Things I Have Learned In Wroclaw, Poland

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Things I Have Learned In Wroclaw, Poland

We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” – Hilaire Belloc

Wroclaw is a particularly hard city to pronounce. It is pronounced something close to Vroslav.

Wroclaw has had a long a varied history stretching back over a thousand years. For many years Wroclaw was a German city named Breslau. and this influence can be seen in the architecture throughout the city. Wroclaw is now part of Poland, but it has also been part of the Czech Republic and Austria.

Preceding World War II, Breslau (now Wroclaw) had the third largest Jewish population of all German cities.

Because of the many rivers, islands, some 200 or so bridges and the sheer beauty of the city, Wroclaw has a growing reputation as the Venice of the North.


Some could argue, but Wroclaw is allegedly the most beautiful city in Poland.

In Wroclaw, the bar and pubs don’t prepare to kick you out at 11pm; they are just getting going around this time. As a general rule, some places will stay open until the last person leaves.

The market square is another one of those most picturesque squares in Poland.

It was totally rebuilt after World War ll.

Many of the buildings in Wrocław’s picturesque old town are painted with bright colors that reflect the city’s youthful and creative vibe.

Wrocław is one of the leading academic centers of Poland and is home to a number of universities.

Students flock to Wrocław not only because of the excellent standard of education it offers but also because of its vibrant, cultured way of life.

There’s an interesting history behind the gnome settlement in Wrocław.

Back when the city was controlled by the USSR, gnomes slowly began appearing as a sort of subversive calling card of the underground Orange Alternative movement who began to protest against the oppressive conditions with silliness and fun.

The police while covering up anti-regime slogans looked the other way about the gnomes.

The gnomes have become a symbol of freedom in Wrocław ever since.

Gnome hunting makes for a fun, unique afternoon.

They are hidden all over the city. See how many you can spot!

Today there are over 250 dwarves hiding in plain sight around Wroclaw, serving as a fun tourist sight and sometimes even a surprise for locals.

Tourist maps and GPS coordinates are available at tourist shops for those who want to go dwarf hunting.

It sounded like a stupid thing to do but when I got there, I was in.

The gnomes are cool.

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 I Have Learned In Okinawa And Hiroshima

“If I had known they were going to do this, I would have become a shoemaker.”

Albert Einstein

Things I Have Learned in Okinawa and Hiroshima

Driving on the Okinawa Expressway in the rain is like driving anywhere else in the rain.

Japanese Navigation

Touring Shuri-jo Palace in Okinawa one must follow the signs that say “usual route.”  What is the unusual route?

One of the hardest things to see was the Himeyuri Peace Museum in Okinawa.In the face of the American invasion, the Japanese forces stepped up the nurse training in the local high schools. Three hundred and two high school  students (mostly girls) and twenty one teachers were deployed to the front. They were told they would be working in hospitals but ended up in hospital caves with very bad conditions. There was no legal basis in Japan to use young girls for military purposes. On June 18th 1945 the Japanese forced the young girls out of the caves to fend for themselves against the American attack.  On June 23 the Japanese resistance ended. In those five days, 219 of them were killed. The museum is a model of one of the high schools that the girl’s came from. High school students from all over Japan come to pay their respects.

I was the only foreigner in the museum with alot of high school kids from Japan. I was looking at the photos  of the girls and was standing next to an old woman. She started to talk to me but I didnt understand so I found someone to translate. (not so easy to do in this museum).  We were standing in front of a picture of her daughter.  Two strangers became two mothers  looking at the ultimate tragedy.

Busena Terrace in Okinawa is the Grand Wailea/ any resort in Hawaii. Naha looks like Lahaina  . You can always find the American servicemen and their families at the Mcdonalds.

The Japanese and the Koreans were just as bad to the Okinawans as the Americans in WW2.

Okinawa Aquarium contains the largest fish tank in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

The Okinawa  Peace Museum is a memorial dedicated to the 200,000 people who died in the Battle of Okinawa. It is located in the south part of the island where the heavy fighting took place.  Over 100,000 were civilians and 12,500 were Americans. The civilians died from shellings, suicides, starvation, malaria and retreating Japanese troops. It was the largest campaign in the Pacific.  The lesson of the memorial is  the “Okinawan Heart”  that rejects any act of war, mourns for those who died in the war, passes on the stories of their struggle to future generations  and remind us of our humanity.

Other monuments in the park include the “Cornerstone of Peace”, a collection of large stone plates with the names of all fallen soldiers and civilians, including Koreans, Taiwanese, Americans and British.

After WWll , Okinawa was under United States administration for twenty seven years. They established numerous military bases on the Ryuku Islands.  In 1972, the islands were returned to  Japan but the US has maintained a large military presence. There are about 50,000 Americans  in Okinawa (including family members). There is protest from the Japanese and the Okinawans about the large American military presence there. They are trying to resolve it with a modified plan.

“As the bomb fell over Hiroshima and exploded, we saw an entire city disappear.  I wrote in my log the words”My God what have we done? ”The death was up to about 150,000 There were 76,000 buildings in the city at the time and only 8%  of them remained intact after the bomb explosion. The bomb affected an area of around 13 square kilometers and turned that into ruins.”

The closest surviving building to the location of the bomb’s detonation  in Hiroshima was designated the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

After the bombing, Hiroshima began to receive donations of streetcars from all over Japan. (After World War II, Japanese cities – like British ones – wanted to get rid of their streetcar systems due to damage to the infrastructure)  Hiroshima  rebuilt its streetcar system along with the rest of the city.   Hiroshima is now  the only city in Japan with an extensive streetcar system (although other cities have streetcar lines). Some streetcars that survived the war – and the nuclear attack – were put back into service, and four of these are still running today.

Hiroshima has now became a center of the movement for world peace and reduction of nuclear bombs, which is commemorated at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. The city government continues to advocate for the abolition of nuclear weapons . They write a letter of protest every time a nuclear weapon has been detonated anywhere in the world. In 1949, Hiroshima was proclaimed a City of Peace by the Japanese parliament.

The Thousand Origami Cranes was popularized through the story of Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was two years old when she was exposed to radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during World War ll. Sasaki soon developed leukemia and, at age 12, inspired by the Senbazuru legend, began making origami cranes with the goal of making one thousand.  One popular  story is she died before and her classmates finished  them. The Hiroshima Museum says she completed them and kept making more  when she didn’t heal.  One thousand origami cranes is said to bring a thousand years of health , happiness and prosperity. The cranes are left exposed to the elements, slowly dissolving and becoming tattered as the wish is released.

People leave them in her honor  and for all the people who died from the bombing at the Eternal flame in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

My father was stationed in Okinawa during World War Two.  He never talked about it.  There were some black and white photographs  of him in a uniform, skiing in Hokkaido, and the  old Japanese life in the cities..  The first words I ever learned to say in a foreign language  was not the Yiddish that my grandparents spoke but I Am An American Soldier in Japanese. Watashi wa Amerika hei desu. I guess I just wanted to see what happened for myself.

Sayonara, Fly Safe

JAZ