Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 31st

This morning we went to the Holocaust Museum of Budapest. I think that this museum was the most powerful one that we went to the entire trip, it presented information in a very straightforward way and focused on the victims of the holocaust. There was also a lot of information about the antisemitic laws passed by the Hungarian government before any killings had begun. Many Jews lived in Hungary and of those that lived in Budapest half were able to survive, however almost all of the Jewish people who lived in rural Hungary were killed. There was also a lot of information about the Roma (Gypsies) and the similar ways in which they were restricted and killed. One of the things that i was very surprised about that I learned today was that there were only killings in Hungary starting in 1944 and that people were only deported to concentration camps for about six weeks until the government ordered that to stop. After that the arrow cross (Hungarian Nazis) took power and started organizing the killings of Jews right in Budapest. At the end of the museum there is a synagogue attached that has been around since before WWII, inside it is a working synagogue but there is also a memorial for some of the victims who were killed in the Holocaust as well as a memorial for the survivors. 
After that we had a quick lunch and then went to the largest synagogue left in Central Europe. It survived the night of broken glass because the Nazis did not control Hungary until 1944 and was able to open for use right after WWII ended. Its a beautiful building and was very similar to a Christian church in many ways. After seeing what is left of the destroyed synagogue in Berlin it was hard to believe that this buildings is pretty much exactly what that one would have looked like. Behind the synagogue there is a memorial garden for those buried in a mass grave found by the soviets after they took Budapest  There is also a memorial that was erected in 2012 for Raoul Wallenberg who was a Swiss man who managed to save many Jews through issuing them Swiss passports. 

Tomorrow morning we leave Budapest to travel back home, its a very bittersweet feeling because I've absolutely loved this trip. Its been an amazing experience to travel and learn about the Holocaust in the countries where it occurred  it has also been a great experience to travel through Europe with such an awesome group of people

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 30th

Today we took the train to Budapest, where we'll be until we leave to go home on Friday. It only took us about 3 hours to get from Vienna to Budapest. After checking into the hotel and getting some lunch we did a walking tour of Budapest and saw some of the major sights of the city as well as a few places that had a lot of history entwined with the Holocaust. We took a trolley up hill to get a better view of the city and saw the castle which was actually destroyed during WWII and then rebuilt. Not too far from the castle is the Presidents house and next to that there is a building that still shows shelling damage that has not been repaired as a monument to WWII. After walking around up on the hill for a while we took the subway under the Danube and walked to a monument on the riverside that was in honor of the Jews that had been shot in the river in late 1944. 

The monument is a line of cast iron shoes where people has been shot with three plaques, one in English, one in Hebrew and one in Hungarian. I think that this monument did a good job of being honest and out in the open, however there is no convenient way of getting to it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

January 29th

Today it was actually pretty warm, it was about 30 degrees outside (instead of being below 20 with an additional wind chill). We took a walking tour throughout Vienna to try and find some of the buildings that had history involved with the Holocaust, however very few of these buildings are even memorialized so unless you know where to look its almost impossible to find them. We first went to an active synagogue which survived the Night of Broken Glass because it was very small and attached to other buildings, so a fire there would have burned down the whole block.

After that we went to the third district where a group of private citizens have been raising money to place small plaques around the city to try and memorialize what happened in Vienna that is connected to the Holocaust. They raise the money on their own and are not funded by the government in any way, these people just want to find out about the history of their home and make sure that others are aware of what happened. The first plaque that we saw was on the sidewalk in front of a building that had been a school for Jewish children during the 30's.

Then we walked around the corner to another site that was memorialized with a plaque, this one was a house where 380 Jewish people were held for a few weeks before being deported to camps. Of these 380 people only 2 survived the camps. This house was also not all that large, its almost impossible for me to imagine what it must have been like for so many people to be locked into that house together with no idea of what was going to happen to them.

We walked a few more blocks until we came to the next plaque which was in front of an apartment building where 29 men, women, and children were taken from their homes and deported. For 29 people to be taken from that building, half of the units in it must have been emptied out in a matter of days.

The next place that we went to was just another few blocks walk from the apartment building. This used to be a small synagogue which was almost completely destroyed by Nazi sympathizers on the Night of Broken Glass. The building is still there, however it is now used by an Artist as a studio.

Its really hard for me to understand why there are no memorials created by the government of Austria to Holocaust. I feel like it is a history that cannot be ignored and the only way to stop some things from happening again is to have some type of education that shows why these actions are wrong and to show the extent of what actually happened instead of trying to cover it up would probably be the first step. I also don't understand why people will live and work in places that are so closely related to the holocaust and to what happened in Vienna. I feel like if people refused to live and work in these places then the government would be forced to take some steps to correct their lack of memorization or education.

The last thing we did today was visit the site of one of the biggest synagogues in Vienna, it was completely destroyed during the Night of Broken Glass but there are pillars and a large plaque showing where it once stood. The site is owned by the Jewish community still and they have some type of office on that lot now.

Monday, January 28, 2013

January 27th & 28th

January 27th
We went to an amazing buffet for brunch this morning and then we went to the Vienna Museum which had the history of the city of Vienna. There was also an exhibition featuring games played throughout the years and there were Nazi propaganda games on display. I knew that propaganda was very widely used and there were even anti-Semitic children's books created by the Nazis but I had never heard of pro-Nazi board games before.

January 28th 

When we went outside this morning it was snowing pretty hard which is exciting because the weather is going to warm up to about 40 degrees by tomorrow, and we probably wont be seeing any more snow this trip. This morning we went to the Vienna Military History Museum. The main reason that we went was to see the World War One exhibit, however we first went through exhibits about the 30 years war, the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman empire and one wing that just had general descriptions of  military maneuvers in the late 1800's leading up to world war one. A lot of the WWI exhibit was closed off however we did get to see the room dedicated to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand which is important to learning about the Holocaust because WWI was a decisive influence on WWII. The car still has bullet holes in it and they have his uniform with the bloodstains as well as some of the other uniforms that he had worn. There was also a WWII section of the museum which is sloppily done, there is very little information given on plaques and the Holocaust is never mentioned. I feel like there are a lot of good intentions involved in creating some type of memorial, however people just don't know how to go  about creating these memorial or even about bringing that history up. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 26th

We went to the judenplatz to see a memorial to the holocaust. I think that the intentions were good, however the execution of the memorial was not well done. It’s a square concrete building that is supposed to look like books are covering it and there are the names of the camps that Jews were deported to engraved into the stone at the base. To me this was not a successful memorial because if you didn't know where to find it and if you didn't really know what it was it would be impossible to tell that it was a memorial to the holocaust and the Jews who lost their lives.
After that we walked over to the Sissi museum at the city palace. It was an interesting museum and I thought that the palace was beautiful and some of the rooms in this one were more homey than some of the other palaces that we have seen. I did think that it was interesting to learn from Dr. Moser that the relationship between Sissi  and her husband was not the happy idealized marriage that the museum made it out to be.
After  that we took a bus to the top of one of the mountains surrounding Vienna to see a view of the city. It was beautiful, you could see the city pretty well and the snow covered vineyards that were all over the small mountain were also very beautiful.

The last thing that we did was go inside St. Stephens Cathedral, on the outside of the building a symbol of rebellion had been carved into the stone during WWII but sadly defiance against the Nazis and rebellion was not widespread throughout Austria. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

January 25th

Today we went to Bratislava, Slovakia which is about a hour away from Vienna by train .  We went to Slovakia because it was a puppet nation controlled by the Nazi's during WWII and their Jewish community was almost completely decimated and during this time Jews made up about 25% of their population.  The first thing that we did was go to a castle that was rebuilt during the communist period, from the castle you can see across the Danube and even some of Austria.
Following that we had lunch at a cafe a short walk from the museum that we were going to afterwards. I had goulash which is similar to a stew with dumplings pork and sauerkraut, I was surprised at how much I liked it because I had never had goulash (or anything like it) before. After lunch we walked to a site where the main synagogue of Bratislava had been, however it is not there anymore because it had been demolished in the 1960's so that a highway could be built. I was surprised at how little consideration there had been when demolishing the synagogue  There is not even a noticeable monument to it, instead there is a relief of the synagogue on the wall that supports the highway and a plaque.
Then we went to the Jewish museum which was very informative and had a lot of information about Jewish culture but it was unsettling because the museum was created not entirely as a memorial to the holocaust but also to educate the people of Bratislava about a group of people and a culture that is very rarely found in their city today.  I was happy to see that steps are being taken to memorialize the loss of Jewish people and their culture but at the same time it done in a very different way than we saw in Berlin.

Because of the extreme cold we decided to go back to Vienna after seeing some of the new part of Bratislava instead of walking across a bridge over the Danube to have dinner in Bratislava.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

January 24th

Today we went to Schonbrunn palace which was one of the summer palaces for the royal family, it was destroyed during the Turkish invasion and then rebuilt by Emperor Leopold. However Empress Maria Theresia expanded the palace and decorated much of what we saw today. Schonbrunn includes the palace, the park surrounding and also the oldest recorded zoo in the world, it is also the largest palace in Austria. I thought that the palace was beautiful, I really enjoyed how the rooms were decorated and the style that they had been built in. I also enjoyed learning about the royal families who lived in Schonbrunn. Tonight we are going to have Turkish food for dinner which I am looking forward to because I don't have much experience with it.