Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
Friday, April 20, 2018--day 10
Goodbye, Poland! And hello Prague. We start our day off early this morning, with a wake up call at 5:30. By 6:45, all of us are on the bus, saying our final goodbyes to our lovely bus driver Alec. Everything at the airport goes by smoothly and efficiently, and before we know it, we are on our (mini) plane heading towards Prague (or as the hip people call it, Praha).
Everybody passes out on the plane; I wake up maybe half way through and take a look around me, only to find rows and rows of my fellow students fast asleep. That’s the ultimate trick to surviving this trip: Sleep when you can. And we do.
After we land (and after we all wake up), we meet our new bus driver, whose name I already forgot. Now I believe fully that you can learn a lot about a place by looking out the window. That seemed to be the mindset of many, as we put our phones down to see what was outside, curious as to how Prague would rank compared to Berlin and other places we’ve visited. Maybe 15 minutes after Mrs. Freeman warns us of the constantly drunk men and pickpockets on the streets of Prague, a man outside makes direct eye contact with me, points at our bus, and pulls down his pants, smacking his buttcheecks. Welcome to Prague. Haha.
But really, we’ve all grown to love it here. Or many have, for the most part. The first place we visit is the Pinkas Memorial Synagogue, a place that reminded me of one of the exhibits at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum. On the entire bottom floor, and extending above, were the names of Jewish Czechs who fell victim to the Nazis. These names were written on the walls, with the family name written in a stark red, and all other information written in black. Like the Auschwitz exhibit, where a giant book of roughly 4 million Holocaust victims stood, I was once again able to find my last name on the wall of this Synagogue. Incredibly eerie. My family’s relationship with the Holocaust is something I want to research more; it’s something I know very little about. Yet at Auschwitz, the name “Hofmann,” took up almost three whole pages.
Anyway, on the top floor of this synagogue were children’s drawings. Most came from Terezin, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. We’ve seen some of these pictures before, as replicas were displayed in Washington, but there were many drawings on this upper floor, and I could have spent hours studying each one. As we’ve already discussed in Facing, children’s drawings hold such an incredible importance, as children are able to depict things in a way that is unfiltered, unedited, neutral, and yet fully aware. Each drawing is different, some happy, some sad, and some completely normal, like they could be the drawing of any other kid. But to see an SS guard drawn from the perspective of a 10 year-old...that’s a perspective worth holding onto. It’s worth studying.
People were blasting through that part of the synagogue though, mainly non-Facing students, so unfortunately I felt rushed looking at each drawing. I hadn’t finished, but, regardless, we had to keep moving.
Our next destination was the Old Jewish Cemetery, similar, but different nonetheless from the cemetery we visited in Kraków, Poland. First of all, while Poland is today incredibly Catholic and religious, religion isn’t widely practiced in Prague—mostly everyone is atheist. Knowing this made me think of the Prague cemetery a little differently, more of as a place of remembrance than as a place of heavy religion and worship. Both cemeteries had been significantly damaged by the Nazis, though, so they both share that element of destruction and their ability to withstand it. What I found especially interesting was the difference in the cemeteries’ surrounding walls. The outer wall in the Polish cemetery was formed using the tombstones that the Nazis had trampled and nearly destroyed. That didn’t exist in Prague, and I wonder why. Nonetheless, both cemeteries are extremely beautiful places, and ones that demonstrate the human power of resilience and defiance.
I’m getting sleepy so I am going to wrap this up, even though there is much more to say. Maybe I’ll continue it tomorrow. Overall though, the rest of the day was really special. As this trip is one with very emotionally triggering experiences, days like these are immensely valuable. We spent time enjoying each other’s company, growing closer, and preparing ourselves for the more difficult days. I will never forget lying in the grass next to some body of water, simply realizing how beautiful it is to be alive.
Carmen Calderon O'Hara
Thanks Ben for a lovely description of your experiences. What a way to be welcomed in Prague. I'm sure you handled it with your usual grace. I can only imagine how the idea of resilience and defiance must be present all around you during this journey. Your last sentence truly captures what I thought every time I read the blog- how lucky we are to be alive and free!
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