Sunday, 8 December 2013

The lost world

This blog seems to be turning into one solely about moving house, so I thought I'd blog about a recent thought provoking trip to a Central European city.

There are hardly any Jewish people where I live; I can tell you stories of people using racist language about Pakistani, Chinese or black African people, but not Jews. Because it would be a bit like being prejudiced against people from Alaska or Argentina or Azerbaijan; I don't doubt the capacity to be anti Semitic is there, but, given racists are inherently smallminded, they're not going to be imaginative enough to boil up hatred for a people they've never met.

So, while I'm not ignorant of the Holocaust by any means - I went to the Anne Frank House, have read about it extensively, seen the photos, watched films - I realised during the last visit that the context I understood the Holocaust in was hopelessly incomplete.

We went to the Jewish Museum in the city we were in. I'd - perhaps naively - thought it was mostly going to be a museum about Jewish lift in the Middle Ages, and so we bought tickets and brought the Boy.

The first section of the museum was a Holocaust memorial. Every known victim's name and date of birth was recorded. There were thousands of names. I began weeping at the scale of the murder.

Fortunately, the Boy was quiet, but he started chirping and grumbling away to himself. The immensely kind lady at one of the sections gave him a leaflet to play with and pulled faces at him. Which was tremendously kind of her.

The next section was a display of items from the concentration camp, by which point the Boy was getting quite loud so we pulled him straight out. And I was mortified; I'm sure some people must go to this museum to on a pilgrimate to try and find an understand of the fate of relatives, and I still feel bad about not doing more research and thinking this was a good thing to take a toddler to.

Then we went around the Jewish Cemetery, which, ironically, the Nazi had decreed should not be destroyed, so it could inform future generations about the Jews.

It was - massive is the wrong word - but dense with tombstones. Because the city once had a thriving Jewish population, but for most of the centuries they'd been there, they'd only been allowed to be buried in a comparatively tiny plot. I'd understood, on paper, that Jewish people had been persecuted through the centuries, but this put my understanding in context. I'd never seen a Jewish cemetery in any of the other Central and Eastern European lands I've visited, perhaps because they were destroyed.

Two days before we went to the Jewish Museum, we stopped at a pub in the beautiful old town square. The Boy had gone for a nap and we had a drink and watched the elaborate Christmas lights being set up. As the sun set, we heard the Jewish call to prayer begin.

The link between the Jewish people that had lived in the city, combined with the display of the number of people killed in the Holocaust, and the much-reduced Jewish population now, made me begin to realise how genocide has shaped the face of European cities.

The city was full of tourists from across Europe, particularly Germany, and Asia for the Christmas Markets; people of all nationalities, just like the lady in the Jewish Museum, looked out for the Boy. An elderly gentleman chuckled at him trying to drink my husband's beer, another woman told us off for not having him wrapped up warmly enough.

People from everywhere are generally kind and care about small children, and it is incomprehensible that many people from different countries and professionals colluded together from the Holocaust that killed so many innocent people, presumably including some of the elderly relatives of the people who cooed at the Boy.

I will have to teach the Boy about the Holocaust, one day. But, although my knowledge of it grows, I will never be able to answer all of his questions about it, because I cannot answer my own.

1 comment:

  1. mhmm, if you have a separate life on your side bar maybe you read the wordpress blog lemonslimoncello as well? The Polish journey from October?
    She has managed to put something into words...
    (I live near Anne Frank house and grew up with her story, so I guess it is more ingrained here?)