Oh, Holocaust Trip

The Holocaust trip began and ended in Prague, with a one-week stop in Prague in the middle of the trip as well. It became our home base, and we frequented a university there, listening to lectures in Czech and utilizing the computer lab and other facilities. Nicole and I flew in a few days early to explore the city on our own, and met up with Greg, another student who flew in early. We went to the Praha Zoo, lounged around Stromovka Park, drank some great Czech beers, and before we knew it, classes had started.

Frolicking in Stromovka Park in Prague

This program was interdisciplinary, so we didn’t solely focus on the historical aspect of the Holocaust. We studied human rights, criminology, international affairs, psychology, etc. In Prague we toured the old Jewish quarters, which is now overflowing with kosher restaurants, temples, and museums. I could have spent all day exploring the Prague castle and surrounding neighborhood.

Beautiful Prague Castle

Our first stop after Prague was Salzburg, Austria. It is the quaint, beautiful city where the Sound of Music was filmed (see following picture: me standing in the Do-Re-Mi tunnel). It was not a city I wanted to stay in longer than a night or two. The purpose of stopping here for our trip was to visit Mauthausen. Mauthausen was a concentration camp that had the lowest survival rate due to the rock quarry the prisoners were forced to work in. We also visited a ghetto/camp called Terezin around this time. Terezin was a “model camp” and Hitler made sure that when the Red Cross visited to check on the living conditions of the residents, everyone was well-fed and in good shape when they came. Most of the residents were shipped to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Treblinka eventually.

Do-Re-Mi Tunnel from the Sound of Music (Salzburg, Austria)

From Salzburg it was off to my favorite city in the world, Munich! It was just as perfect as I remembered and we immediately headed for the English Gardens. We made friends with some Nigerian bongo drummers who let us jam out with them on a lovely afternoon day in the park. We went to Ludwig’s winter palace that actually reminded me of Versailles. I remember a student saying life must have been so beautiful back then; our professors reminded us that only a fraction of the population lived in this palace. The majority of Europeans were still barbaric when the great palaces were built.

Ludwig's Winter Palace in Munich

I didn’t know what to expect from a lot of the cities we visited, the next two cities certainly fit this bill. Nuremberg turned out to be the most dynamic, quirky city imaginable. The old town is built within fortress walls, and it is literally spilling over with history. The Nuremberg rallies, and subsequent Nuremberg Trials, have clearly left their mark on the city. It was really breathtaking to stand on the podium in Zeppelin Field and watch children steer their remote controlled cars around the field where the entire Nazi party once marched for Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.” One excursion I will never forget in Nuremberg was the medieval prison/torture chamber underneath the main square and art museum. It was also in Nuremberg that we got to interview Jewish community elders, two men who had survived World War II, and now had an extreme distaste for Turkish people.

Zeppelin Field, Nuremberg, Germany

After Nuremberg we visited Cesky Krumlov. This baroque village was a starting point for our day’s hike through the Sudetenland. Remember the movie “Everyting is Illuminated,” and the town of Trachimbrod that Elijah Wood was looking for? Our hike was similar to this; we walked through the Czech countryside searching for remnants of villages that either the Nazis or Soviets destroyed. This would later become the buffer zone of the iron curtain. Cesky Krumlov was an eerie little town that was clearly still adapting to the idea of Western visitors stopping through to see the amazing castle and theatre in its downtown area.

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

This marks the halfway point of our trip. We returned to Prague for a week so that we could regroup, start developing our research papers, and work on our “intellectual journals.” Our teachers facilitated a luncheon with the mayor of Prague and we got to interview him. I could barely wrap my brain around the information we had already been exposed to, and we still had three more weeks to go.

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