Soooo this post may be a bit delayed but for the time being, let’s just pretend like it’s not. For our final full day in Europe, we visited the Holocaust Museum in Budapest. Right from the very beginning, I could tell this was going to be a good museum; unlike the places we had seen in Berlin which avoided using the word “Holocaust,” the museum in Budapest started off with a definition of the word and context of history before hand. This surprised me because I had not expected to find one of the more honest memorials/museums of the Holocaust to be found in Budapest. It focused on the Holocaust and Hungarian Jews, which includes the rise of the Arrow Cross Party. During the short rule, thousands of Jews were killed outright in Budapest and throughout Hungary. This museum included detailed descriptions of horrific events and crimes commited, as well as pictures, many of dead bodies. Walking through this museum, reading and listening to some of the accounts, I began to feel for the first time overwhelmed. Maybe it was because it was towards the end of the trip, but there was one point where everything hit me and I wasn’t even sure if I could even keep reading more. But I did because if there is anything this I’ve learned from this trip, it’s that while facing the truth of the past may not be easy, it still must be done.
And if there’s one more thing I know, it’s that I don’t want to have to leave!! All my experiences from this trip have been beyond beyond words and more than I ever even expected this trip to be. I honestly think I’ve learned more about the Holocaust and its history and effects that still can be felt to this day in these 3 weeks that I would have in 3 months in a classroom. It’s one thing to read about the treatment and struggles people faced and to see pictures of it in a textbook, but it is nothing like standing on an actual deportation platform or synagogue ruins. I’ve traveled abroad twice before but this was the first time I was old enough to understand and immerse myself in the culture. I’m so grateful I had this oppurtunity and I now have memories out the wazoo! I’m actually really glad that we had to write this blog and that our group made a Facebook page to compile all the funny moments and quotable things said; I’m already starting to replay everything in my head and I don’t want to lose any of these memories. I sure will miss strolling through the beautiful architectured cities and induldging myself in all the fine dining and pastry shops but it is now to time regretfully say it for one last time: Auf Wiedersehn Europe!
Greetings from Budapest! After checking into our hotel yesterday, we set straight off for a tour around the capital of Hungary. I really didn’t know what to expect of this city but I was surprised at how pretty it was from what I saw. We went to exchange our dollars for the Hungarian currency, the forint. I felt like a rich person saying I had 6,000 forints, even if that’s only equal to $30! We did a LOT of walking and walked across the bridge above the Danube River, which divides the Buda from the Pest parts of the city; they used to be two separate towns until they were united (we’re staying in Pest). We also saw the Parliament building. Dr. Moser explained that during the time of the Holocaust, Budapest was a city of two extremes. Many Jews fled here and were provided shelter by non-Jews and the survival rate was relatively high compared to most places. However, it is also a place of heinous crimes against Jewish people. The extremist antiemetic group, the Arrow Cross, committed multiple acts of murder right in the center of Budapest, and we were able to go to one of these sites.
Hundreds of Jews were shot into the Danube River and we visited the memorial that is now in place. This memorial simply has dozens of pairs of old looking cast iron shoes lined up on the same place that these innocent people were shot along the river. It caught me off guard and was one of the most meaningful memorials that I’ve seen yet. It really got me thinking about the symbolism behind it all. Of shoes. Shoes are the means in which we go everywhere, or at least our feet if we don’t own shoes. In my shoes, I’ve learned how to ride a bike, drive a car; in my shoes I’ve walked across the stage at graduation, ran through the sand and jumped ocean waves with my best friends; and in my shoes I’ve also had experiences that have taught me how to see things in someone else’s shoes. But here at this memorial, these shoes – men’s, women’s and children’s – lay there empty forever.
Yesterday, while everyone in Virginia was relishing in the fabulous 70 degrees and sunshine (only days after snow, ha typical VA weather) we were enjoying the cold rain and winds. This didn’t stop us though from taking a walking tour around the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd districts in Vienna to see some of the sites of the Holocaust, or at least of what they used to be. There is a small private organization in the city made up of citizens who with are concerned and wish to spread awareness of the history that is present. They have worked with the city and made small plaques on the sidewalks in front of some of the buildings and historical sites of the Holocaust, which we saw. In one small apartment building, there was a small plaque that stated that 380 Jews had been forced into building – and only 2 had ultimately survived. It’s beyond fathomable to think about my entire freshman class, of comparable size, suddenly perishing. The issue with these plaques, though, is that they are small and on the ground and can go easily unnoticed. I can see why the homeowners wouldn’t wish to put up a plaque that says hundreds of people died or were sent to their deaths there; however, there is still much progress that is needed to be done in orderly to properly memorialize this horrific event in our history.
As I type this, I am on a train en route to Budapest, Hungary. Yes, sadly our time in Vienna has come to an end I surely will miss it, but our travels aren’t over just yet! Auf wiedersehen.
Today, we started the morning off at the Military History Museum. It was filled with armor, weapons, as well as artifacts and paintings of old Vienna’s old monarchy and military. What I found to be the most interesting aspect of the museum however, was that it exhbited the car where Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot. It also had the couch on which he died and the uniform he wore, where you could still see the blood stains. It all sounds a little morbid when I put it that way, but these two gunshots were the domino for a million other historical events. We may be studying the Holocaust, but World War I left Europe in a state of tension and unease, which eventually led to WWII. Of course, there were many other causes of World War I besides the assassination of the Archduke (militarism, alliances, nationalism, imperialism, etc.) but it was very fascinating to see these in person and ponder over what might have happened had Ferdidnand not been shot.
After this museum, we headed off to the Belvedere, something I had been looking forward to for sometime. I got to see the largest collection of Klimt works, including his most famous pieace,The Kiss.Gustav Klimt was one of the leaders of the Vienna Sesssionist art movement and one of my favorite artists, and the museum itself is very excellent. From there, I went to the Albertina Museum back in the 1st District. I was very much impressed by their Monet and Picasso exhibit that I had seen advertisements all over the city for. This also inlcluded pieces from other Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Fauvist artists such as Degaos, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Chagall and Derain. Being a Humanities Center grad, my inner art history nerd could hardly handle the excitement! I knew Vienna was known for being a “fancy” city but I didn’t realize it was so rich with fine art and diverse culture and I’ve loved getting to experience it all. (oh, and finally had authentic Viennese schnitzel. So good.)
On Saturday’s agenda, we visited the Hofburg City Palace, a continuation of the Schönbrunn Palace that we saw on Thursday. Here, the royal Hofburg family’s exquisite china and tableware were displayed. Also part of this tour was the Sissi Museum, Sissi being the beloved Empress Elizabeth. In this tour it showed some of her personal rooms and items and highlighted the unhappy life she led and her reluctance towards palace life until she was tragically assassinated; I saw many parallels between Sissi and Princess Diana.
On our way to the palace, however, we went to the small, tucked away Jewish square of Vienna and saw an example of “how not to do a memorial.” I hope that down the road, cities like Vienna can learn to fully grasp their history and commemorate it more appropriately. Later, we took a long train ride to the outskirts of the city and up a mountain, and while the snow made visibility not as great, the view was still very nice. I enjoyed a nice warm white hot chocolate before we headed back down.
That afternoon, I went off in search of the Natural History Museum once again and this time, my trip was successful. I only wanted to see one thing alone – Venus of Willendorf, one of the oldest and most famous works of prehistoric art, dating back to 20,000 B.C. I remember this was the very first thing we learned in my Perspectives class in 9th grade and in my art history class last semester; then again, it’s pretty hard to forget the “boob lady” as some of my classmates would refer to it haha. So glad I had the chance to see such an important work of art.
This morning, we got to sleep in (whoohoooo) and went to a very nice brunch buffet and a hotel. It was AMAZING and we all naturally stuffed ourselves silly before going to the Vienna Museum. It was interesting to see all aspects of this city’s history. Can’t wait for what tomorrow brings, until then!
As you can see from the video, last night was the opening night of the outdoor ice rink complex around the Weiner Rathaus so a few of us decided to go. I had so much fun (and miraculously was the only person out the 4 of us who didn’t wipe out)! Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me so far, I hope to go back again another night.
We took the train out for a day trip to the capital of Slovakia today. Bratislava is much smaller than the other places we have seen so far but it still has a nice charm. We visited the Bratislava Castle and the Museum of Jewish Culture. One of the things that Dr. Moser pointed out that stuck with me the most is that museums like the one we visited don’t just serve the purpose of educating foreign visitors; this also includes the local communities as well. Eastern European countries had the highest rate of fatalities in the Holocaust, which is one of the reasons these countries have a more difficult time being open about the past. An entire group of people and culture was essentially erased from these areas; while it may painful to discuss, this part of history cannot remain unspeakable.
We stopped for jausa (midday desert and coffee meal) and I ordered a caramel torte – delicious is an understatement. I probably would have been able to enjoy Bratislava more had it not been for the especially bitter cold and winds. We had dinner reservations, but in order to get there, we had to walk across the pretty long bridge. We decided instead to head back to Vienna and are about to get dinner here. I really can’t believe how fast time has gone by – I want to soak in everything for out last week in Europe!