Ten Things That I Want To Do In Poland

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Ten Thing That I Want To Do  In Poland

“It was a small room with dim light coming in the window, reminiscent of old Polish films.” Haruki Murakami

Choosing to visit Poland. is not an easy decision for me. There are many places in Poland where horrific events took place during World War Two. I’m trying to combine those with seeing what the country is like now. I want to have an open mind but racism seems to be under new management again in Poland.

Since I love street art, I will be taking a Krakow Street Art Tour. I haven’t done one in Eastern Europe before so it will be interesting to see if it has an activist, protest quality. Poster Art has been a tradition in Poland so it was probably be a natural transition to street art.

Krakow is one of the most fascinating medieval cities in Europe and one of the few that escaped destruction in World War II. Today it’s famed for its soaring Gothic church spires and cobblestone streets, while its Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site, it is also known for having one of the liveliest after dark scenes on the continent.

The story of Oskar Schindler and his employees is one which has been well-known. It was made famous by Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (which was shot almost entirely in Kraków). The factory has been turned into a museum about his story and the occupation of Poland.

A visit to Auschwitz is a test in humanity that not everybody is prepared to take, One can hardly call it a tourist attraction. The three million victims of the largest of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps don’t need high attendance records. What they need is a moment of reflection on what happened and what should be done so that this tragedy never happens again.

You wouldn’t imagine that a museum dedicated to people digging for salt would become a popular tourist draw, but that’s exactly what Wieliczka Salt Mine is. It is an easy day trip from Krakow. The mine was in operation from the thirteenth century till 2007 .Now it sees over a million visitors a year, who take the tiny elevator down into the depths and explore the “buildings” inside, which include chapels, statues, and even a whole cathedral carved out from the rock.

There are various ways to explore the music of Frédéric Chopin, Poland’s famous composer. While walking through the city there are many black benches with buttons on them. Simply press the buttons at any time and they play the music of Chopin. Chopin concerts are held regularly in venues throughout Warsaw, To understand all about the man himself and see his last piano, head to the Chopin Museum.

Before World War ll, Warsaw had the largest Jewish community in Europe.The WarsawGhetto was the largest ghetto set up by the Nazi’s during the war. Over seventy years ago, the area of Jewish residents (which numbered up to one million) was sealed off from the rest of the city. It was enclosed by a wall that was over 10 feet high, topped with barbed wire, and closely guarded to prevent movement between the ghetto and the rest of Warsaw. Life deteriorated quickly.  The world already knows the terrible history of the Jews in the ghetto. There are memorials and museums dedicated to remembering the victims. The Warsaw Ghetto was the location of the Warsaw Uprising where the Jews fought back from Mila 18 street.

Warsaw’s central Old Town neighborhood is one of the city’s most popular areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historic district, which was rebuilt after bombings from World War II destroyed most of it, is filled with restaurants, art galleries, shops and cafes housed in structures designed to replicate the region’s former fourteenth to eighteenth century buildings.

The market square in Wroclaw is one of the largest in Europe with two town halls. Piwnica Swidnicka located on the square is the oldest restaurant in Europe. It is always crowded and fun.

Łódź’s Museum Of Modern Art (Muzeum Sztuki) is one of the oldest museums of Modern Art (ha) in the world and holds the largest collection of world art from the 20th and 21st centuries in Poland.

Recently, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki caused an uproar when he said that there were “Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust, along with Polish and Russian ones. Is it how everyone feels or is it like Trump saying ”There are are good people on both sides which means some good Nazis?”

I believe travel is one of the ways we can educate humanity about our similarities. It is how I learn that I am not so different from you. Since I have this opportunity to be there, it is my responsibility to see what is going on for myself and figure out the truth. I have to challenge my assumptions and not judge the people I meet based on history and the media.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Nine Things That I Will Take To Auschwitz

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Nine Things That I Will Take To Auschwitz

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.” Primo Levi

I have studied about World War II in school, read a lot, saw the movies, documentaries and visited other concentration camps. I’ve obsessed over the Holocaust since I read Anne Frank when I was nine years old. I don’t really know how to  prepare for my trip to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Since opening to the public in 1947, it has become a world-known symbol of the atrocities that took place during WWII. Here is my list of things that I will take with me.

1.Courage. How will I stand in front of the gas chambers that killed one million people? Can I be brave and afraid at the same time?

2. Anti anxiety medication or at least some lavender oil. It will be hard to be in a place of so much darkness.

3. Mental toughness. How many stories of pain can I tolerate? How will I see and hear about the intolerable and insufferable acts  when I am actually there?

4.Camera and Notebook. I’m not sure if I will use them or if I will instead really be present and be an observer of what has happened.

5.Sadness. I know i will feel some deep, horrible sadness.

6.Memories of the people I knew who had those numbers on their arms; of the strangers that I saw with them and the people who died that I never knew but heard their stories. Memories outlast mortality.

7.Reason. It’s not possible to apply normal logic when trying to understand the Holocaust. How will I comprehend anything when I am actually there? In his will, Hitler blamed  WWII — including the Holocaust — on the Jews. On the people he was systematically exterminating. No, there is no logic there; no sense to be made of it. There was only madness and the people who followed it.

8.Anger at the current wave of antisemitism in Poland in response to the new Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, This law makes it illegal to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.The law also bans the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” in relation to Auschwitz and other camps in Nazi-occupied Poland and carries a three-year prison sentence.

9. Faith that monsters do not last forever and eventually truth and hope prevails.

Fly safe,
JAZ

Things That I Have Learned In Eastern Europe (or the former Soviet Union)

Things That I Have Learned In Eastern Europe (or the former Soviet Union)

“The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” Vaclav Havel

I  have traveled around Eastern Europe a few times before I was a blogger or ‘photographer’. This was not one trip.  It was  earlier in the tourism stage of these countries and I’m sure things are a lot different now.   This is what I remember.

There is something not warm and fuzzy about being in countries of the former Soviet Union.  Especially countries that sent so many innocent people to concentration camps before that. The vestiges of communism are still there. The first thing you notice in  Budapest and Prague is that people don’t smile. (a train in Budapest)

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“If you need directions, ask young.” Most of the older generation do not speak any English. The young are trying to be modern.  But they have missed the sixties, seventies and eighties. The music went from folksongs and communist anthems  to rock and roll. The results are sometimes odd. Same with the clothes.

Shopping streets were emerging like Vaci street in Budapest with chain clothing stores  where once there was State Grocery no.19.  Things cost more and consumerism has definitely hit these countries. Keeping up with their neighbors is harder these days. There is still a lot of black market profiteering. But slowly a middle class is appearing.  (tagging in Budapest)

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After the fall of Communism,  Eastern Europe was faced with the problem of what to do with all those  Lenin, Marx and Engels statues. Several of the finest minds of the time got together in St Petersburg in 1991 to thrash out the quandary and it was decided that every city would display them in their very own tacky sculpture park. There is Fallen Monument Park in Moscow, Memento Park in Budapest and Grutas Park (known as Stalin’s World) 130km south of Vilnius. There are Museums of Terror in many of these eastern European cities showing their treatment in the time of the Soviets.  (Statue Park in Budapest )

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Lithuania was my first Baltic Country..  During the Holocaust around 95 per cent of the Lithuanian Jews were murdered, the highest percentage in Europe, many by local collaborator-killers. There is a Genocide Museum in Vilnius  in the old KGB headquarters. It was occupied by the Gestapo during World War Two for the deportations and later the Lithuanians suffered there under Stalin. In Eastern Europe I found the Lithuanians the most friendly and most open to talk about stuff. I wasn’t prepared for that. It is hard to understand. ( a street in Vilnius Lithuania)

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Trakai castle surrounded by Lake Galve is about an hour out of Vilnius.  All the brides come on the weekends to take photos. There were many because if you don’t get married on a Saturday, the neighbors start counting the months.

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Palanga is the busiest summer resort in Lithuania and the traffic on a Sunday proved that point.

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Riga, Latvia has the largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. This is designed by Max Eisenstein (father of filmmaker Sergei.)

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Rumbala,  which is 10 kilometers  outside of  Riga, is where 25,000 Jews were murdered during WW2. Rumbala and Babi Yar (in Kiev, Ukraine) were the two biggest  massacre killings in Eastern Europe until the death camps. This was the only Jewish  Holocaust memorial in the original Soviet Union.

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Parnu, Estonia is an elegant beach town with depressing Soviet architecture.

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Estonia is between Latvia and a ferry ride to Finland. ( 43 miles away, yes I was there)  The influence of their Nordic neighbors is very noticeable, in the spelling, the food, and the design.  Talinn, the capital of Estonia is a blend of a historical Baltic city and cool Nordic  food and fashion trends. The former KGB headquarters are now the Hotel Viru. I did major shopping and eating here. The Wall Of Sweaters is fun for everything wool and located on the old city wall by the Viru Gate. The leather stores from Italy have  better prices here. (Talinn, Estonia, cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, sweater wall)

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Prague is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I have been there twice. It  is called the Paris of the East.  There is culture, history, five-star restaurants and hotels. The Charles Bridge connects the old town with  the Mala Strana and is one of the most iconic structures in Prague. (Art Museum and Charles Bridge)

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The Jewish Quarter dates back to the thirteenth century. The Old New Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Europe in Gothic thirteenth century style.  It is in use today. The Old Jewish Cemetery was established in the first half of the 15th century.  it is one of the most important historic sites in Prague´s Jewish Town. The oldest tombstone, which marks the grave of the poet and scholar Avigdor Karo, dates from the year 1439. Burials took place in the cemetery until 1787. Today it contains some 12,000 tombstones, al though the number of persons buried here is much greater. It is assumed that the cemetery contains several burial layers placed on top of each other. (Prague Cemetery)

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Leadership in these countries has not been great. Decades of totalitarian rule damaged the way people in power think and behave; and the harm has not been repaired.

The mindset of the younger generation is everything  anti Communist or anti the time of the Soviets as they say. Under Communist rule, the State was responsible for everything – even for little things. Today people must make decisions and take responsibility for them – not an easy task for those who have been raised to follow, not to lead.

Fly safe,

JAZ