Upwelling

Day Thirty – Malostranská Station

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Playing with pressure has always been a pastime of humans it seems. Whether it’s holding down water fountains on a hot day, because you procrastinate and end up pulling an all-nighter to get something in by deadline, whatever social expectations you set for yourself, or getting on a plane to fly somewhere new, life seems to always be varying degrees of pressure.

But that pressure doesn’t mean it has to be negative, or that you let it get the better of you.

Today marks the last day of this study abroad program, and it’s certainly a bittersweet feeling. Walking around wondering when or if you’ll ever revisit could have the capacity to send one into a downward spiral, but thinking about the amazing experiences, and the not so amazing ones that upon reflection have become that, it’s truly an unforgettable city.

Terezín

Day Twenty Two – Terezín, Czech Republic

Doris

Walking through Terezín, everywhere Doris Schimmerlingová goes, she has a smile and a wave to give.

Born in Brno April 7th, 1926, Doris is one of the thousands of Jews that lived in Terezín, a concentration camp in the northern Czech Republic during World War II. Doris entered the camp the winter of 1942 when she was about 16 years-old and stayed there until the end of the war, where she served as a shepherd for the sheep and livestock just outside of town.

Doris spends her days giving tours of Terezín to tour groups, because she knows how important it is to get this history correct and make sure stories are heard. When asked how she came to the decision to go back through this place, Doris explains that her first time overhearing a tour guide talking about the camp, she didn’t recognize any of it. “I must’ve been in a different Terezín,” Doris recalls.

Terezín served as a transit camp for most Jews before heading east to even worse concentration camps, but it was a powerful tool for the Nazis. Early in the war, the Red Cross was allowed to go through the camp to see the conditions and the Nazis set it up to seem as though they had bequeathed a wonderful, thriving town to the thousands Jewish peoples they had uprooted and forced into overpopulation in a city they weren’t allowed to leave. Right.

This camp served as a weapon of propaganda for the Third Reich. No gas chambers are to be found here, although plans to implement one were being drawn up before the war ended, but with the overpopulation and inhumane conditions everyone was forced to live in during the years Terezín was active, thousands died here. Walking through the small town, it doesn’t matter how picturesque it may be, the taint of the atrocities committed here will never be forgotten or made up for.

Walking by a pair of German tourists, Doris struck up a conversation about biking with the two women, telling them about how she used to bike to the fields.

Doris was separated from her entire family over the years in Terezín. Her mother died in the camp, her brother was sent to Auschwitz (and survived), and her father was sent in one of the last transports to a concentration camp where he died.

The strength this woman has to have lived through everything she has is nearly incomprehensible. Not only did she spend her formative years in this camp, she lived through the communist regime the Czech Republic fell under right after the war, and has stayed standing through it all.

It would take thousands of words to do her story any kind of justice and explain every horror she has persevered through, but Doris has been through so many horrors no one should ever have to, and has a sunny disposition and want to impart knowledge and on everyone she encounters despite everything is humbling, admirable and heartrending.

History is studied so we as a human race can learn from the past, but history is also written by the winners: objective and often glossed over with a saccharine coating. Having the opportunity to listen to a first person account of such a dark history, raw and unfiltered is truly incomparable, and one of the most important understandings to grasp.

Statuesque

Day Ten – Lidice, Czech Republic.

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A heavy silence blanketed the rolling hills of the Czech countryside. Looking out at the lush landscape, it’s hard to reconcile this beautiful scene with the horrors and atrocities committed there.

On the morning of May 27, 1942, two Czech special operators fatally wounded Reinhard Heydrich on his daily commute to Prague. One of Hitler’s most trusted lieutenants, Heydrich occupied Prague with a brutal and arrogant reign that ended when he succumbed to his injuries eight days after the initial attack.

Nazi intelligence somehow connected these assassins to Lidice, and on June 10th, 1942, German soldiers surrounded the town of Lidice, a small industrial village 14 miles outside of Prague. Without a word of explanation they began ordering people from their homes, separating families and ransacking everything in sight.

Wandering through the grassy knolls of what was once this town, you’d never imagine what occurred there. The statues dotting the countryside, even the foundational ruins of a select few structures, there’s nothing inherently evil or necessarily wrong about the scene. Without context, you’d likely think this a quiet park, not the site of a massacre.

173 men were forced into lines of fives and then tens, shot by a firing squad against a farm house wall. The women headed for Ravensbrück, a concentration camp in northern Germany, where they would be put to labor for the Reich.

The children were another story.

Any children fit for “Germanization” were sent to Nazi approved orphanages, awaiting to be adopted, while the rest were sent to a neighboring village’s schoolhouse. With only the clothes on their back, 82 children were kept there until early July, where they were transported to Chelmno and gassed in the backs of transportation trucks.

The hum of lawnmowers distantly buzz below the sounds of visiting schoolchildren and families winding the paths of the memorial. Exposing children to tragedy and brutality like this is horrifying to think about, but a powerful lesson.

These statutes were erected in honor of these 82 children, specifically modeled after every one of the children who died that day in Chelmno, and is dedicated to any and every other child victimized by war.

Approaching this installation, every visitor quiets. Adults, teenagers, even those so young they likely don’t fully grasp the scenario turn away with bowed heads, tear-stained faces or shivering, despite the glare of the midday sun.