End of the Year Appreciation

With today being December 31st, it is no secret that people nationwide are making last minute attempts at creating New Years Resolutions and fine-tuning their goals for the upcoming year. What I find interesting (even though I’m guilty of it as well) is that so many of us wait until January 1st to begin to follow through with ways we believe will better us. If our resolutions don’t work, or if we simply cannot stick to the plan we set out for ourselves, well, there’s always next January 1st for us to try again.

If we could move past the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, we could work on continuously trying to better ourselves. Moreover, we’ll have an entire year to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, rather than just waiting for a “re-do” twelve months from now. What is important for us to remember during these upcoming weeks of “resolutioning” (a new verb that’s quite fitting for this time of year) is that one minor setback is not a failure; we must not allow ourselves to get discouraged if things do not go according to plan. There is always tomorrow to wake up refreshed and begin from where we last left off. If we can view New Year’s Resolutions as the Year’s Resolutions, maybe we won’t be so harsh on ourselves. And maybe we’ll realize that our goals can be fought for at any given moment of any given day—not just for the first few days in January.

With that being said, one goal that I set for myself this past year was to continue blogging, since I had taken an extended break before the year began. Just this year alone, individuals from all around the world stopped by my site to read what I had to say. To me, there would be nothing more rewarding than knowing that one person (not including my mother) occasionally glances through my site. However, to find out that more than 2,000 visitors from sixty-nine different countries read my thoughts, experiences, and stories throughout the year is beyond overwhelming.

Just this year alone, my blog has had more visitors than the last three years combined. To my fellow bloggers, readers, and friends from 2015, I extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude for your support. (In the tag section of this post, I’ve included the country of each visitor throughout this past year as a special way of saying thank you since it’s much easier than hand-written notes).

May 2016 be a year to remember, and may all of our resolutions come to fruition, regardless of any potential setbacks we may experience along the way. Happy New Year to all of you, and thank you, once again.

92279520-emp.-appreciation

Advertisements

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Seeing as yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, I wanted to post about my experience traveling to Auschwitz in Krakow, Poland this past summer, in addition to meeting a Holocaust survivor in Budapest just a few short days after. I already wrote about this a few months ago in my blog, but seeing as this important day is designated to remember the atrocities that occurred years ago, I thought it would be appropriate to repost some of my experiences.

When my tour group arrived at Auschwitz, the line of people waiting to get in seemed endless. The one positive note about this experience was that so many people wanted to learn about the tragedy that was the Holocaust, so at least we as a society are not forgetting our past. As we walked through the gates into the camp, a sign above us read, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free,” and one could feel a chilling sensation passing by these words, all while knowing what had once happened here.

There must have been thousands of people on separate tours walking through the camp, but even so, it just seemed so gloomy and desolate. You read about the tragedies that occurred here, you hear stories, and you see movies, but there is nothing that can truly prepare you for walking on the actual grounds. The fencing and barbed wire, the watchtowers, and old, dark brick blocks, and the gloomy gray sky above us really makes you think how people were able to survive such conditions and brutality. The strength and courage that everyone must have had during the Holocaust is unbelievable, and there really aren’t any words that can describe how it makes you feel.

Throughout our tour, we saw hundreds of suitcases, personal belongings, and family treasures that countless people were stripped of. And as we concluded the tour with a viewing of the gas chamber and crematorium, we saw where many of these people were stripped of their lives. It is crucial that we do not forget about this devastating time in history so that such atrocities do not repeat themselves. Genocide has occurred all throughout the world, and with such unspeakable acts of horror continuing to this day, we must speak on behalf of those who lost their lives and advocate for those still alive today before it is too late.

A few days after touring Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, my tour group arrived in Budapest, Hungary, where we walked through the immaculate Dohány Street Synagogue. After walking through the beautiful Synagogue, we came across an elegant little shop run by this cute, little elderly woman who was selling handmade Jewish crafts and goods. We were told that this elderly woman, Lucy Brown was actually a Holocaust survivor. Lucy was a teenager when she, her mother, and sister were taken with the other women from their town on a march, led by the Arrow Cross Army. As they were marching towards the Danube River (where the Jews would be shot and thrown into the River), a street cleaner opened up a gate to clean the grounds behind the gate. Lucy grabbed her mother and sister, and ran through the gate, and fortunately enough, the Arrow Cross leader didn’t notice. Lucy ripped off the yellow stars from their shirts, and the three of them went into hiding until the end of the war, thanks to gentile neighbors and friends of theirs. Because of Lucy’s courage, she saved herself, her mother, and her sister.

There are countless stories of heroic Holocaust survivors, but we must listen to them and pass these stories on before there is no one left to share such experiences.

Night 2 In Budapest, Hungary

The official state holiday in Budapest was originally Constitution Day, but since it was changed seven times in the past few years, the new official state holiday is Saint Stephen’s Day and the “Day of the New Bread.” During this holiday, the city puts on a beautiful half-hour fireworks show on the bank of the Danube River. People gather on both sides, on Buda and Pest to watch the display, as they all celebrate together. Luckily for us, we had a river boat cruise set up that evening, so we had first row seats to the fireworks show.

We began our cruise early, seeing as dinner and drinks were provided for everyone on our tour group, and dinner consisted of traditional Hungarian food. Between Hungarian Goulash, with chunks of beef, potatoes, vegetables, and the Hungarian specialty, paprika, Chicken Paprikash, which is chicken in a creamy, paprika sauce, and Nokedli, or dumplings usually served alongside stews and meats, we couldn’t have asked for better Hungarian cuisine! From where our boat was, we had an incredible view of the surrounding city, especially the Parliament House.

The Parliament House was built between 1885-1904. During the World War II, local citizens removed the windows of the building, put them in sandbags and hid them in the caves of surrounding buildings. They returned the windows once the war ended, and thanks to these people, these beautiful windows were saved.

At 9:00pm, the show began, and fireworks were being lit left and right. The city put on an incredible show, and it was truly the perfect way to celebrate our last night in Budapest.

Day 1 In Budapest, Hungary Continuation

If you’ve been keeping up with my adventures traveling abroad, you’ll notice that I last left off in the early afternoon on my first day in Budapest, Hungary. In the previous post, we had just taken a tour of the Jewish Museum, located in the same building where Theodor Herzl was born, which is currently next to the Dohány Street Synagogue. I split this day up into three separate blog posts because there was so much to talk about, but this post will be appropriate timing-wise with January 27th having been the 70th Anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.

As we exited the Jewish Museum, we came across an old brick wall memorial, symbolic with the one that kept the Budaptest Jews with pieces of original bricks from the Ghetto Wall in Budapest. While following the outside train, we walked through a Peace Garden, dedicated to those who lost their lives in Budapest. Pictures along the walls show the dead bodies that were found in the same area, upon being discovered by the Russians during the liberation. Near the garden there was a memorial plaque for the Warsaw Uprising, and a unique piece of artwork. It represented the beginning of the Holocaust with the Jewish people holding onto their belongings, and as the artwork progresses (from left to right), you notice that the people in the sculpture become emaciated and their belongings quickly disappear.

One of the most notable pieces of artwork outside is a large stained glass piece in the middle of a courtyard. The red throughout the glass shows the flames of the crematoriums in the Holocaust, while the blue shows hope for the future. Close by to the stained glass is a memorial commemorating all of the gentile heroes who helped save Jews in Hungary during the Holocaust. Near these memorials and the Jewish Museum is a Heroes Temple which serves as a memorial to the Hungarian Jews who put their lives on the line during World War I.

As we neared the exit of the outdoor courtyard, we spotted the Weeping Willow Memorial. You’ll notice that there are no roots on the tree, because they say that the roots were taken out during the Holocaust, but the branches symbolize the start of a new future. And each branch contains the name of a Hungarian Jewish family murdered during this time. If you look at the tree upside-down, it is in the shape of a Menorah, symbolizing hope and positivity.

Upon leaving the Jewish Quarter, we made our way over to the Holocaust Memorial Center, which is actually a renovated synagogue from the 1920s that currently serves as a memorial and museum for the Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust. Upon first entering the courtyard of the Museum, you’ll notice six large columns; each column represents 100,000 Hungarian Jews, which represent the 600,000 Hungarian Jews, and the total of six million Jews killed during the Holocaust. The walls surrounding the Museum are filled with names of the Hungarian Jews who died during the Holocaust, but there is still an ample amount of space remaining since there are many Jews whose stories and outcomes we still don’t know of. For this reason, people continue to look into these missing Holocaust victims, and hopefully one day soon, we will know what happened to them.

The building itself is slanted downwards, showing that nothing will ever be straight again. But there are trees on top of the building, showing hope for the future. The entrance of the Museum is flat, but as you walk through, it is slanted downwards to show the worsening of the situation as the Holocaust progressed. Upon first entering the Museum, there are lines along the wall representing everyone from the Holocaust, but as you walk through the Museum, the lines progressively end, representing everyone who was killed during this time.

There are enclosed artifacts from some of the Hungarian Jews throughout the entrance of the Museum, as well as pictures of the Dohány Street Synagogue, filled with suitcases and belongings. The Germans began running out of places to store the belongings of the Jews, so they filled the Synagogue with the personal effects taken from the Jews in the area. There are numerous videos in the beginning part of the Museum that show Jewish weddings from the 30s, but as the footage of the weddings continues, you can notice that everyone in attendance had to wear Yellow Stars, which is from some of the last weddings before deportation started.

As you continue walking through the Museum, you’ll hear the sound of people marching, which continues for quite some time. You’ll also see video footage of people marching to Auschwitz because there was no railroad in Budapest. (Remember, in a previous post, I mentioned that Hungary was the last country to be occupied so by this time, there was no set plan on how to exterminate the Hungarian-Jews so the Nazis had to improvise. This led the Jews to have to walk to the concentration camps).

Near the end of the Museum, there is disturbing footage of people right before they entered the gas chambers. No one knows who filmed the footage, but it’s the only existing one of the Jewish people upon entering the gas chambers. Walking past this video, the sound of a heartbeat beats above you in the hallway leading to the exit, and right before you reach the end of the hallway, the sound stops and the room is completely silent. And at this point, there are very few lines left, compared to the countless lines (representing the Jewish lives) in the beginning of the Museum.

There is a beautiful Synagogue connected to the exit of the Museum, which shows that the Jewish religion is still existent and strong. The back of the Synagogue is filled with glass memorials, commemorating just some of the many Jews who perished in the Holocaust. After having learned even more about the Holocaust throughout our time in the Museum, it was inspiring to leave off on a note of optimism, seeing this beautifully renovated synagogue dedicated to those who lost their lives years ago.