Saturday, October 29, 2011

2011 ITINERARY: FROM BUDAPEST TO PRAGUE


BUDAPEST, HUNGARY October 12-15
Budapest
Sukkot in Budapest
House of Terror
Semmelweis - A Doctor Before His Time

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA October 16

VIENNA, AUSTRIA October 17
Vienna - Jewish Museum
Vienna - Schonbrunn Palace

DURNSTEIN, AUSTRIA October 18
CRUISING THE WACHAU VALLEY
MONASTERY AT MELK, AUSTRIA

SALZBURG, AUSTRIA October 19
Birthplace of Mozart

REGENSBURG, GERMANY October 20
Crossroads of Early Trade Routes

NUREMBURG, GERMANY October 21
The Nazi Center

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC October 22-25
The Jewish Museum

To follow our itinerary, scroll down and click older posts until you reach the first entry, BUDAPEST. Now you will be ready to take the tour.

Friday, October 28, 2011

PRAGUE - THE JEWISH MUSEUM




The Jewish Museum of Prague was begun in the early 20th century to display the treasures of a growing and proud Czech Jewish community - whose members had flourished in arts, sciences, politics, and business. As part of the Enlightenment, Habsburg Emperor Josef II (son of Marie Theresa) in the late 18th century had granted them freedoms which they enjoyed for over one hundred years.

After Neville Chamberlain surrendered the Sudetenland to Hitler to gain "peace for our time," the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Normal life for the Czechs came to an abrupt end. Jewish families were targeted for extermination by Hitler as he carried out his "war against the Jews" (Lucy Davidowicz). Ironically, Hitler continued the collection of Jewish treasures from Czechoslovakia for display in what he intended would be a museum of the artifacts of a dead and lost community.

Fortunately, Walter Lewit's parents, Julius and Camilla Abeles Lewit, left Prague and Bohemia in the 1880's to seek a better life in America. On the walls of the Pinchas Synagogue, which dates back to 1535, are inscribed 80,000 names of Bohemian and Moravian Jews killed during the Holocaust leaving nothing behind but their names.

Adolf Lewit, 7/12/1870 - 9/3/1942
Olga Lewit 5/27/1875 - 12/15/1945
Ota Lewit 11/27/1877 - unknown
Berta Lewit 3/8/1881 - 9/1/1942
Pavel Lewit 1/19/1886 - 1/9/1942
Viktor Lewit 7/16/1895 - unknown
Klara Lewit 10/24/1895 - unknown
Hana Lewit 9/6/1920 - unknown

Jiri Lewit 4/17/1925 - 6/13/1942
Ivona Lewit 1/22/1911 - 4/25/1944
Marie Lewit 12/30/1868 - 10/15/1942

May their memory be a blessing.





PHOTOS
1. Spanish Synagogue, 1868
2. Old/New Synagogue, built in the 13th century. Revived and in use today.
3. Jewish Cemetery, c. 1430 - 1787. 12,000 tombstones.

NUREMBURG – THE NAZI CENTER





Nuremburg captures many of the important themes of the Nazi era.

Nuremburg was the center for Nazi party rallies from 1933-38, where Adolf Hitler, the charismatic leader, gained the blind acceptance of the German people. To enhance Hitler’s power, Albert Speer designed cold, grey, stone stadiums, on a mammoth scale - unadorned except for a giant swastika. Roman columns and an immense parade ground completed the setting for the Fuehrer as he stood on a marble platform behind an iron rail and spoke for up to two hours to adoring crowds of up to 800,000 persons.

Justice, to the extent possible, was done in the post-war period. The Nuremburg Trials served not only as a tool of justice, but also as a way of recording the terrible events leading up to and during World War II. Trials provided the world with a clear picture of the recent totalitarian terror and aggression with its associated atrocities -- crimes against humanity, and especially the annihilation of European Jewry.

The Documentation Centers in Nuremburg focus on preserving the historic details of these times of unabated evil. The Germans specifically avoided the word museum, which is normally used to commemorate and honor the past.

On the periphery of the central town square which had been leveled by the Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing raids, a medieval church remains standing. At the base of its modern altar is a bright gold leaf ark with a symbol of the Torah scroll that would be held within. As a unifying symbol, this is intended to remind the viewer of the Jews and the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Our outspoken young guide, with a masters degree in history, was grateful to the Allies for defeating Germany and crushing the Nazis so he, unlike his grandparents, could now live in a free society. He asserted that while anti-Semitism is now illegal in Germany, the hatred still comes out in the form of anti-Zionism, i.e. anti-Israel rhetoric. However, it is not to be forgotten that since World War II, Germany has been one of the significant supporters of the state of Israel.

REGENSBURG – CROSSROADS OF EARLY TRADE ROUTES






Regensburg, a riverside medieval town, is at the crossroads of the significant trade routes between the Baltic and the Mediterranean and between France and Eastern Europe. Today, there is a different kind of trade – seen as we shared a lock with a barge transporting cars up the river. Regensburg’s multiple arched, Romanesque bridge, connecting north and south, is still in use for pedestrians. Before the modern age of refrigeration, salt was a crucial commodity for preserving food. Regensburg, like Salzburg, was a center for the salt trade. Local burghers made their fortunes in the salt trade. Wanting to show off their wealth, they built homes imitating the Italian architecture of this period -- large palazzos (palaces) with tall rectangular towers. Of course, the higher the tower, the wealthier its owner.

A medieval Gothic cathedral dominates the skyline – with an intricately carved portico. Also, the remains of a pre-14th century Jewish ghetto are commemorated with an unusual monument that traces the foundation of the original synagogue, including the bimah where the Torah was read.

SALZBURG – BIRTHPLACE OF WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in a fourth floor apartment in the old city of Salzburg - now a museum. His father, Leopold Mozart, was a music teacher who authored a guide on how to play the violin. In its day, it was translated into several languages including Russian. Wolfgang Amadeus, his only surviving son, was a musical prodigy. From the age five, he traveled with his father to perform at the royal courts of Europe. Maria Theresa, head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire gave W.A. Mozart a diamond ring which he always treasured. Sadly, Mozart lived only from 1756-1791 and left no line of survivors. Today, in Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Prague, concerts are given almost daily recalling his musical genius.

PHOTOS
1. Mozart's concert violin
2. Chocolate shop window in Salzburg

THE MONASTERY AT MELK






The highlight of the Benedictine monastery, founded 1089 at Melk, was its library preserving tens of thousands of early manuscripts and books, dating back to the 9th century English monk, the Venerable Bede. Included in the collection were two large globes depicting the terrestrial and celestial worlds. Now that there are few monks at Melk, its extensive and dramatic Baroque structure serves as a coed Catholic high school for over 900 students from the region.

PHOTOS
1. Rules of St. Benedict, guide for monastic living since the 7th century
2. Library - main room
3. Baroque ceiling - trompe d'oeil, actually flat
4. Monastery entrance
5. Celestial globe - 15th century

Thursday, October 27, 2011

CRUISING - THE WACHAU VALLEY







Riverside scenes from our day cruising on the Danube along the Wachau Valley --

DURNSTEIN, AUSTRIA





Durnstein is an unchanged medieval town with ruins of a castle on a commanding hillside high above the Danube. It is here that Jane bought a scarf with a design from the Austrian Symbolist artist, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Here, also, Richard the Lion-Heart was captured by the Duke Leopold of Austria on his return to England from Jerusalem after fighting Saladin during the 3rd Crusade (1189-1192). Richard was imprisoned in Durnstein's castle for several years until he was released after payment of the demanded ransom, a considerable sum amounting to 2-3 times the annual income of the English monarchy.

The pictured passageway has a Baroque arch underneath a Gothic arch - representing a change in architectural taste. The Hotel Schloss was formerly a palace and now is a magnificent hotel, selected as a Relais and Chateau.

VIENNA – SCHONBRUNN PALACE




Opulence....opulence....opulence. Emperor Charles VI gave Schonbrunn Palace to his daughter Maria Theresa, (1717-1780), who later became the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as there were no male heirs to the throne. A staff of 1,200 servants prepared the 1,400 rooms of this summer palace for the royal entourage and served while they were in residence. It was constructed to imitate the Versailles of Louis XIV, the Sun King, complete with a lavish, gold leaf Hall of Mirrors. Today Schonbrunn is continuously being restored to maintain its former glory. It is economically self-sufficient - supported by tourist fees as the most visited site in Austria and from rental fees for private apartments and businesses occupying upper palace floors. Some address!

VIENNA’S JEWISH MUSEUM


Many grand churches and cathedrals adorn present day Vienna. They dominate the skyline and its open cobblestone squares. New excavations of Judenplatz have uncovered the foundations and some artifacts from a medieval synagogue from the 13th and 14th centuries. These archaeological findings are on display in the basement of a sparkling new Jewish center for Vienna. In the square adjacent to the museum entrance and Holocaust memorial stood a large sukkah - a temporary structure with holiday decorations and picnic tables for eating outdoors during the traditional Jewish harvest festival of sukkot.

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA




Bratislava suffered greatly under communist rule in post World War II years until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 with the fall of the communist regime. The city displays relics of the sterile, poor quality concrete block architecture built by the Soviets. Now freed of communist domination, Slovakia is an independent nation peacefully separated from the Czech Republic. Bratislava, the capital, has blossomed with a free market economy so that its new, very busy shopping mall on the banks of the Danube River resembles that of any successful American city.

SEMMELWEIS - A DOCTOR BEFORE HIS TIME


The Semmelweis home in Budapest is now a museum of medical history - including early surgical instruments such as bone saws, curettes, birth stools, foot operated dental drills, etc. Semmelweis, a 19th century Hungarian doctor, connected puerperal sepsis (septicemia following childbirth) to the fact that physicians went from the autopsy rooms to the birthing rooms without washing their hands. When he implemented stringent handwashing, the incidence of the usually-fatal illness was lowered from 30% of births to as low as 1%. Unfortunately, his findings were ignored by the medical community until Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease.

Today Semmelweis is honored by a University which bears his name.

Friday, October 14, 2011

THE HOUSE OF TERROR




The House of Terror is no amusement park; it is a museum recalling totalitarian rule in Budapest. The building was originally used to direct the oppression of the populace by the Hungarian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis and then by the Nazis directly. Without skipping a beat, when the Soviets took over, they used the same facility - terrifying and controlling by spying, torturing, murdering, and deportations to the Gulag. These years of the 20th century saw totalitarianism dominate much of Europe. The experience is made very personal as local victims give poignant personal testimony in video clips with English sub-titles. It wasn't until the 1980's that individual liberties returned as Soviet troops withdrew and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Hungarians give honor to Ronald Reagan for his steadfast resolve leading to the end of terror in their lives. How fortunate we are to be Americans!

Photos
1. Wall of photos of faces of victims
2. Ronald Reagan statue near American Embassy
3. Files on individual citizens under surveillance
4. Video of Nazi occupation

After bearing witness to the terror and atrocities of these totalitarian regimes - the Nazis and the Soviet Communists - we participated in kabbalat services at the Great Synagogue of Budapest. video

Thursday, October 13, 2011

SUKKOT IN BUDAPEST




Jews first settled in Hungary in the 13th century. In the 19th century, a new wave of immigrants arrived from the Pale of Settlement. One of the synagogues built at this time and still standing could seat up to 3,000. The community thrived until 1941 when anti-semitic laws were promulgated by the Hungarian government. Only in 1944, when the Germans took charge were most of the Budapest Jews deported and then annihilated. Several thousand Jews now live in Budapest re-establishing the community -- supporting a synagogue that had a poster for its High Holy Day schedule, a Talmud Torah (school)for its children and kosher markets.

While walking in the Jewish quarter this morning, we were invited for lunch in the Chabad sukkah along with 30-40 others celebrating this festive holiday. The Semmelweis Medical School in Budapest accepts foreign students -- classes are taught in Hungarian, German, and English -- so today Jewish medical students from Israel and Spain gathered with us in the sukkah.

Later in the day, we took the tram across Liberty Bridge to the site of the former Swedish Embassy. Here, a plaque commemorated Raoul Wallenberg who saved tens of thousands from the Nazi death camps.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY








In Pest, we are overlooking riverboats plying the Danube with the hillside of Buda on the opposite shore. A short way upstream is the Chain Bridge built by the British in the 19th century.

The National Hungarian Museum featured a historical survey from medieval to current times. Interestingly, Hungary was portrayed as an unwilling ally of Austria and Germany in World War I and of Germany in World War II. Hungary certainly lost much in both conflicts. They did break with Austria and Germany in WW I and the Nazis in W W II, but on both occasions it was towards the end of each conflict after the tide had clearly turned in favor of the Allies. How much choice they had is unclear; they followed the strong horse.

Tonight we will go to a chamber music concert in St. Michael's church - Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart, Liszt...

(a very nice Hungarian-born gentleman, one of those who fled the Communists in 1956, and now from Princeton NJ, gave Jane a seat on the tram and chatted her up. I was several feet away and thought he was trying to make a positive impression......)

PHOTOS 1. Parliament building
2. Ethnographic Museum
3. Vaci Utca, pedestrian shopping area
4. Park
5. Chain Bridge, view from our room