Central Europe left impression

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Arriving in Poland for the first time, on a 3-country tour with Elderhostel (Boston, MA; 877/426-8056 or www.elderhostel.org), Sept. 7-24, ’04, took me back to the morning of Sept. 1, 1939, when I heard Hitler’s speech on the radio as he sent his troops across the Polish border. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I realized that this meant war in Europe. I had no idea how devastating it was to be nor how it would affect my nation and my life.

As the Nazis retreated in 1944, under Hitler’s orders Warsaw’s Old Town was totally destroyed. Warsaw, the capital of Poland for 400 years, is now a reconstructed city, a copy of its earlier self. The Royal Castle that housed the kings of Poland for many years has been rebuilt and opened to tourists. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to hide many of the art objects at the beginning of WWII, so they were referred to for the refurbishing.

Warsaw is not a beautiful city; it still has many of the drab buildings put up by the Russians when they were there. But what a testament to human endurance!

Auschwitz lies a short distance from Krákow, and our visit there was short but memorable. One of the most moving exhibits was a display of suitcases left behind by the victims. Each suitcase bore the name of a real person who packed favorite items with hope and apprehension, with wonder and fear. I saw quite a few women, and men too, from our group who turned away in tears.

In the Czech Republic, Prague is a city of great beauty and great good fortune. It was almost totally untouched during WWII (the very opposite of Warsaw’s story). We could, therefore, enjoy centuries-old churches, palaces and residences. The architecture included Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 20th-century styles. The beautiful Charles Bridge attracts tourists day and night.

Why do I keep coming back, in my thoughts about Budapest, Hungary, to the cruise on the Danube River? Probably because it was so startlingly beautiful. I sat on the boat deck in the twilight while gliding slowly between Buda and Pest viewing historic buildings enhanced by spotlights. No wonder it is my most enduring memory of this city.

We had a chance to visit a Hungarian family for an evening of conversation while we were in Budapest. Four of us on the tour met with a young couple who spoke English. Their condo had two average-sized bedrooms, a fairly large living room, a small kitchen and one small bathroom in which there was a small electric washing machine. They were looking forward to a successful future.

It is not easy to meet “ordinary” people in a country when you’re on a tour, so, for us, this was a happy change from the usual tourist sights.

The music, dancing, architecture and lectures on this tour contributed to an awakening in all of us, not only of the beauty of these three countries but also of the sacrifices and endurance of these people in their long march toward freedom.

These are people like us with the same needs and aspirations as we have. They happen to live in an area that has been trampled by heavy boots and ruled by heavy fists throughout most of the 20th century, to say nothing of earlier centuries. They’ve lived with war and fear and seen their cities and their populations destroyed and their citizens sent to work camps or death camps. They’ve had to change their economy to suit Communism and in recent decades have made another change to liberty and capitalism, with the attendant economic and social problems.

We Americans cannot imagine the terror and the bravery of these people, but we can cheer their fortitude and their enduring faith for a better life ahead.

EDITH GARVEY
Torrance, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Arriving in Poland for the first time, on a 3-country tour with Elderhostel (Boston, MA; 877/426-8056 or www.elderhostel.org), Sept. 7-24, ’04, took me back to the morning of Sept. 1, 1939, when I heard Hitler’s speech on the radio as he sent his troops across the Polish border. Of course, I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I realized that this meant war in Europe. I had no idea how devastating it was to be nor how it would affect my nation and my life.

As the Nazis retreated in 1944, under Hitler’s orders Warsaw’s Old Town was totally destroyed. Warsaw, the capital of Poland for 400 years, is now a reconstructed city, a copy of its earlier self. The Royal Castle that housed the kings of Poland for many years has been rebuilt and opened to tourists. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to hide many of the art objects at the beginning of WWII, so they were referred to for the refurbishing.

Warsaw is not a beautiful city; it still has many of the drab buildings put up by the Russians when they were there. But what a testament to human endurance!

Auschwitz lies a short distance from Krákow, and our visit there was short but memorable. One of the most moving exhibits was a display of suitcases left behind by the victims. Each suitcase bore the name of a real person who packed favorite items with hope and apprehension, with wonder and fear. I saw quite a few women, and men too, from our group who turned away in tears.

In the Czech Republic, Prague is a city of great beauty and great good fortune. It was almost totally untouched during WWII (the very opposite of Warsaw’s story). We could, therefore, enjoy centuries-old churches, palaces and residences. The architecture included Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and 20th-century styles. The beautiful Charles Bridge attracts tourists day and night.

Why do I keep coming back, in my thoughts about Budapest, Hungary, to the cruise on the Danube River? Probably because it was so startlingly beautiful. I sat on the boat deck in the twilight while gliding slowly between Buda and Pest viewing historic buildings enhanced by spotlights. No wonder it is my most enduring memory of this city.

We had a chance to visit a Hungarian family for an evening of conversation while we were in Budapest. Four of us on the tour met with a young couple who spoke English. Their condo had two average-sized bedrooms, a fairly large living room, a small kitchen and one small bathroom in which there was a small electric washing machine. They were looking forward to a successful future.

It is not easy to meet “ordinary” people in a country when you’re on a tour, so, for us, this was a happy change from the usual tourist sights.

The music, dancing, architecture and lectures on this tour contributed to an awakening in all of us, not only of the beauty of these three countries but also of the sacrifices and endurance of these people in their long march toward freedom.

These are people like us with the same needs and aspirations as we have. They happen to live in an area that has been trampled by heavy boots and ruled by heavy fists throughout most of the 20th century, to say nothing of earlier centuries. They’ve lived with war and fear and seen their cities and their populations destroyed and their citizens sent to work camps or death camps. They’ve had to change their economy to suit Communism and in recent decades have made another change to liberty and capitalism, with the attendant economic and social problems.

We Americans cannot imagine the terror and the bravery of these people, but we can cheer their fortitude and their enduring faith for a better life ahead.

EDITH GARVEY
Torrance, CA