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Jews in Prague

Jul 17 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

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The Czech Republic had the best organized Jewish Tourist Thing going. There is a jewish quarter, filled with synagogues. Although, the guide did say that they were mostly empty, as there are now at most 2-3000 jews living here (half in Prague, the rest elsewhere). I saw more Hassidim here than anywhere else, including Poland.

The experience in the one we saw yesterday, Weds was, at best, unpleasant. It was filled with people, noisy people, clapping people, pushing people, taking photographs people. It was part of the tour of the Jewish quarter that I did not enjoy. I found the tour of that area to be the least affecting, the least moving, to me. Perhaps because it was hot, the crowds were large and very pushy. There were two large and beautiful Moorish-style, but not Sephardic, synagogues, complete with gorgeous deep colors and gold leaf and vaulted cathedralesque ceilings. One was built late 1800s the other early 1900s. That they survived the Nazis is either a miracle, if one believes in such, or quirks of history.

There were two things that did move me. One was on the tour. And it was crowded, noisy and filled with disrespectful people. But what it was transcended that. I dislike the word transcend, but there is nothing else that describes what I felt. This synagogues-museums was nearly empty and the walls painted white. The rooms were small, and covered in script. Black names, with two dates, birth and deportation. No one is quite sure of date of death for these people, but the Nazis with the help of the locals, of course, were meticulous in the deportation records. Yellow place names. Red family names. I saw the name of my sister's husband's family and broke down. Here were walls covered with script. The names of the 100,000 Czech Jews who are no more. And yet in the middle of this list were <slightly odd name>. Olga <slightly odd name. Leo <slightly odd name>.  I could not stop crying and went outside.

While I was here, the World Jewish  Something Or Other announced that the worldwide population of Jews has finally reached the level it was pre-holocaust. I hope that whoever carries the genes of Leo and Olga know this.

The other place was the 2nd Moorish Temple, the Jerusalem Temple. I saw it on Tuesday, by chance, walking around after other things. It was, as many other places, nearly empty. The synagogue was beautiful, inside and out. It was hushed and keeping its secrets to itself. Upstairs there was a exhibit. Two actually, but I had only time to see one. It was the history of Jews post-1945. The communists were not good to the Jews. That  the Jews at the time were surprised by this is amazing.  More subtle and insidious than the Nazis, there are undoubtably more than the  current 2-3000 Jewish Czechs who moved, assimilated and were lost. But to see a newsreel made in the late 40s about the old age homes and orphanages for concentration camp survivors, and than  to read how the Communists shut these down for "imperialist" and "capitalist" tendencies shows that nothing changes.


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banality of evil, exhaustion of tourista

Jul 16 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

A friend, to whom I sent parts of my journal, wrote back to me and said: What do you mean when you say "overwhelmed by the banality of what happened"?  I do not understand what you are trying to say.
Let me try and explain.
It was a reference to Hannah Arendt's comments at Adolf Eichmann's trial about the banality of evil. It is hard to judge how engaged anyone here is in history. I am perceiving people and places and the history presented by various entities through both their lens and my own position and prejudices.
Or, as we would say, if we were in physics, everything is in a moving and non-fixed frame of reference.
On one hand, the collective pain and scars of WWII and subsequent Soviet domination of the area are very real. The Museum of Terror, in just its name, let alone its contents, is a good example. The museum did not shy away from the fact that they were collaborators with the Nazis. On the other, somehow, such people were not "real Hungarians".
What happened to the Jews in Poland and in Hungary was banal, in the sense that, step  by step, every day it  became normal, acceptable, and just the way things were. To kill people, to take their homes, to send them off to live in ghettos and then camps, and finally to not live at all, was woven into the fabric of every day life. There is memory of it now, and, everyone's ancestors were heros and members of the resistance. Except the ones who weren't, and they weren't part of us.

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One of the last thoughts on leaving Hungary

Jul 15 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

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One of the last site-seeing things I did late yesterday afternoon was visit The Shoes.

On the bank of the Danube, greenish-grey as are most urban rivers, there is one last Holocaust memorial. A number of Jews, prior to concentration camps, had been lined up on the banks, shot, and pushed in.

The memorial are shoes, cast in bronze, on the edge of the stone embankments. They are a 100 meters from the beautiful parliament building.  They are sad and alone and filled with visitor's stones.

When we took a boat ride down the Danube, the shoes were not mentioned.

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Bratislava and the sadness of their Jewish Museum

Jul 13 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

From Journals (edited for grammar only)
Bratislava, in the center, is another medieval European town. I've seen many now, and while interesting, this has nothing in particular to recommend it. Cute, and much cheaper than Vienna or Budapest. But, the pastry is nowhere near as good.
The Jewish community, the issues of WWII are as much an afterthought here as they were in Austria. More on that tomorrow. We have a long ride to Prague during which I will write
The Jewish museum is Bratislava was  more depressing than Vienna. Vienna's museum was new, and marble and airy and could have been built by paranoid Israelis. Bratislava's was in an old building, with no technology (a good thing), but sad and shabby and artifacts with little information in dusty glass cases.  There were three Torah scrolls, under glass. It made me sad to see that they were not used, but there is only one synagogue in Bratislava, of older people. Jews do not seem to be part of Slovakia.
There is small documentation of the holocaust in Bratislava. But the region (whatever country it was then) welcomed Hitler, and the Catholic Church was instrumental in the process of depriving Jews of their property, their rights and finally their lives. Czechslovokia did not recognize Israel after 1968, and the few Jews that had returned after WWII left for Israel when they could. The old historic synagogue in Bratislava was torn down in the late 60s to build a highway and road into the old town. There was a holocaust memorial at the edge of the old town, but it was not marked and had no legend. There is small plaque to Raul Wallenberg, but it is on a busy road, and hard to see.
The town center of Bratislava was the small wandering streets filled with cafes, but probably fewer tourists than Krakow. I walked quite a bit, but I am getting to the point where old town centers, with histories of centuries blur together in my head.

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Buda and Pest

Jul 10 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

I found Buda and Pest to be charming. People compared them to Paris, and I see the similarities, but both Hungarian cities are much cleaner and the people seemed kinder. But, as tourists, on a tour, etc, there wasn't a lot of interaction with natives, others than those in the tourist business who are paid to be charming.

The architecture is variable and less early oppressive social realism than in Warsaw. Less bombing, less open areas in need of reconstruction, except on the fringes of the city. There was both classical gothic as well as more ornate later curlique, wedding cake excesses and quite a bit of clean art deco. This variation is in buildings, decoration on buildings and the iron rails that adorn everything. If one has to have iron bars on the windows, the variation and craftsmanship is impressive. I didn't get a lot of pictures of buildings, but Elizabeth did, so I'll have them eventually when I get her terabytes of information.

The public baths here was superb. It was not a tourist place, and I went with another woman on the trip, Janet, and we went very early (7:30). I wish there was something like this within driving distance of where I live... I would certainly join and go once a week. The building was an old 19th century, purpose built with hotel for, one assumes, the wealthy. The ceramic tiles, vaulted, skylight ceilings and general blue and cream color scheme was restful beyond lollygagging around in several temperatures of water. We spent 2.5 hours there but I easily could have spent the whole day with a book.

The only museum we did here was called House of Terror. But it could have been called "Museum of Hungarian History from 1940 through 2000'. Somebody referred to it as strident, and that is precise. There were about 3-4 rooms on the Nazis, and mostly about the Hungarian collaborators. The fact that the while they were essentially horrible people, much was made of the fact they too were killed by  Germans. This was followed by many many rooms on the immediate post-1945 history, and how the collaborators who survived just changed their uniforms from Arrowcross to Communist. The truth that there are evil human beings who delight in power over others is a point that has been forcefully over and over in the week of travel we have had.

But the majority of the museum, the stridency of the house is saved for the communists, soviet and otherwise.

[we are passing by the huge depressing soviet /socialist architecture blocks, like Cabrini Green or the miserable towers that were built in US cities. They are being rennovated, but marvelously painted in various color schemes. Some are rainbows, some are, for example, shades of green. Many people live in these blocks, of course many do. They are fucking enormous. No one seems to like them, but they are functional housing units]

There were films of people confronting their jailers, their oppressors, made in what seems to be immediately post-liberation (as they term it). Many of the perpetrators deny anything and everything. One justified, on film, lying because "the other person lied first, so why can't I?"

[just drove by roman remains - some serious archeological  sites. They actually seem preserved, and not destroyed, which seems to be much of the fate of this part of the world]

One woman seems demented and smiles like an idiot while other women accuse her of horrible things. This opens other problems. One of the women on the trip is the child of two holocaust survivors. Her father was a dentist, who befriended someone in one of the minor work camps. When the liquidation order came, the friend just opened the gate and told them to leave. They lived in the forests of Poland, outside Krakow  for two years, until Russian liberators came. Anyway, she showed me a recent article about how a Nazi guard, with well documented torture and deaths on his hands was acquitted  because of dementia. I don't know. I just don't know.

There was much made of the heroic Catholic Church who resisted terror and oppression at every turn, especially in the 1950s Hungarian uprising. My memories of history I learned are of a different church, that turned Jews over to the Nazis. Yet, Budapest's Jewish ghetto was the only one not liquidated, and many Jews did survive WWII, although many here is a relative concept. 400,000 did go to Auschwitz and Birkeneau.

The House of Terror is clearly cathartic for some set of Hungarians. It is relatively new, but much thought went into its construction. I am sure that the generation that grew up under the Soviet regime, that watched family and friends murdered after the uprising, cared passionately that their story not be forgotten That generation is passing from the earth, as are the survivors of the much of mid-20th century atrocity. The young people here are now so thoroughly post-socialist that it has become distant history to them.

We also visited the main synagogue, which is near downtown Pest. It is the second largest in the world (after the Manhattan monstrosity). But it is ornate and looks more like a Catholic cathedral than anything else, which, in fact, was the point when it was built. It has more gold leaf than many other things, the list of which I have forgotten. It is active ,and there is a community of Jews, numbering in the 1000s, and services every Saturday.

What was best about the synagogue, was the courtyard/garden. Raul Wallenberg's grave/tomb is there, weighed down by thousands and thousands of pebbles. Lists of over 100 names of Righteous People are on monuments surrounding his grave (not sure if his body is actually there - I seem to remember that the Soviets murdered him an he was never found). There is a beautiful silver tree sculpture, that is suggestive of an upside down menorah, with the leaves inscribed with the names of Hungarian Jews murdered in the Holocaust.


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Krakow and Schindler's Factory

Jul 10 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

Krakow, the small parts of it that I saw, is a tourist place, like other medieval city centers.  It reminded me of Tallinn, Riga, Ronne. The food was interesting, and I had 20 kinds of pierogis over the 3 days we were here.

Schindler's factory is now a museum of "Krakow during  WWII".  Actually, there is a good deal about the lead-up to the war and some about the communists and post-war. The Poles I have met, guides and the like, for whom I hold suspicions of pandering to Americans, seem to despise the Soviets, along with the Austro-Hungarian empire. Every guide we had took time to point out the sad state of affairs in the 19th Century when Poland did not exist as a nation and was divided amongst other hungry, rapacious entities. I suppose it is not different from the American pre-occupation with the Civil War. It is a bit sad to me to watch the Vietnam War era fade into the category of history-we-didn't-live, much the way I looked  at the Korean War and WWII. But today's children will have other atrocities to look back on.

One of the perspectives I got on the issues of the early-mid 20th century came from  visiting the Old Synagogue, the first synagogue in Krakow, that now exists as a museum and concert space. The main exhibit was an introduction to Judaism. But there was another, special exhibit on the cultural and civic changes that occurred in Krakow from about 1850s through to about 1930s. These were led by wealthy Jews, who built schools, and infrastructure, and cultural institutions. Jews were 30-40% of the population of greater Krakow, and seemed to be integrated into civic life, and were councilmen and leaders at nearly every level. The exhibit would have you believe that they were accepted. The pictures show at least this leadership looking assimilated, having discarded the orthodox garb that others in the area still maintained.

Of course these people did not leave Poland in the late 1800's, as did my peasant ancestors. These people, as did many of the professional and owning class Germans, could probably not believe that anything would change this way of life and send them off to Concentration Camps. Indeed, if you asked me whether I thought that in ten years someone would be systematically trying to kill all the Jews of America, I would laugh. I would say that yes, I believe it is possible, because my mother was absolutely paranoid about Nazis and saw them behind every pillar and that the potential is always there. But I would also say that I think this is only my culturally transmitted paranoia, and not realistic. I am sure that Jews thought this could not happen in the land of Beethoven and Bach, let alone Chopin and Copernicus. The ones who left were the poor, illiterate and often from small Jewish villages that no longer exist.

Back to Schindler's factory: There was little about Schindler, and mostly about Krakow. It was the best museum so far. While there was still the obsession with detail and preserving and presenting every single piece of paper, there seemed to be more organizing principles and context than the museums in Warsaw. Within each room, there was  more of a story into which the details were embedded. There was still a lot of computer based displays, of which 10-20% were not functional. There was a rather boring movie with interviews of people who worked in Schindler's factory. Which brings me to the next point: boring real history vs. the somewhat fictionalized account of Spielberg (who is quite revered in Krakow - where ever he went, people mention that "Spielberg was here").

I have not read the book about Schindler that moved Spielberg to make the movie in the first place. If this bears further thought, I ought to read it. In the museum there were two rooms (of 20-ish) that were about Schindler - his office and an anteroom. The information pointed out that Schindler never had a list, and that the scene in the movie of typing the list was fiction.

What, then, is the value of the movie? Absent the movie, not 1 in a million Americans, Europeans, Jews would know of him. Yet now , the museum was packed, as in can't move shuffle forward, get on the airplane lines.

[we just crossed border into Slovakia. Listening to music from the Tatra Mountains. Hopefully this is a non-difficult crossing, so says our guide. The music is not so great. Or perhaps an acquired taste - accordions and violins and a relentless snare-bass-line].

The museum gets upwards of 1000 visitors a day and has a limit on the number of tickets it sells. People are learning. This is probably a drop in the bucket, as it were, for people who have seen the movie, and believe that it is true. Much of the movie is, but parts of it are not. The little girl in the red coat was actually a real person, and after the movie wrote a book about it. The ending, with people walking over the hill into Israel infuriated my father. We had an argument about the role of visual art. Is it better to give many people a little history, even if its tweaked at the edges to making it art, to make it more palatable? The 30 min movie in the museum talking about Schindler was not going to change, move, or upset anyone. Much of it was interviews, and edited ones at that. But the movie changed people. It had speeches that changed people. It was not living history.

What I am left with, right now, leaving Poland, is a sense of the overwhelming banality of the what happened. How did this happen? The image is of the bored Nazi Officer, casually standing by while people suffered. The people of Poland don't want to forget what happened. It feels that it is still real for them. For me, here and there, now and then, I reached something, something reached in to me, and and felt very strongly about what happened.

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Jul 09 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

This post is mostly from the Journal I wrote. Again, I have indicated the one subsequent editorial thought added. 

It is very hard to organize my thoughts about Auschwitz. It was not as emotionally potent as the Jewish Cemetery or Museum yesterday. I am not sure why, but maybe writing about it will help.

I am writing this on the bus; we just left Auschwitz II, or Birkeneow.  Auschwitz was built in two parts, about a kilometer apart. The first part was designed for Polish political prisoners and then for Russian POW's. This was before the Final Solution and the Wanasee conference (if this is new to you, there was a good, and fairly accurate, as far as we know, film with Kenneth Branagh). When the Nazis decided to start killing all the Jews, Auschwitz I was not sufficiently efficient. While the place to gas the Jews was large enough, the crematorium could not  keep up with the rate that Jews were arriving. So, they built Auschwitz II, Birkenau, to hold another 100K Russian POWS (that never got there), but mostly to process the  Jews.

IMG_2146When we arrived at Auschwitz I, it could have been a zoo, or a park. There were large groups of people milling around outside, kids running and teenagers goofing off the way they do. There was a bookstore and a refreshment stand and sign to the WC. There was a large parking lot with lots of buses and some cars. Guides waving signs in different languages.  That there were huge hordes of people looking bored, chatting, etc, throughout our 2 hour tour, many groups, people latching onto our group, children running around, made it feel like just another tourist attraction. It wasn't offputting, but it was not an atmosphere of seriousness. It was not a place that said: People were killed here. Lots of People.

The exhibits themselves were more simple than the previous museums. No electronics, no interactions. Having a guide gave good context to the information, and she did not overwhelm us with detail, although parts of the detail were moving. Our guide was a very serious woman, Polish, about 30, who was getting a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Anushka felt very strongly about Auschwitz, and expressed views several times. I gather expressing views is not something guides are encouraged to do, but she had views.

The two most important things that Anushka said were first: the ones who survived were not lucky. They survived because the war ended and the Nazis were defeated. The second was that the purpose and the importance and the reason for Auschwitz is to honor the dead. Nothing more.

I had a short discussion about this with a couple who were lawyers who did various public law things in their careers (they seem to be about late-70s now). They are clearly activist types and did a lot of civil rights work in the US. He said that he wanted to see more about this not happening again, and more about how this is happening now to other people. That if Auschwitz is just about killing Jews (which its not, but 90% of those who  died were Jewish), it means nothing. This was not the view of our guide (who was not Jewish. There are very few Jews in Poland these days). I did not know what to say. The numbness of it all had invaded my bones.

IMG_2182But back to Auschwitz. Auschwitz I was a museum, but it was not a museum that spoke to me. Was it just too fast, too crowded? I tend to prefer lowtech museums, such as this, with lots to read. But we did not have enough time to read everything, though Anuschka's explanations were good, and challenging, and more than a surface reading. But Auschwitz I was also manicured. There were lots of trees (mostly young, mostly looking like they had been planted and landscape designed in the last 20 years). Most the exhibits felt like they were under glass, and cleaned up for viewing. (Note: I tried to capture this in the picture at right. The reflection was on purpose).

One part that was strong were the exhibits of the goods of the Jews that had been confiscated. 20 meters long of shelves of shoes. Shelves of pots and pans, of combs and brushes. IMG_2157Suitcases with peoples names and addresses on them. The room of hair was the worst. The window display case of ZylonB containers was powerful. I have pictures of all, but the hair. They do not permit pictures of the rooms and rooms of hair. These were awful, but I did not cry. We went from building to building. They were barracks built by the Polish Army. The Nazis did not design this, not the crematorium/gas chambers which were the old munitions depo for the Polish Army. Even the rooms with the three-tiered bunks for prisoners seemed to be under glass.

The only thing that was jarring to me, over and over, were the roads and paths. They were not repaired. They were not paved, or asphalted. TIMG_2187hey were broken stones. They were muddy. They were easy to imagine being in a death camp. The worn out stairs in the buildings, some kind of stone, with worn out depressions in the middle seemed more real to me in some ways than the black and white pictures. It was cold when we walked, and grey.

Auschwitz II was build to Nazi specifications for the Final Solution. It is series of buildings in rows, buildings that seem more like what we expect from movies. Many are gone, because they were wood, and in Communist Poland, there was no money for preservation. The Nazis blew up all the gas chambers here, Canada II, the name for the warehouse of Jewish belongings, the crematoria (there were four of them), and destroyed as much evidence as they could. But there are railroad tracks. What seems like miles of railroad tracks. IMG_2222

Auschwitz I is a museum,; Auschwitz II is a memorial. But I still did not feel the women who walked those paths. I did not hear their stories, see their life. I did not feel them.

At home, now, it seems I was not ready for Auschwitz.

Tomorrow we will tour Krakow, but on Sunday we will go to the Schindler factory, which is now a museum about Krakow under the Nazis.

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Jul 08 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

Some of this written in the present tense, as I lifted it from my journals. I've tried to make clear where I am adding thoughts after the trip.

It is 5:45, and Elizabeth and I decided to take a break before dinner. We've been going very hard all day. We're sitting in a bar with a large photo of the original rat pack shooting snooker. And a mug shot of a very very young Francis Sinatra. And a piano player about to start. we'll see....

First, real european (eastern) breakfasts - what I think breakfasts should be. Fish, cheese, meat. Incredible dark dense breads. real butter. one softboiled egg. lots of fresh fruit. red currant juice. I've had tea, incredible tea. Rich, dark, real tea. Elizabeth puts sugar and cream in hers. I cannot bear to do that.

The morning was a bus tour with stops. The first stop was the Central Park of Warsaw. It also has castles and forts and was entirely lovely, quiet and green. We walked through, way too fast and too short for me. It is about 70 here, and was sunny and smelt wonderfully from something obscure in bloom. It is a standard tourist stop, but there are hords of school children running around. Children are children everywhere.

The next stop was Old Town Warsaw, which was leveled by the Nazis and rebuilt, original brick by original IMG_2105brick from the early 50s through the 80s. I've been to enough medieval city centers to know that parts were improved upon from the original. There were some photos, but one gathers the esthetic and design and balance reflects a more planned sensibility than what would have sprung up in the 16-18th centuries.




IMG_2111Next we went to the Jewish Cemetery, which has not been rebuilt, and mostly not weeded, since WWII. It is not clear why it was spared. The Nazis were famous for taking Jewish headstones and using them as pavement. I could have easily wandered there for hours. In the early 19th century Warsaw had as many Jews as NYC.  Jews were still buried here in the early days of WWII, and there were lots of headstones with husband and wife and the same 1942 day of death. There are various memorials, including the grave of the head of the Judenrat, the Jewish authority in the Warsaw ghetto, who eventually killed himself.

There was nothing left of the Warsaw ghetto, nor the buildings that Leon Uris made famous. It was row upon row of socialist realism architecture. Ugly.

After this, we had lunch at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. As was true of the Chopin museum we saw yesterday, the museum people here are in love with technology. Often, it seems, technology is for technology's sake. Both museums suffered disease- huge amounts of detail, but little in the way of synthesis or overarching organization to put detail in context.  Every receipt that Chopin's father used to buy eggs and bread when Frédéric was a child is lovingly displayed and lit. Take home message: there were rock stars and fan boys back then.

For the Polish Jews museum, there were seven areas (each with many rooms). We skipped the first three, which were roughly the history up through 1914. There was too much to see for the time we had, and I figured I could do without the shetl stuff, and the early history of anti-Semitism. There was an incredible flowering of Jewish/Yiddish culture through the 20's.  In retrospect, having seen other places, this was the strongest and most honest memorial by any country as to what happened to the Jews that lived in that country during the Holocaust. There were museums of Jewish History in every city we visited. But this was not only the most complete, but seemed to mourn what happened. Taking responsibility, I am not sure about that. But this museum was as close as any that I saw.

When we came to the 1938-45 room, I started reading everything. Everyone always asks why did the Jews not leave, when it was clear that they were despised? Part of the answer was made clear to me over and over in country after country. The ones who left were the peasants who scraped together money to go elsewhere. The ones who had nothing there. The people who stayed were integrated, as much as anyone was, into society and culture of the time and place. This became very clear in Krakow (another post).

By the end, I nearly lost it, and was feeling physically ill and went out and sat and cried while waiting for Elizabeth to finish.

Tomorrow we go to Auschwitz.

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Central/ Eastern Europe

Jul 08 2015 Published by under eastern europe, Uncategorized

I have always treasured my friends. And, I have always loved traveling with friends, as opposed to lovers/partners/spouses. So, over a year ago, my friend Elizabeth said "let's go to Eastern Europe". E. is older than me, does not have field biology/geology legacy, and travels differently than I might. This trip was a bit more upper end than I would have done on my own. On the other hand, not worrying about logistics, and hot water at the end of the day gave me a lot more time to think about things. And it gave me a lot more time to write.

We went to Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  There were a couple of themes for me on this trip.  One was culture, into which I lump cathedrals, art museums, concerts and food, of which pastry is the single most important sub-category, followed by the sub-category gelato. The other was  history. History is inescapable in Eastern Europe, but that was part of the point of the trip.

There are lots of ways to look at the history, lots of ways in which the history was presented, seen, and experienced. While the history of the middle of the 20th century was front and center, the 18th and 19th centuries are not neglected by the people vying for the attention of tourists. The response of various countries and cities to the Hapsburgs, the Nazis and the Communists was as different as the money (we spent a lot of time changing money). Also right there is the story of the Jews, which in brief seemed to  be: welcomed into cities, build synagogues, schools and businesses, lose synagogues,  schools and businesses, get kicked out, and then invited back a generation or three later. Up to the Holocaust, where a more permanent solution was attempted.

We went to: Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Spending only a few days in each IMG_2094of these made the differences among the countries, the cities, stand out. I tried to learn, and as a 2nd generation American, I went back and forth between familiar and not. I'll post what I saw. I am not a historian. I didn't even really do history of science in these places (though I took a picture of Marie Curie's birthplace). But you can't, I couldn't, visit these places without having some aspects of history smacked into my face.





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