Back in 1987, before the fall of Communism, I went to Czechoslovakia. It was awful, something I would have realized then if I hadn’t been so hopelessly naive about the horrors of Communism. Everything was shabby and dirty. The food was vile. The lodging was so primitive we stayed in one room with a dirt floor. The people were incredibly hostile. The trains ran on time, but that was scant consolation for three days of the worst traveling I’d ever had. All the while, my mother, with whom I traveled, kept saying that her father, who traveled to Czechoslovakia in the late 20s and early 30s, always referred to it as the Crown Jewel of Eastern Europe. She was even more disappointed than I, because her expectations had been so high. If only we had waited a few years to go….
Fast forward 20 years, have more than a decade free of Communist control, and you get the really lovely Czechoslovakia that Gail (who blogs at Crossing the Rubicon) visited. Gail’s photos are especially beautiful because she combines the area’s natural beauty with her own artistic eye.
Anyway, here is what you’ll see if you visit Gail:
The oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe. Because Prague capitulated so quickly, the Nazis elected to preserve the Jewish quarter, not out of respect, of course, but as a museum to who the lives of the Jewish vermin the Nazis so confidently expected to destroy completely. What’s amazing about the cemetery — and what even Gail’s fine pictures can’t convey — is how packed it was. Since the Jews were confined for centuries to a minute area of land, they crowded the dead to make more room for the living. Colma this isn’t.
Medieval Prague. Gail’s pictures highlight how beautiful it is. I’m sure it was beautiful in 1987, too, because, just as the Nazis wanted the Jewish quarter as a sort of museum, so too did the Communists want all of Prague, unspoiled by WWII bombs, to be a sort of museum. The atmosphere back then was just so grim, though, that it was hard to enjoy.
Theresienstadt, the starting point for so many deaths. This, of course,was the Nazis’ “model” concentration camp, the one where they took credulous Red Cross representatives to prove how “well” they treated the Jews. They liked to boast about the prison orchestra. They didn’t boast about the fact that, without exception, the inmates where shipped to the death camps, where they were almost all murdered.
Beautiful pictures of Budapest, a place I haven’t yet been. Frankly, I hadn’t realized so much survived the war. In the 1980s, when Mom and I were planning our trip, because we’re old building fanatics, we chose Prague over Budapest, because we’d heard that the latter had mostly been leveled. We regretted this later because, in contrast to how grim Communist Prague was, we heard that Budapest was a very enjoyable place to visit. If Gail’s pictures are any indication, it’s beautiful too.
And one post which jumbles together lovely pictures of both Prague and Budapest, including a Holocaust memorial wall that most certainly did not exist 20 years ago.
It might be time for me to start thinking about traveling again….