Friday, July 07, 2006

The World is a Text Book

When we travel to Europe, fun is not the only reason. Most of our trips involve some sort of meeting for my husband. The last couple of times have been for pleasure but always we attempt to learn and expand our ideas. When my children were little--ages 7 and 10--and we lived and traveled for several months in and around France, I made them do a gigantic time line. Every medieval castle we visited or Roman ruin was drawn in and labled. The main point of reference was the life of Jesus. All of the ornate cathedrals and a good share of the art we would see in museums were devoted to His worship so having Jesus as the focal point was appropriate.

Of course, for my children questions are still asked. For example, church after church after church in Europe is filled with gold and jewels. Why? Why weren't the poor fed instead? While in Vienna, we visited the Treasury in the Hofburg palace which holds the family jewels of the Hapsburgs who ruled for 700 years. They were Roman Catholic and in addition to emerald and ruby bedecked crowns and orbs were lots of fancy crucifixes. Some even had jewels studding the nails through His hands and feet. For my kids, seeing Jesus hanging in pain on the cross around every corner always brings up my remark that Episcopalians have plain crosses because we do not believe Jesus is still on the cross. He miraculously got out of that mess alive and well. My daughter responded that she could picture Jesus smashing the place up and screaming "not in my name."

The other big issue in Europe is war and particularly World War II. So many ancient and gorgeous buildings were destroyed by bombs. And millions of people were horrendously murdered because of their religion or ethnicity. My own father participated in the bombing before he was shot down and held by the Nazi's for nine months. So the effects of this war are personal for me. Three times I was moved to tears and again the word "why?" is the only response I had.

1)Ljubljana, Slovenia. In this beautiful city, we visited the castle/fortress on the hill in the middle of town. We watched a video about the history and they seemed to gloss over WW2. But they did mention in passing that the center of the city which was occupied by the Nazi's was surrounded by barbed wire and used as a concentration camp. "What? Right where I am standing and having one of the times of my life?"

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Dave and me--Ljubljana Castle

2)BudaPest, Hungary. The first building we saw in this amazing city was the Great Synagogue--the world's second largest after New York. Before WW2, 5% of Hungary's population was Jewish and 25% or one quarter of all of the citizens of BudaPest were Jewish. Six hundred thousand (600,000) Jewish Hungarians were brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Today only one half of 1% of Hungary is Jewish and virtually all of these folks live in Buda Pest.

Not only were the Jews rounded up and loaded on trains and shipped to Auschwitz, Poland but they were lined up along the Danube River which separates Buda from Pest in this lovely city and shot. In an attempt to save bullets, the Nazis would tie the vicitms together in groups and shoot one and shove them into the cold waters. "What? Right where we stand? Right here in the gentle rain?"

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Lucas's haunting picture of the Danube in BudaPest

3) Vienna, Austria. Right in the middle of the major tourist attractions near the Opera in this city is an unassuming monument called the Monument Against War and Fascism, The Gates of Violence. The sculpture was carved out of marble from a nearby quarry in the concentration camp of Mauthausen. It depicts victims of all wars of violence including the 1938-1945 rule of Austria by the Nazis. Images include a World War 1 gas mask. My English grandmother's only brother was gassed by the Germans during WW1. Also, included is a Jew forced to clean anti-Nazi graffiti off the streets of Vienna with a toothbrush. The monument is placed on a site where several hundred people were buried alive during a WW2 bombing attack. "What? Right across the street from where we enjoyed Viennese coffee at an outdoor cafe?"

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The "monument" in Vienna.

Why? When we will ever learn? Will we ever learn?