Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Scenic Prague

Prague is a charming and walkable city. We stayed at the Casa Marcello (www.casa-marcello.cz), within walking distance to Old Town and Jew Town where the Jewish Museum (www.jewishmuseum.cz) is located. We could walk to the Charles Bridge which spans the Vitava River across to the Castle and National Museum (www.ngprague.cz) as well as to many cafes and the Town Square.

There is much to see and do in Prague. I will talk more about it in the next post and then later share our trip 30 miles out of town when we visited Terezin, the "model" camp set up by the Nazis. Things are not as pretty as they seem here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Prague- The Golden City

Home to emperors and kings, artists and astronomers, this beautiful and fascinating city has worked its magic on generations of visitors and lent inspiration to musicians and writers. Jews have lived here since the 11th century.

Stifled by communism for 40 years, Prague has returned to the capitalist fold to become one of Europe's most popular destinations. Largely undamaged by World War II, its cityscape offers a smorgasbord of stunning architecture. Behind the elegance and charm lies the prejudice and Bohemian sensibility that allowed for intermittent anti-semitism throughout the ages and during the war

55, 000 Jews lived in Prague at the outbreak of the war. 2/3 of them were killed. Prague has a tarnished golden history as far as I am concerned. More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Vienna Photomontages Part 2

Vienna-Monumental Loss (Top)
Within the Judenplatz (Jewish Square) is the Memorial to Austrian victims of the Holocaust. Unveiled in 2000, created by British artist Rachel Witeread, the concrete cube resembles a library of 7000 turned inside out. The memorial's barred room and books that cannot be read represent the loss of those that were murdered.

This was the place that Jews were rounded up and shipped off to camps. The Jews who used to live in Vienna, educated and cultured, never got to live their lives and realize their dreams.

Sightseeing (Bottom)
The sightseeing bus tours do not show the fire and terror once so much a part of the environment. Many Jewish stores and businesses as well as synagogues were destroyed on Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938.

In the late 1980's, the Austrian government began reexamining their role in the Holocaust. In July 1991, the Austrian government issued a statement acknowledging their role in the crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Photomontages- Vienna

Many Jewish stores, factories and buildings were destroyed here during Kristallnacht on November 9-10. 1938. More than 65,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps from Vienna. Only 2000 survived. About 800 Jews who managed to hide survived the war.

The cultured, well-educated Jews of Vienna who were killed during World War !! never had the chance to produce and contribute to the the world what they were supposed to. How much the world lost!

Vienna In/Security

Known for its pastries and waltzes, Vienna has a checkered history of expelling Jews, Vienna was the center of the Hapsburg Empire. From 1938 until 1945, it served as the provincial capital of the German Reich. Anti-Semitic feelings persisted in Austrian society after the war and are still present today. In the late 1980's, Kurt Waldheim, a Nazi collaborator, was elected president of Austria.

Hearing the same sirens used by the SS during the war was an unsettling experience evoking the terror of that time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sightseeing in Vienna

Sightseeing in Vienna is an experience; everything is cultural, elegant and lovely. The Schoenbrunn Palace is the most popular site in Vienna, http://www.schoenbrunn.at

When we got to the Judenplatz, we were amazed at the Holocaust Memorial. Also known as the Nameless Library, it stands in Judenplatz as the central memorial for the Austrian victims of the Holocaust and was designed by the British artist Rachel Whiteread. The concrete cube resembles a library of 7000 books turned inside out. The memorial's barred room and books that cannot be read represent the loss of those who were murdered. It is a memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed by the Nazis. The Judenplatz (Jews' Place) was where Jews were rounded up during the war.

The day we arrived, there was an Israeli Fair in the Judenplatz, featuring Israeli music, food and crafts. I felt the loss and sadness of history here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More about Vienna

Vienna is a city of culture: it possesses a lively and vast array of cultural attractions. Whether classical or experimental theatre, film or dance festivals, opera or operetta, or exhibitions and concerts - no matter when you come and how long you stay, there is sure to be something exciting for you to discover. Or if your tastes are not quite so culturally refined, then you can visit one of Vienna's famous coffee houses or traditional wine taverns ("Heurige") and work your way through famous culinary specialities, especially Viennese pastries and coffee.

Vienna ia also a city of music. It has been synonymous with music for centuries, and was home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss. This outstanding musical heritage has been preserved right to the present day. It still boasts one of the world's top orchestras as well as the Vienna Boys' Choir which is successful wherever it tours.

Vienna is also a city of art. Through the centuries, Vienna has always produced and nurtured world-famous artists. The collecting passion of art-loving rulers and monarchs has made Vienna a treasure house par excellence. The Museum of Fine Arts, for instance, is one of the world's largest and most distinguished museums, housing priceless works of art. Art accompanies you wherever you go in Vienna - even some of its underground stations are listed properties becasue of their elegant, ornamental Jugendstil style designed by Otto Wagner. There is a wonderful museum devoted to Klimt.

The exterior is elegant, charming and cultured. The architecture is beautiful. Our hotel is right in the center of town and close to the pedestrian zone Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth (www.kaiserinelisabeth.at) The people are nice and helpful.

But I am terribly uncomfortable here. Why? What am I picking up? What is all elegance and charm unable to hide??

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Vienna, the capital of Austria, 2 million inhabitants, is situated on the banks of the Danube. The influx of visitors from all over the world has made Vienna the most popular urban tourist destination in Austria.

Vienna - a romantically imperial city: Vienna is a dream city for anyone with a romantic streak or an interest in history. Sightseeing opportunities are to be found in abundance. Wander along narrow, medieval alleyways or across imperial squares and lovely boulevards, view Schönbrunn Palace or the Imperial Palace in the footsteps of Sissi and Emperor Franz Josef, and marvel at the majestic architecture along the Ring boulevard. You can be inspired by an atmosphere steeped in history - which also boasts the comforts and infrastructure of a modern city!

These guide book descriptions of Vienna are true but, unfortunately, not the complete story of this complex city. I, however, was overwhelmed by the complex underbelly of the dark past which tainted my time in Vienna.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hungary- Abandoned Synagogue 2

This once bustling area in the wine country of Hungary is now abandoned and neglected. The synagogue and the rabbi's house are in disrepair. There are no Jews left in this town.

Who says kaddish for these people? Which neighbors remember them? Is it the people who moved into their houses?

Photomontage from the book Behind the Scene/Seen: An Artistic Response to the Holocaust.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Clouds and Spirits

The Hungarian landscapes are spectacular, the skies startling, but the people are gone. All that remains are their names and our memories.

We must remember and insure that there never is a Holocaust again- for any group.

Photomontage from the book Behind the Scene/Seen: An Artistic Response to the Holocaust.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Echoes and Memories

Jews lived in Buda as early as the 12th century. The 220,000 Jews who lived in Budapest before World War II were ordered 1n June 1944 into 2000 houses, each marked with a yellow star. Tens of thousands of Jews were forced on a death march to the Austrian border. Behind the Dohany Synagogue is the Holocaust cemetery where thousands of people who died in the wartime ghetto are buried. The Soviet conquest in 1945 prevented mass destruction so that half the Jews of Budapest survived.

In the midst of charming boulevards and elegant buildings are reminders of hateful acts.

Photomontage from the book Behind the Scene/Seen: An Artistic Response to the Holocaust.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Budapest- Paris of the East

Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. It consists of three main parts: Buda, the hilly West side of the Danube, Castle Hill, District I of Buda, the oldest part of the city containing the eponymous Castle and many of Budapest's best-known attractions and Pest, the flat East side of the Danube, covering the modern commercial core of the city. The wide boulevards and lovely architecture remnd you of the regal past. Many of the buildings need renovations, but the elegant structure is very apparent.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cemeteries in Wine Region of Hungary

We visited the villages of Mad, Olaszliszka, Satoraljaujhely, Tokaj, Nyiregyhaza, Nagykallo, and Tarcal. Olaszliszka now has no Jews. In the 19th century, it was the center of Hungarian Hassisism. The cemetery is kept going by believers who comw to see the grave of Reb Friedmann Hirsch follower of Reb Moses Teitelbaum. Satoraljaujhely had 4000 Jews but now only has a few Jewish families. The cemetery is several hundred years old. The tomb of the miraculous Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum is here. It is visted by many pilgrims from the US on the anniversary of his death. The Tokaj cemetery is located in the picturesque nook of the Bodrog River. There are 15 tombs from the 18th and 19th centuries. Nyurefyhaza was home to 5000 Jews before the war. Now there are a few dozen. The cemetery was founded in 1840. Nagykallo is 9 miles away, In 1790 an organized Jewish community thrived here. In the 19th century a well-to-do community lived a peaceful life with its neighbors. Now there are no Jews in the area.

The gentleman in the first picture has lived in the area his whole life. He knows the history and shares it with tourists. He observes the Sabbath and has to go to Budapest for Shabath to find a minyan for prayer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some Synagogues in the Wine Region

Many of the small villages in the Tokaj region had thriving Jew communities living there for centuries. The synagogues were imposing buildings. The rabbis were well-known and respected. Some of the synagogues are now arts and crafts centers, or old age homes, or government offices. None of them have any indications on them that they were once synagogues- no signage. There are a few Jews that still live in the area that come to tell you the history, that take care of the building if it is still a synagogue- only two that we saw. In the whole area, there are only nine Jewish families. Many Jew were killed in the war. The survivors left to go to Israel or other places. Most Jews in Hungary live in Budapest or some in Dubrecen.

In my next post, I will show some pictures of the cemeteries and show you some graves of famous rabbis. Some of the families have made it their life's work to tend to the graves and keep the cemeteries clean and sanctified.

Restored Synagogue at Mad in Tokaj Region

This synagogue was built in 1795 in a unique baroque style. The exterior wall of the synagogue has been redone and the interior is under restoration. Funding and money are partially being given by the World Monument Fund in the frame of a Jewish Heritage Program. There is, however, no plumbing or electricity so the building cannot really be used. There are no Jews who will be using the synagogue. There is no minyan (the 10 men needed for prayer) in the area. Only tourists who come there to visit are interested in seeing the synagogue.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Tokaj Region in Hungary

My trip to Hungary began with a three-day visit to the wine region in the northeast section of Hungary. The Jews had been very integrated into the wine industry in the 18th and 19th centuries and had been very successful. They had built very large synagogues in their small towns. Now, the Jews were gone, killed by the Nazis and Iron Cross, but the buildings still existed. Depending on who was left in each town, there were different results of what happened to the cemeteries and synagogues. The area is lovely. The landscapes are pretty. The history is harrowing!

We stayed in the Grof Degenfeld Castle Hotel (top 2 photographs) and traveled to various small towns each day. The trip was very enlightening. I had a reaction that I did not expect!! In fact, it so startled me that I can home and made art so new that I had to buy a computer and learn how to use Photoshop to create it. The experience was life-changing for me. Our driver, guide, my husband and I became a band of 4 who experienced this together. Although they were Hungarian, they had never been to the wine district. We all learned together. More about that later.

All photograps were taken by me on the trip.