First, I’d like to start off with an apology. I had written my last blog post in a journal that I carried with me and then typed it up and posted it while I was on my plane ride home. Unfortunately, the blog post never made it. I was unaware of that until very recently and so I will try to post it again now.
I was able to visit a town called Lidice that rests just outside of Prague. Before I tell you about what it was like, I must first tell you its story. The short version is that after the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, Hitler was incensed and demanded retaliation. Due to a suspicious note that was found in the aftermath containing the name Lidice, the revenge would be taken out on that town. Soon afterwards German troops invaded the small town and rounded up all of the villagers. They were separated into two groups: men and boys over the age of 15 and women with all remaining children. All 173 men were lined up against a wall ten at a time and shot. The 19 men that had been gone at work the day the town had been invaded were gathered later and also shot. The women, who numbered 198, were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. There were 98 children and of those a handpicked number was selected for “Germanisation.” The majority and rest of the children were gassed. Moreover, the village of Lidice was utterly and completely destroyed. Even after being burned to the ground, it was bombed. Hitler’s goal had been to literally clear Lidice off of the map and annihilate it. This was one of Hitler’s acts of revenge and example to all others of what he was capable of; decimating an entire town.
Hitler’s plan backfired. After what was done to the village of Lidice and its people there was an outrage. Instead of the town’s existence being forgotten, it became more well known that anyone could have anticipated. People even began to name their daughters after the village. A film was made within the last year depicting a framework for this event. I was fortunate enough to have viewed the film and I can report that it is quite moving. I highly recommend it.
This past weekend my classmates and I went to Auschwitz. We boarded a train on Thursday and 11 hours later we were in Poland. It felt like the hours that I’d spent reading on various topics concerning the Holocaust this past month was all leading up to this point. As if to say that I would soon be reaching the climax in the story that was my time in Prague. I was nervous and anxious about what awaited me there.
Our first day we went to the Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland. It was amazing (please excuse my use of an overly common word). The way the museum was set-up is optimal for educational purposes. It takes you through the years of 1939-1945 (the start and end of the Nazi invasion). It’s a little hard to explain the actual set-up of the place but I’ll try. It is a multi-level building that forces visitors to go a certain way to get to the end. Along the way are four cards that you can stamp as sort of signatures of where you’re at in the war.
The entire museum is interactive. You can watch videos of testimonies from those who were there and the maps are touch-screen and you can read about what was happening at different locations. Moreover, even the walls and floors are designed to mimic how the people felt at specific times. For example, the second to last room you enter is a dark tunnel that has a huge picture of Stalin to signify the start of the communist regime and the floor consists of uneven and bumpy mats. The message is that even after the war no one could find solid ground to walk on.
The entire experience was impacting and well orchestrated. I would highly recommend it to anyone who might find themselves in Poland. I very much hope to find myself there again.
Today I had the privilege of sitting at the same table while listening to a man named Dr. Rick Pinard. He works for RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty. What this radio station does is send independent information to countries all over the world whose government has taken control of the news and media. Their tagline is “free media in unfree societies.” He talked about what they did in the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) when the Nazis’ had infiltrated all news stations. Dr. Pinard shared with us how slow and calculated their infiltration was in taking over the country.
He is also an expert in the Holocaust in general but specifically in the Czech Republic. He told us that the very building in which he was speaking to us in had housed three Jews who were taken to death camps. None of them survived. It was an odd feeling to know that the place in which I was sitting was home to three human beings who were forced to leave and taken to their deaths. Dr. Pinard also went on to point out all of the different buildings surrounding us in Prague that were filled with history directly linked to terrible and sometimes courageous stories from that time in history. It was then that I truly realized how fortunate I was to be here in Prague. I am learning about the Holocaust while walking the same streets and touching the same buildings that Nazis and Jews walked along and touched. Wow.
I had my first “real” day in Prague. This simply means that I got to go out and about. Many pictures were taken on my venture but before I post those and write of my jovial time on the streets of Prague, I feel I must also talk about what I read today. The book I want to talk about is called “The Holocaust: A Concise History” and it was written by Bergen. I do not wish to share the more well known facts or instances of the Holocaust but rather those pieces that surprised me or made me stop and really think.
It is so easy to overgeneralize the motives or mindsets of the German people during that time. I feel there are two common views of the German population: those who readily accepted information that Germans were acting on the defensive and ignorant about what atrocities were happening or those who were antisemitic and were fine with whatever means to purge of the Jews. In my reading though, I read of a man named Adolf Eichmann. He was key in transporting Jews to what was called the General Government and several concentration camps from around 1938-1944. In short, he was crucial in years of forced emigration. What caught my interest about this man was not what he did but his reasons for doing so. Once he went on trial in Israel for his crimes he adamantly stated that he was not an antisemitic. His reason for doing so was ambition to further his career and gain positive attention from Hitler. Moreover, Eichmann had NO formal authorization for his actions.
There was a line in the book that really got me thinking and the first part read, “We tend to assume that shared hardships draw people together.” Yes, that’s what I thought. I’ve frequently assumed that when a common enemy is shared that the better of humanity would come together despite previously felt ill feelings all for the sake of each others’ lives being made easier. However, the second part of that line read, “Often, however, quite the opposite occurs.” The page then goes on to detail the wedge that was furthered between the Polish Jews and Polish Christians. There is more evidence to support these ill feelings being less racial/religious and primarily based on economics. Life lost its inherent value. In one town in Poland an issue went out stating that 2.2 pounds of salt would be given to those who brought in the head of a Jew. Sometimes the offer would be bags of sugar or simply the right to whatever possessions the Jew had on them.
I leave this post with thoughts of sadness towards humanity. Life is something so precious and sacred. Reading these things makes me think of how many people would actually have the courage that I’m sure most of us would like to think we would have. More importantly, however, I am thankful and praise those who did have tremendous courage during that time.
Well I have arrived in Prague finally. I had a 9 and 1/2 hour plane ride from Phoenix to London which was a pretty nice flight! I had the window seat and sat next to a very nice, older Asian couple. I did not get up once while on that flight though, so when it came time to get off my stiff joints forced me to take my time. The London airport was a surprisingly smooth transition to my gate. I may or may not have spoken in a British accent for the 2 hours that I was there.
The plane ride from London to Prague was about 2 hours. I am extremely thankful for it being a short flight because the two kids sitting behind me were annoying. The only plus side was that they spoke in a different language which made it take longer for it to become really bothersome.
When I got off the flight everything seemed to go by quickly! I walked to baggage claim (which for me is half running because I hate walking slow) found the right belt that would be spitting out my bag and the second I got there my bag popped out and I heaved it onto the floor. After that I went to the ATM and got some money (a lot easier than I thought it would be). While I was at the baggage claim area there was a man dressed as a french maid, blonde wig included. I assume this was some sort of traveling bachelor party as he was surrounded by at least 7 other guys.
I then spotted some fellow study abroad students and the six of us split the cost of a cab. The drive was actually not that crazy. However, I was still feeling the effects of my motion sickness medication so that could be why it didn’t seem so bad. It was a 30 minute cab ride and for the majority of it I was unimpressed with the surroundings. There was just a lot of old buildings with graffiti on them and faded out colors. But then we came upon all the buildings that I had seen in the pictures. It is incredible to look at! The first amazing thing I saw was of the picture I posted on my first entry. It is beautiful here!