Day 30, Fri, June 2 – Arrived at 8:00 AM
with very little sleep and got a taxi to the Hilton Hotel – probably
the best located in town – high on castle hill with the city’s main
cathedral, Matthias, reflected in its windows.
Once again, Naomi did a great job of utilizing our accumulated
frequent guest points. We
logged onto the internet to pay some bills and upload some files to the
website. We know it’s
getting quite unruly and we’re looking into some of our supporter’s
suggestions to speed up download times, so please bear with us.
We had to go for a real Hungarian goulash lunch as I had been
talking about it ever since we had a lame facsimile of one in Russia.
I was not disappointed.
As evidenced by prices and the standard of living
in Budapest, Hungary is in decent shape economically, and in fact is the
most “Western” looking and feeling of any country we’ve been to
date. This may be because
they had a head start of revolution and market reform decades before
Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika.
When an actual physical revolution was trounced by Soviets in
1956, they turned to a more subtle, unofficial protest by ignoring the
central party’s rulings and operating a sort of quasi-capitalist
economy. Hungary has had a
very odd and interesting history, beginning with Magyars descending from
the Ural mountains and conquering all they encountered.
When I told some Hungarians that my guidebook said the name
literally came from a legendarily insatiable hunger for rape, pillage
and even cannibalism, they laughed their asses off.
They were unsure of the derivation, but did point out that their
country is still “Magyar” in the local language.
They also have an odd history of “Magyarising” local
minorities into the culture, sort of the opposite of Nazi exclusion and
elitism. Their struggles to
maintain their own identity have been against many foes, including
Mongols, Saxons, Germans, Slavs, Ottomans and Austrians.
The latter alliance (or “subjugation” depending who you ask)
in the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire caused them to be dragged into
the first World War on the losing side and lose 2/3 of their land and
population when the empire was split between other countries by the
treaty of Trianon. The
biggest sore spot was the loss of Transylvania to Romania – the
resentment of this (amongst other things) was exploited by Hitler to
sucker Hungary into the losing side again in the next war.
The Hungarian population, particularly Jews and Gypsies, suffered
greatly and Budapest was bombed to pieces before being captured by the
Soviet army in 1945. The
communists took it from there until the 1956 uprising, which is where
this very brief history started.
After lunch we walked around the castle district
from the hotel. The gothic
15th century Matthias church has been rebuilt after the
Turkish wars and World War II – it is now very impressive inside with
incredible stained glass windows. Just
outside the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a medieval edifice of
stairs, archways, pavilions, and viewing platform overlooking the Danube
River toward the Pest side. The
views were great – particularly the standard post-card shot of the
Parliament building across the river.
The crowds are much thicker here than any other place we’ve
been and we’ve even seen our first batches of stereotypical Japanese
tourists with umbrellas, hats, white gloves and cameras at the ready.
We watched them while enjoying the Budapest tradition of coffee
and pastry at the historic Ruszwurm Café, opened in 1827.
The baroque Royal Palace (or Buda Castle) was
painstakingly rebuilt after it was left in rubble after a seven-week
siege by Russians who finally drove Germans from Budapest.
The palace contained great exhibits on the history of the
Hungarian dynasties from centuries before the War. Hungary is no
exception to our world tour of the history of warfare. In the five
countries we've visited to date, we've seen all manner of proudly
displayed weapons of war - swords, armor, shields, spears, chain suits,
axes, arrows, daggers, clubs, maces, crossbows, guns, cannons,
catapults. The unfortunate reality we are being
reminded of is that the history of mankind is inextricably tied to the
history of warfare. Territories have rarely been gained and
nations founded by mere agreement of the residents, and everyone's
hero/patriot/freedom fighter/savior/liberator/founding father is someone
else's enemy/invader/traitor/tyrant/oppressor. I'm sure the
stories we hear in Hungary are told quite differently in other parts of
As night fell, the tourist area around the hotel
and cathedral was deserted. We
walked around the bastion to the
strains of classical Hungarian violin.
We thought it was a recording, but then happened upon the
musician standing in on of the gazebos. We
liked it so much we bought one of his CDs called Peace of Earth".
We introduced ourselves and
Kristof Fogolyan agreed to an interview.
He spoke about the unifying force of music and his struggle to
rise above common problems with his gift.
By the time we left, all the restaurants were
closed, so we had to settle for overpriced room service.
Goulash again – which was more than fine by me.
The latest CNN news was as depressing as the last.
Tourists are still held captive by terrorists in Malaysia and
African wars (“civil” and otherwise) are still raging.
An Eritrean spokeswoman was interviewed and asked “how do you
respond to those who are saying you are waging a meaningless war over a
sliver of useless territory at the cost of over US$ 1 million per day
while your population starves”? Her
answer was a terse “I do not believe there is a UN resolution stating
that a poor country is not entitled to its sovereignty.”
I was reminded of the old truism: “The primary objective of
those in power is to remain in power”.
Day 31, Sat, June 3 – Had a great omelet breakfast at a café inspired by and named after Joan Miro.
It’s one of those hip, young places that the post-communism
generation has come to adore, but unfortunately breeds a snobby
attitude. We then walked
across the Chain Bridge, the most beautiful in Budapest, the views back
across to castle hill rival those from the other side.
We went through a market and book fair, then took the metro (very
clean and efficient) to the City Park.
There we visited the Museums of Fine Arts, with a great
collection of paintings, and a gallery of modern art across the square.
The modern art was a little more dubious, but there was one group of
colored squares that was interesting.
The centerpiece of this area is the Heroes’ Square, or sort of
Brandenburg gate of Hungary. It
includes statues of most of the national heroes, a huge column
reminiscent of Nelson’s in London, and seven bronze horsemen
representing the conquering Magyars.
This is where demonstrations have been held, the Pope has said
mass and foreign dignitaries lay memorial wreaths.
It is also the home to dozens of tattooed, acrobatic skateboard
We had a great dinner on the river facing Buda,
where we could watch a portrait artist at work – he drew an uncanny
resemblance of a little girl at the table next to us. For
some reason, I was unable to convince Naomi to sit for one.
Back at the hotel, I called my parents since I had
been unable to reach them for their birthdays (May 26 and May 30).
Only Dad was home. He
said they had been reading the website and support our efforts very
much. Although they are
very proud of what we are doing, they are concerned that we may have “bitten
off more than we can chew”.
Of course he is right, we are not so naïve to think that the
President of Eritrea gives a shit what we write on some website.
Notwithstanding that, we will never know how much impact we can
have on the world unless we try. Besides,
they are the parents who taught me and my brothers to stand up for what
we believe in. One thing
Dad said that does stick with me is “those who want to do something
can’t, and those that can do something won’t”.
Day 32, Sun, June 4 – Attended the church
service at Matthias to hear the choir and organ music.
It was very nice. Afterward,
we took the metro to meet our Servas hosts, Kinga and Attila, who are a
little younger than us and work at
Graphisoft, one of the bigger software design firms in Hungary.
Our Servas contacts have really been a bonus for this trip as
they have provided us with instant friendly faces to discuss the local
culture, history and economics in a very open atmosphere.
You can’t necessarily have those types of discussions with
strangers over a beer at the local pub (“pardon me, can you pass the
beer nuts and tell me what you think of the treaty of Trianon?”).
It also helps that the Servas organization shares many of our own
beliefs in peace through friendships.
In this instance, Kinga and Attila were great – we had a great
lunch of stuffed crepes with them and another Servas traveler, Andrew,
then headed out to Margaret Island, the former royal game park in the
middle of the Danube. Since
it was Sunday, it was full of a wide cross-section of the Budapest
population and prime hunting ground for interviews with strangers.
Kinga agreed to translate in Hungarian for us.
We had some great ones – since the video portion of the website
is still to be worked out, I will paraphrase their answers to “the
most important thing in life”:
“I wish everyone to find their own way in life – what is best for
“groups of people are not important, it is the individual that is
important – so be yourself. It
does not matter if you are Jewish or Gypsy or American of Hungarian, but
that you are a human being”
“people around the world are all very similar, they all want happiness”
Regis Philbin look-alike was one of the most talkative people we have
met. Like many people, he
was genuinely impressed that strangers from a far away land would be
interested in his opinion. He
first said the most important thing in life is to get a good background
of education and experience. To
elaborate, he said there are three stages in life:
the first to study and get ready for life, the second to make a
good living and raise a family, and the third to look around the world
and see what you can do for others.
His piece of advice to others:
get to know the world as best you can, know yourself and your
place in the world, and find our how you can help the human race"
"Love one another"
"Love each other, live in peace with each other and have no
"We must help save the environment, particularly the
"Peace and happiness to everyone all around the world.
Understand each other, love each other and meet many people –
for all nations I wish this"
Our Group of Servas friends posing with our promo flag.
Day 33, Mon, June 5 – We decided to take
a sort of mini-road trip (by taxi, tram and bus – what an adventure)
to a very unique attraction on the outskirts of town.
Szobor Statue Park is an open-air museum that houses many of the
Communist-era statues that once stood in Budapest’s public spaces.
It is an eerie collection of monuments to the “workers heroes”
of the times, highlighted by Lenin himself.
A combination lesson in art, history, oppression, propaganda, and
the black humor that characterized the Hungarian resistance movement.
It would even be sort of humorous if the topic at hand had not
caused so much pain to the country.
The gift shop sold a broad collection of communist-era books,
tapes, hats and medals (the same ones on sale in Russia) as well as
post-communist T-shirts. The
gates of the museum are inscribed with the poem “A Sentence on Tyranny”
by Gyula Illyes, published in 1956 at the time of the revolution. It
is 46 stanzas long, so only a few follow:
Where seek out tyranny?
There seek out tyranny.
Not just in barrels of guns,
not just in prisons…
It is in the plate, the glass,
in the nose and the mouth.
It is in the cold and dark,
in the outer air and in your house…
Because where tyranny is,
everything is in vain.
Every creation, even this
poem I sing turns vain,
Because it is standing
From the first at your grave,
Your own biography branding,
And even your ashes are its slave.
We tried to visit the elaborate gothic parliament
building, but we missed the last English-language tour.
Instead, we got a tour of the Opera House, one of the most
beautiful in the world and one-time scene of famous works of local
heroes Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler.
The neo-renaissance building was also significantly repaired
after the war. They are now
so proud and protective of the guilt, marble, wood and stucco interior,
we had to wear cloth slippers over our shoes during the guided tour. One
highlight was the royal box of empress Elizabeth (“Sissi”) of
Austria-Hungary, who chose a corner box in front not for the restricted
view, but because her subjects could see her better from there.
We stopped by the St. Stephen’s Basilica, but it
was closed for restoration. I’m
kind of glad because once inside, I would have been drawn by morbid
curiosity to view the gnarled mummified hand of St. Stephen himself, who
was made an Apostle by Pope Sylvester II as a reward for converting to
Christianity. Viewing body
part relics is only slightly more disgusting than viewing Mohammed’s
whiskers in Istanbul. We
also stopped by the Synagogue, the second-largest in the world (after
New York), which was desecrated as a detention camp by Nazis during the
war. Ironic timing as we had just watched the special D-Day
memorial services on CNN. It's hard to believe that the war that
ended over 50 years ago is still so fresh in the minds and culture of
Europe -I suppose it's a testament to the devastation it caused, not
only physically but emotionally, spiritually and economically as well.
After such a busy day, we had to avail ourselves of
the comfort that tourists have been enjoying in Budapest for centuries
– the thermal baths. We
chose the most famous, Gellert, which has elevated the hot soak to an
Art Nouveau marble and glass art form.
Its huge labyrinth must host thousands per day for swim, steam,
massage, wave pool, sunbathing and massage.
They really know how to enjoy themselves.
We kicked back for a couple hours, then the attendants did the
kicking since it was closing time.
After which we were too lazy to walk, so we took a taxi up
Gellert Hill to the Citadella, overlooking the entire city.
It was originally used by the Turks, but was built up in 1854 by
Austrians to keep an eye on their rebellious “little brothers”.
All in all, we had a wonderful time in Budapest and
wish we had more time to explore the rest of Hungary. After
fitting in everything we could, we unfortunately ran out of time for a
decent dinner and had to settle for McDonalds before boarding our
overnight train to Krakow, Poland.
Day 34, Tues, June 6 – We arrived early
at about 8:00 AM as usual and checked in to Hotel Fortuna, not far from
the historic old town. Unfortunately,
our room was not yet ready so we had to stroll around to find breakfast,
then into the main market square, Rynek Glowny.
The square is supposedly the largest medieval square in Europe
and may well be the most well preserved.
It is bounded on all sides by wonderful architecture and
beautiful churches, and has an old covered market and town hall clock
tower in the center. Due to
its size, it is supposedly home to the second largest population of
pigeons in Europe, a fact that did not escape Naomi’s attention, as
she absolutely adores the sweet little “rats with wings”.
The square, as well as the rest of Old Town is
remarkably well preserved because the Nazis were forced to abandon their
plans for complete destruction by a sudden unexpected Russian advance.
The Nazi invasion of 1939 to effectively start World War II was
just the latest in Poland’s long history of invasions, conquests and
occupation by foreign powers. At
various times, Teutonic Knights, Tatars, Swedes, Russians, Prussians,
Napoleonic troops and Austria have all laid claim to Poland.
There were even three different “partitions” of Poland in one
23-year period in the late 18th century.
One of the heroes of the fight for independence, Tadeusz
Kosciuszko, is known to me as the namesake of numerous localities in my
home state of Indiana, USA, having helped the upstart colonists oust the
British from the continent. The
Polish democratic constitution is the second in the world after the USA.
World War I crippled the occupying powers, providing Poland an
opportunity to free itself, including key victories over Russia.
The subsequent non-aggression treaties with both Germany and
Russia were virtually ignored by a secret agreement between Hitler and
Stalin to partition Poland once again.
As a result, the Polish population suffered both Nazi and Soviet
concentration camps. The eventual Russian “liberation” put Poland
square on the road to the Warsaw Pact and communism until the Solidarity
labor movement led by eventual President Lech Walesa started
revolutionary thoughts churning all over the Eastern Block in the
1980's. The historic
oppression of Poland’s nationalism and religion has not only created a
country of incredible pride for its people and history, but also has
ironically produced the first non-Italian pope in 400 years, John Paul
II (Cardinal Karol Wojtyla).
We start our visit by climbing the clock tower to
get a view of the city. The
Old Town is clearly visible by the jumbled cobblestone streets
surrounded by a grassy ring where the moat outside the city walls used
to be before it was filled in and planted.
Despite its age, Krakow has a young, cosmopolitan feel, mostly
due to the University, the second oldest in Europe, founded in 1364.
The city has apparently been listed by UNESCO as one of the world’s
12 most precious cultural sites and it is one of the eight cities named
“2000 European City of Culture”.
This is noted with pride on numerous posters around the city.
Also, if the history and beauty aren’t intriguing enough, it
also has some great old traditions, legends and superstitions.
For example, a bugle call (hejnat) is played live from the tower
of St. Mary’s church every hour, but it is cut short in mid-note to
honor the player whose throat was punctured by an invading Tatar’s
arrow. Legend has it that
the mismatched towers of the church were due to a competition between
two architect brothers which got so heated that one brother stabbed the
other to death then plunged the knife into his own chest.
We visited St. Mary’s with its incredible stained glass and
carved wooden alter piece, then the other main churches in the old town,
St. Anne’s, the Franciscan and the Dominican.
We also walked around the amazingly well preserved medieval
fortifications at the Barbican.
We had a great, hearty Polish dinner that reminded
me of the meat and potatoes cuisine I grew up on.
Day 35, Wed, June 7 – We had planned to
go to Wawel Castle, the historic home to Polish rulers, but it was
overrun with kids on school trips. We decided to visit museums including
the cloth hall, which houses the notorious “Ecstasy” which was
judged too lurid for public display in 1894 and the Czartoryski Museum,
housing a broad range, including Da Vinci’s unusual
“Madonna with Ermine”. The
most interesting was the guided tour of the Jagiellonian University
Museum, including equipment used by Copernicus that led to his thesis of
planetary motion which was called “heresy” by the church.
In the next century, Galileo would be imprisoned by church
authorities for expanding Copernicus’ theories.
The eclectic collection includes gold scepters, a photo from
Apollo 11 dedicated to Copernicus by Neil Armstrong, the supposed
Alchemy laboratory of “Dr. Faustus”, the Oscar won by director
Andrzej Wajda, and the earliest known globe depicting “the new world”
(although it was somewhere off the coast of Madagascar).
We had lunch near the US Consulate, where huge
crowds awaited the results of their visa applications, bought our next
tickets at the train station, then had a delicious kebab dinner before
exploring Krakow’s legendary underground
pubs, some in 15th century vaulted red brick cellars.
We found one that had a great three-piece Jazz band playing
standards and some original pieces.
We spoke to the trumpet player, Adam, afterward – he has been
to Los Angeles and we share a favorite trumpeter, Chet Baker.
He also agreed to an interview.
He said the most important things in life are his family, having
harmony with others, and sharing his music with people.
He only had two words of advise for anyone listening: “more
12:40 AM – In 9 hours we will be on a bus
to Auschwitz, the scene of the most horrific human behavior in history.
I know what to expect, but I am still very apprehensive.
I have seen all the movies, read the books and heard the stories
of survivors, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for
bearing witness to the worst of what mankind can do to itself.
I visited Dachau on my first trip to Europe in 1987, but I was
too busy being a kid, drinking and carousing, to grasp the full meaning
of what I saw. Now 13 years
(and seemingly many lifetimes) later, I’ve been lucky enough to
experience the incredible goodness of life and I’ve also seen enough
of the bullshit we create to get fed up and try to change some of it.
If our mission is to minimize the wasted energy caused by hatred,
prejudice and violence, then we could not have planned our world tour
without a stop in Auschwitz. And
if our belief in the better side of human nature and human potential is
to last, it must withstand the horrible truth of what the worst side of
human nature is capable of. Our
faith in the inherent goodness of mankind faces its strongest
Day 36, Th, June 8 – It is now many days
since June 8 as I write this; mostly because I haven’t figured out
exactly what to say. The
events that occurred at Auschwitz during the war cannot really be
explained effectively in words and pictures.
Of course civilian deaths have occurred in wars throughout all of
human history, but never
before had a process been designed to systematically eliminate entire
civilian populations of “undesirables”.
Survivors, witnesses and historians have been struggling to
explain it for half a century and still have trouble finding the
language to convey the horrors, the pain, and the evil created there.
All we can do is bear witness in the best way we can and explain
what we learned 50 years after the fact.
You should not read on or download any of the photos if you are
squeamish, but I do believe it is everyone’s responsibility to learn
what happened in the hope that it will never be repeated.
As a quote in the museum reads: “the one who cannot remember
history is bound to live through it again"
The Auschwitz (Oswiecim) museum is located 75 KM
from Krakow. We took an
English-language tour by bus. From the moment of arrival, you are
enveloped in the oppressive sadness of the place that is really
impossible to explain. What
began as a detention center for Polish prisoners and Soviet POWs,
eventually became the stage for the planned implementation of Hitler’s
“final solution” to “the Jewish problem” – i.e. total
annihilation of the race (Hitler: " If you wish the sympathy
of broad masses, then you tell them the crudest and most stupid things
"). Auschwitz was not
so much a “labor” or “concentration camp” as a massive killing
machine, which liquidated up to 1.5 million people. The more appropriate
term used by the museum guides: “Death Camp”.
Over 90% of the victims were Jews from all over the European
territories occupied by Nazi Germany.
Others were captured POWs, political prisoners, gypsies,
criminals, Jehovah’s witnesses and homosexuals.
What strikes one most about the camp is the
absolutely cruel efficiency of the operation, as if they were always
looking for better ways to be evil.
The treatment by the guards and administrators was more like
operating a beef slaughterhouse – the only difference is that the “beef”
at Auschwitz was forced into work and other humiliations before being
killed – at least cows can pretty much do what cows do naturally until
the fateful day. At
Auschwitz, it was not enough to be imprisoned, inmates were also used as
slave labor for the German forces and nearby civilian companies.
It was not enough to carry their own burden, but if another
passed out or died at work, they had to be carried home so as not to
miss the next roll call. It
was not enough to lose all possessions, they also lost families and
identities as their identification numbers were tattooed into their
skin. It was not enough to
lose all sanitation and medical care, they were also subjected to
medical experiments in sterilization, diseases, chemicals and poisons.
It was not enough to simply punish “transgressors”, but more
creative methods were devised such as starvation, suffocation, flogging,
hanging, and standing with three others in a cell 3 feet square for
days. It was much too
inefficient to shoot inmates, so the Nazis devised gas chambers, which
could kill 2000 people in 15 minutes.
It was not enough to see this happen to their friends, but other
inmates had to shave the heads of the corpses, pull their gold teeth
out, and load the incinerators. And even in death, the corpses were used
efficiently – the ashes as fertilizer and the hair was used as
mattress stuffing or made into cloth for German tailors.
The outrageousness of it all would almost be unbelievable if we
had not seen it with our own eyes – like a vision of hell that Dante
could never have imagined.
The organized tour starts through the famous iron
archway that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Brings Freedom) and
continues through the original and rebuilt barracks of the camp.
Each building contains exhibits which explain exactly how the
death machine was organized and operated: First the round-up from
their homes (they were told of relocations to jobs and properties
elsewhere); then the deportation (in sealed standing-room only cattle
cars for up to 7 days); then arrival at the camp and summary selection
(to the left meant you were fit enough for slave labor, to the right
meant immediate death); then to changing rooms (they stripped calmly
because they were told they were getting showers); then to the shower
rooms which oozed poisonous gas instead of water; and finally to
the crematoriums, pyres and mass graves.
The photos, diagrams, models and documents are harrowing, but the
most striking rooms are those filled with the physical evidence of the
atrocities – the eyeglasses, hairbrushes, clothes, shoes, artificial
limbs, cooking utensils, suitcases, tools of trade, and toys.
Warehouses literally overflowed with plundered goods as the
guards could not ship them back to Germany fast enough.
Thirty of the warehouses were burned (and some gas chambers blown
up) by retreating Nazis in a clumsy attempt to hide the activities of
the camp before abandoning it. The
most disgusting room is filled to the ceiling with some of the 7 tons of
hair, which had not yet made it to the cloth factory by the time the
camp was liberated by Russians on January 27, 1945.
The tour continues to the guards’ office, with a
portrait of Hitler on the wall, through the “punishment cells” with
inmates’ scratched-out artwork inside, to the gallows for hanging and
the “death wall” for firing squad killings.
We then saw a 20-minute newsreel documentary filmed by Russians
as they liberated the camp. The
skeletal inmates were in shock and did not even have the strength to
smile. After the film, a
bus takes you 3 KM to Auschwitz-II (Birkenau), a much bigger camp of 300
structures covering 425 acres. This
is where up to 100,000 inmates were held in converted horse stalls.
Exhibits there show the actual living conditions in the bunk
rooms and toilets, as well as the infamous railroad track and selection
platform featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s
List”. The whole scene is
eerie and you leave the town virtually numb.
Naomi and I bought a book, “By Bread Alone” written by a
survivor, Mel Mermelstein ,
who won a court case in 19 81 against
neo-nazis who claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax invented by Jews to
gain worldwide sympathy
So how do I feel after experiencing all of this?
I honestly don’t know. I
feel a lot of things – most of which cannot be expressed adequately.
There is infinite sadness in the ability of mankind to inflict so much
damage on itself; there is some anger at God, fate, destiny, whatever,
for allowing this to happen; I feel admiration and respect for the
abilities of the survivors to conquer all manner of hatred,
discrimination, and degradation; I feel pride in the writers,
historians, and filmmakers who have refused to allow this episode to be
forgotten in the hope that education will contribute to prevention.
I feel hope and I am encouraged in the number of people who
fought this belief system and continue to struggle against genocide
today. At the same time I
am also discouraged by the recent events in Africa, India, Indonesia,
and the former Yugoslavia, as if we have not evolved as a race at all in
the past 50 years – as a matter of fact we may have
devolved because we did not learn from our biggest tragedy.
I cannot imagine how I would feel as a survivor, or as a Jew born
many years later or as a guard, or as a descendent of the Nazis
responsible for the camp operation.
I’m sure a connection so close to it would bring a whole
different set of feelings foreign to me.
All together, the mind is overwhelmed when confronted with
something so utterly illogical and inhuman.
Was it the true human heart acting or the result of mass hysteria
and misguided "herd" mentality? Was
Adolf Hitler an aberration in the long course of human history or is
there another madman waiting for the right combination of economic
depression, fanaticism, insecurity, nationalism and racial fear to
strike a match against? If
this does happen again, will the forces of “good” always win out
over the forces of “evil”? What
would the world be like today if German scientists had not defected to
the US and helped to develop the nuclear bomb for the Allies instead of
75 KM and 500 years from Auschwitz an inscription
was made in the archway leading to the great hall of the Jagiellonian
College in Krakow: “Plvs
Ratio Qvam Vis” – “Reason Above Violence”.
This concept must have been too threatening to the Nazi ideology
as the professors of the University were among the first to be deported
to concentration camps. This
story should be required reading for all the students of all the schools
in all the world. Perhaps
it will sink in some day.
returning to Krakow on the bus we walked around the old Jewish
neighborhood of Kazimierz
south of the river – the same that Oskar Schindler walked 50 years ago
and Spielberg researched for the film of Schindler’s story.
The factory is still there too, as is the villa of Oskar’s “evil
twin” Amon Goethe. There
were also some remnant sections of the wall which separated the ghetto
from the rest of the city. A
memorial plaque on one section was covered with a swastika, which
surprisingly had not been cleaned up.
Day 37, Fri June 9 – After the drain of
yesterday, we received an amazing boost of energy and encouragement from
a group of school kids on a trip through the park.
They had surrounded a troupe of musicians and their teacher led
them in songs and dances. Their
energy and joy was infectious as all the adults walking through the park
stopped to laugh with them. As
they had in other countries, kids have provided the most telling example
of the commonality of all of us. They
may have been singing in Polish, but their laughter truly had no
We had been on our way to the historic heart of
Krakow (and all of Poland), the Wawel Castle complex.
Wawel was the home to Polish royalty for over 500 years and the
Cathedral is the final resting place for most of these rulers.
The castle is a dramatic mixture of various architectural styles,
perfectly situated on a hill overlooking a bend in the Vistula River.
As with other sights, Wawel is full of mysterious wonders, like
the animal bones hanging from the cathedral doors to ward off evil, to
the “Curse of St. Stanislaus” which befell all Polish kings since
the Saint was beheaded by the King in 1079, to the life-giving energy
center (Chakra) in a corner of Wawel purported to be one of the seven
Hindu Earth charkas, to the legend of the cave-dwelling dragon slain by
the original namesake of Krakow, prince Krakus.
After Wawel, we had a walk around the banks of the
Vistula and interviewed a couple of girls:
"Harmony and respect for others, care for the environment.
There is more to life than money"
"Be yourself - that's all"
Back in the old town we discovered that today was a
very special holiday that called for parades of marching bands and
I asked around and got confusing answers, but I think it was the
anniversary of a miracle battle won by an outnumbered Polish force
against the Russians as well as the “marriage of Poland with the Sea”,
commemorating the return of lost territory.
We had some great Kielbasa sausages and baked potatoes from an
open fire barbeque set up in the square as horses and military types
marched by. One of the
bands played “American Pie”. I
hoped they were familiar with the song in the 70's, ages before Madonna
butchered it. As Naomi
checked email at an incredible internet bar in a centuries-old cellar, I
walked around the square talking to strangers:
This girl was a riot. I originally asked her boyfriend, but before
he could speak, she blurted out "Love, of course!"
Her boyfriend was a bit more stoic, his answer "friendship"
"I think the most important thing in life is to help other people
in whatever way you can"
"Beer....and girls" Ah, to be young again. These
military school kids were hilarious. They were in the square
drinking beer and checking out all the young girls and rating the
"Meeting people, communication and understanding"
Him: "The pursuit of happiness. Whatever you do, do your best
and enjoy it." Her: "Understanding"
As we boarded the overnight to Prague, we felt renewed by the events of
the day, but with a vague, lingering uneasiness about the history and
suffering in this part of the world.
To carry on with the rest of our
please click here: Photojournal June 10 - 19
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