I could have been born a squirrel in a tree in India in the year 1284….fate? luck? Divine Intervention? God’s will? Or I could have been born in Hungary or Poland in 1924 and suffered through some terrible years.
In all probability someone born during the Age Of Enlightenment may have felt the same as we do today. How lucky to be born in a time of such advancement during which modern technology, as it was, made life so much easier than in past generations. The same could be said of people and societies throughout the time man has occupied earth. And although we think we’re living in the greatest technological age, a hundred or two hundred or a thousand years from now people will look back and wonder how we were able to get by with such primitive technology. But what of those born in a time when none of these advances mattered, where geography and politics were not so kind, where surviving from one day to the next is your full time job?
These thoughts were on our minds as we toured Auschwitz and Birkenau, the notorious Nazi concentration death camps outside of Krakow where a million people were murdered. These thoughts crossed our minds as we toured the Warsaw Uprising Museum which displays in graphic detail the total destruction of that city. And it crossed our minds as we toured the purposefully claustrophobic galleries at Budapest’s Terror Museum, which graphically illustrates the deplorable living conditions, death and destruction its occupiers imposed on Hungarians, Hungarians who complain to this day that their government continues to deny their alliance with Germany in WWII, while that’s exactly what they did, to the detriment of its citizens. How lucky we are to have been born in a country that has never been occupied by a more powerful neighbor nor attacked by hostile forces, that only wages war far from our shores, that allows us freedom to do as we please? Do we consider this as we impatiently wait in traffic, angry that we may be late getting to Starbucks?
The history Margaret and I learned while traveling through Eastern Europe was definitely enlightening. While we thoroughly enjoyed the culture and scenery, we were also profoundly moved by the tenacity of the locals we met. For most, even though they personally didn’t live through the worst of times such as WWI and WWII or the holocaust, it was only a handful of years ago that Poland and Hungary were under Soviet rule, recent enough to have a clear memory of it. It surprised us to learn of a recent phenomenon; young Poles learning from parents and grandparents that, although raised in the Christian faith, they are actually Jewish. People denounced their religion in order to stay alive and are just now learning the truth, many returning to their original faith.
But life goes on and we can only wish that we learn from history, and as humans not to commit the same mistakes. Does it look like that today? A resounding NO, but one can only hope that one day we will. In the mean time Margaret and I will keep traveling, learning and experiencing cultures other than our own, and continue to be thankful we were born in a time and place where daily survival is not a full time job.
I promise my next post won’t be so ‘heavy’. Food and drink is always front and center when we travel (I gained five pounds on this trip) and Eastern Europe didn’t fail to deliver! More on that soon….
To learn more about the experience of visiting a Nazi concentration camp click HERE for an excellent post by a good friend and journalist who visited a few years ago.