In July of 2010, my husband and I decided to celebrate our upcoming 25 years of marriage (Oct. 12, 2010) by spending one month in Europe. We wanted to revisit a couple cities we had especially enjoyed plus join a tour to Eastern Europe. I love history and have read and studied much about World War II and the Communist era that followed in the former Soviet Bloc countries. I wanted to see where these events had occurred, learn about life during those times, and see how these people have rebuilt their nations. It was a dream I’d had for many years and I was not disappointed.
|Old-New Synagogue, Prague|
We began by flying to Prague, a city we had been captivated by two years prior but had only seen what tour groups usually take you to visit. This time we went on our own and spent a few days exploring this charming medieval treasure. Our first stop was the Jewish Quarter and its museums. We spent several hours learning about the once thriving Jewish community, the capture and internment of the Jews in concentration camps, and of course the eventual extermination of these precious chosen people of God in the Holocaust. I was particularly moved to tears as we silently and reverently observed and read the hundreds of pictures and letters created by Jewish children imprisoned at Theresienstadt concentration camp in the former Czechoslovakia. We must not forget that these atrocities actually took place. We also visited the Museum of Communism which is ironically located on the second floor above a very large McDonalds restaurant and next to a casino. My husband and I couldn’t help but wonder what Lenin would think of that! It was sobering to spend a couple hours in this little-publicized and small museum learning more about what life was like during the Cold War period and the hardships and suffering many endured. We will not forget…
|Remnant of Berlin Wall|
Our travels took us through parts of the former Yugoslavia – beautiful Slovenia with its mountain vistas, pristine lakes, lush farmland and friendly people – then into Zagreb, Croatia where the effects of the Croatian War of Independence are still very evident. Our Polish tour guide, who grew up under the Communist rule, was able to help us gain a better understanding of what these people lived through, what their fight for independence and democracy cost them, and how they have restored and elevated their cities, societies, and countries. It was amazing to see how cities so utterly devastated by wars and the years of neglect by the regimes that followed have literally risen from rubble and ashes into magnificent reminders of their glorious past and their emergence into a promising future – Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, Berlin, Dresden – we were impressed with the resilience and resolve of their citizens. Yet each city has its memorials to dark and horrific events that don’t allow its citizens, and the thousands of tourists who visit, to forget…they do not forget…we will not forget…
|Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Poland|
Of course the most heart-rending experience of the trip was the visit to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. One of our fellow tour members had lost his mother here. We mourned with him as he laid flowers in her memory. How could one ever walk the grounds of these haunting places and not believe in the Holocaust? A local guide told us every Polish high school student is required to visit this place. They do not forget – how can we?
November 1-9 was Holocaust Education Week in Toronto. I am thankful for the many individuals and organizations that ensure this horrific and barbaric event is never forgotten. We also must never forget that millions of lives are still being brutally snuffed out amidst civil unrest, “ethnic cleansing”, persecution of religious minorities, and terrorism.
When such atrocities happen, we can be tempted to believe that God doesn’t care, that He must not exist. However, I believe the words of the psalmist who said,
“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.” Psalm 10:17-18 (NIV)
Until next Sunday,