|World Trip Home||Post Twelve|
|Dave Smokes Eastern Europe|
Here Dave enjoys a smoke before we board the overnight train from Prague to Krakow, Poland. During the night we would be examined by a number of border officials as the train jerked and swayed it's way north. It took a while to get used to lengthy border crossings. In Western Europe I never saw a border guard much less had to pull out my passport. In Eastern Europe and Asia my passport would be examined like a strange artifact and many countries required visas.
|Arbeit Macht Frei|
We were in Krakow to see the old town and to visit the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. This phrase greeted all new arrivals to the camp - "Work makes you free".
"How do you describe the sorting out on arriving at Auschwitz, the separation of children who see a father or mother going away, never to be seen again? How do you express the dumb grief of a little girl and the endless lines of women, children and rabbis being driven across the Polish or Ukrainian landscapes to their deaths? No, I can't do it. And because I'm a writer and teacher, I don't understand how Europe's most cultured nation could have done that. For these men who killed with submachine-guns in the Ukraine were university graduates. Afterwards they would go home and read a poem by Heine. So what happened?"
Elie Wiesel (b. 1928), Rumanian-born U.S. writer and Holocaust survivor
The Auschwitz camp was fairly small. Two km away the Nazis built a much larger camp called Birkenau. Unlike the other camps that used the prisoners as slave labor, Birkenau was primarily set up as an extermination camp. Having visited some of the other camps I was familiar with the story of how they operated but I was completely unprepared for the enormous scale of Birkenau. It took us almost an hour to walk from one end to the other. The trains would come in, disgorge their contents, and the people would be herded into barracks to wait their turn in the crematorium. It was mind-numbing to see in person.
The horror of the Holocaust has haunted the world to this day. Its echoes inspired the formation of Israel, and vastly influenced the state of modern Germany. In a way, Germany remains under the shadow of its darkest days. Its youth struggle to come to terms with events they had no part of but are still paying a price for. The Muslim world today is facing a similar quandary as they try to communicate that the actions of the fanatics do not represent the beliefs of the majority.
From Krakow we went north, made a brief stop in Warsaw, then took the night train to Vilnius, Lithuania. This train was a bit more comfortable and the border guards only woke us up three times to check our passports.
|Frank Zappa Memorial|
In Vilnius, we spent most of our time figuring out how to leave. I'd hoped to catch a direct train to St Petersburg, but they where having problems with the track. Dave was trying to determine the easiest way to return to Amsterdam. Eventually I took a bus to Riga, Latvia, and then connected with another overnight train to St Petersburg. Dave took a train to the coast then had a hellish ferry ride back to Germany in gale-force winds. We did get a chance to see some of the sites in Vilnius. This is the Frank Zappa Memorial in the north of the city - an excellent place for a smoke.
In a basement pub in Vilnius we encountered some of the strangest food of our Eastern European journey. Here, Dave is enjoying a meter-long sausage. As Dave says, "Mmmm, sausage." I ate a pig's ear with beans - a "traditional Lithuanian pub meal" said the menu. It tasted like pig trotters, but inside was crunchy cartilage. Weird but I'm glad I tried it. Now when my dad's dogs get pig's ears as treats, I'll know what they taste like. At least the beer was good.
Scott & Karen Semyan