Monday, August 4, 2008

The End of Atrocity Tourism, Sleeping Through Slovakia, and the Beginning of Budapest

The photos are out of order, and the last one shouldn't be there at all so please ignore it, but this post is coming from the low-tech member of the team, so I'm taking pride in getting four photos up that I intended to, even if they're out of order. All while struggling with a Hungarian keyboard that has all the symbols in the wrong places.

So, Saturday we got to Auschwitz-Birkenau -- see photo of Matt before notorious *work makes you free" sign atthe entrance. We've all been so bombarded with the Auschwitz story and the images that I will include only two of the points that struck me.
  • 70 percent of the Jewish prisoners who arrived at the camp -- really at Birkenau, which was the mass-production facility, with Auschwitz as the initial "beta" site -- were dead within two hours of arrival. So for most of the Jews, it wasn't really a camp, just a place to die. Four SS men could kill 1500 Jews in 20 minutes in the gas chambers. Teutonic efficiency.
  • The head of the camp, Rudolf Hoss, who was not the guy who flew to Scotland to try to end the war in 1940, lived with his wife and five children in a house a few hundred yards from a gas chamber and a crematorium.
Then it was back to Krakow for a final rainbow on the main square, and off to the night train to Budapest. We had decided to take a pass on biking through Slovakia. Too many mountains for this old body, and not enough places we wanted to see. After some anxiety about whether we would be allowed on the train with our bikes, we were allowed to cram them into a two-person sleeping compartment with two sweaty Americans . . . us. The photo only begins to tell the tale.

But we slept and hopped off the train at the stop before Budapest, Vac, in order to ride in along the bend of the Danube. I do mean that we hopped, since our train was too long for the platform in Vac, so we jumped down with our equipment while the Budapest-bound commuters looked on in boredom.

The ride along the river was gorgeous, then into this cosmopolitan city for a tour of the second largest synagogue in the world. The Hungarians get some credit since, after the Nazis killed 75 percent of the Jews here, enough felt comfortable coming back here that there are now more than 50 active Jewish congregations in Hungary. A contrast with Poland.

We finished at the thermal baths, a Hungarian passion. The chess game continued for the two hours we were there. With apologies to Damon Runyon, might you call it a permanent floating chess game?
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After all that riding and distress at Auchwitz, I imagine the baths were a godsend!

It was good to see your pic of the Dohany St. Synagogue. I was just there. Here is a link to some of my BP pics. I imagine they now look familiar...