More to Czech Out

the political prisoner survivor

by Tziona Breitbart

High: Why are certain moments in history overlooked? Why is some suffering memorialized while others are forgotten? I had the opportunity to learn about and see a part of history that many others and I barely know exists. My program planned an optional trip to Jachymov, a medieval town in northwest Bohemia near Karlovy Vary in the Ore Mountains of the Czech Republic, close Germany’s border. The trip was centered on learning about the former labour camps for political prisoners of the Czechoslovak communist regime Rovnost, Eliáš, Nikolaj used to mine uranium in the 1950s. To learn about this tragic part of history, we were led by a former political prisoner whom is a living witness of the past and the organization “Political Prisoners”. While listening to his story and hearing about his pain, I could not help but think how this suffering in history remains unknown. He showed us the “Red Tower of Death” – where the political prisoners were forced to work with uranium all day without any safety precautions – which ultimately killed most due to the hazardous conditions. The strength he showed to return to where he suffered so greatly and share his story with strangers remains engrained in my mind and heart. During the trip, we also followed the “knowledge trail” which took us along the path of many of the different camps hidden away in the woods of Jachymov. If I did not have a tour guide showing me where the camps once stood, I would have easily just seen the town as another beautiful place. With little markings and nothing left, these camps were utterly destroyed in order to hide what truly happened, the memory of the suffering of the many political prisoners remains hidden. While following the trail, we walked along the path the prisoners had to take in order to get to the coalmines. The path was quite steep and difficult to handle on a day that was warm and the ground was not slippery. As I struggled with parts of the walk, I could only imagine how the prisoners that were attached to one another must have suffered through during winter and rainy days. While Jachymov remains a beautiful town, the pain that was endured there, screams out hope for someone to listen and recognize the terrible suffering that once occurred there.

2015 spring- Celebrating Passover in our apartment_Tziona Breitbart

Low with a High: Being away from family during holidays will always be hard, but being in a different country with a small Jewish community adds an extra level of sadness. As Pesach approached, I was quickly saddened that I would not be sitting down with my family at home for the Seders. I loved being able to celebrate Pesach with my family, but this semester I had the opportunity to spend it with a new family. I had the greatest Pesach that I could not have gotten otherwise. I hosted my first Seder with my roommate Melissa for all of our friends and one of the directors on the program. Celebrating Pesach with the new friends I have made while in Prague was incredible. Explaining the Pesach traditions, singing songs, preparing kosher Passover food, and welcoming my friends who have never celebrated before, warmed my heart tremendously. Seeing how excited everyone was to sit down and be part of such an important holiday in my life is a memory that will remain with me forever.

Kotel

Glitter: During this past semester, I have had many opportunities and experiences that I never thought possible while studying abroad in the Czech Republic. I have not only met family members for the first time, but I also visited where my Grandpa grew up in Vienna and Auschwitz where some of my family perished. Continuing on this journey of connecting with my family’s past, I can happily say that I have finally met all of my family living in Israel. Having the chance to meet all of my family in Israel is a memory that will remain with me forever. While visiting Jerusalem I saw family I never thought I would see and even got to meet the newest addition to our family, baby Elan. Spending time with my family in Israel, while it was short, was incredible. As I had the opportunity to discover my family on my dad’s side, I now had the chance to do the same with my mom’s side while in Israel – a place so dear to me. Studying in Prague has allowed me to learn about my family in ways that I never thought possible, and I will never forget how it has changed and made me appreciate where I come from. Being in Israel, where I feel so at home, and seeing family that is so important to me reminded me how fortunate I truly am to have somewhere I love so much and to be welcomed home by those I love.

Tziona BreitbartTziona Breitbart is a junior at Smith College. She is studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the 2015 spring semester. She looks forward to exploring the culture and learning about the enriched history of the area. While abroad she will be interning with the Aspen Institute Prague. At Smith she is a history major, concentrating in Russian history, and a community engagement and social change concentrator.

Czech It Out 2

Lidice

Lidice

by Tziona Breitbart

High: Celebrating Purim with an elderly woman. The local Jewish Youth Organization delivers Mishloach Manot (Jewish gift-bags filled with delicious foods) to the elderly throughout Prague every Purim. When I heard about this opportunity, I could not help but hold back my excitement to interact with the elderly in this community and celebrate Purim with them. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Hana Hnatova, the sister of renowned Czech author Arnost Lustig, in her home. Entering into her apartment, I immediately felt honored to be able to visit this beautiful woman who has experienced so much in her life and continues to smile constantly. When she opened the door she immediately smiled and expressed great gratitude for bringing her Mishloach Manot and visiting her. She reminded me of my grandma back at home and I instantly felt like I was home for a short period. My visit lasted for over two hours in which we talked about her family, life in Prague, and her life. I did not want to leave her. Being in the presence of this woman who survived the Holocaust and continues to be happy that she is Jewish and alive touched me deeply. She shows no pain, but rather thankfulness and love for those around her. At one point, she gave me the biggest hug and kiss simply because she was happy to have a young individual visiting her. While my visit may have only been for a limited amount of time, the interaction will forever stay with me. I am hoping to go visit her again and learn even more about her and make her smile again.

Terezin

Terezin

Low: Emotional low. This past month has been filled with intense experiences that I am grateful for being able to have. My first visit to a physical location of the Holocaust scared me tremendously. I did not know what to expect or how I would react to being in a place of such atrocity and destruction. As the journey approached, I began to become very anxious about it, but knew that it was something I needed to do. I traveled with my program to Lidice and Terezin. Before visiting Lidice, I knew very little about what occurred there and how the Nazis annihilated the village. In retaliation of Heydrich’s assassination, the Nazis murdered all the men and children, and sent the women to a concentration camp. A village that was once filled with laughter and enjoyment, stands today with a new village built in its name nearby, but the village itself is now a place where nature grows and memories remain.

My program then visited the Theresienstadt concentration camp in which a survivor of the camp showed us around. Visiting Theresienstadt was extremely difficult for me as my great Uncle and great-great grandparents were taken from there home in Vienna and forcefully brought here. Only my great Uncle survived. While at the camp, I could not stop questioning how this could happen to individuals. How can humanity be this cruel? While seeing a place where my family may have perished was extremely difficult it also brought me closer to them. I will never know how they suffered, but I now have visited the site of their suffering and made their identities known.

Glitter: Connecting to my family’s past and present. This past month has been filled of experiences I never thought I would have traveling to Prague. During the past month, I have met family members for the first time and visited where my family originated from in Vienna.   I met my cousins from Israel in Berlin by chance. I found out right before my travels that I had a relative living there and that his dad would be visiting there this weekend. Meeting them was incredible as it gave us the opportunity to put our family map together and meet where our family lived after WWII. It made me realize that family is everywhere and whether close or nearby you will always be connected.

To continue this journey of learning about my family, I travelled to Vienna where my dad’s side of my family lived before the Holocaust. While in Vienna I visited the apartment building of where my grandpa, great uncle, and great-great grandparents once lived and owned a store. Visiting this place made me feel connected to a past I never thought I would be able to connect with. Being in the exact location where my family used to live happily, until they were forced out due to their religion, felt sad and beautiful simultaneously. Knowing the pain my family must have endured, especially my grandpa who I knew personally, crushed me. I am so thankful and honored that I was able to walk on the same streets as he once did and to see a side of my family I never thought possible. Seeing where my grandpa grew up showed me a part of his life that remained unknown to me. As I leave Vienna, I followed my family’s past and now I will go forward with them forever in my heart.

Tziona BreitbartTziona Breitbart is a junior at Smith College. She is studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the 2015 spring semester. She looks forward to exploring the culture and learning about the enriched history of the area. While abroad she will be interning with the Aspen Institute Prague. At Smith she is a history major, concentrating in Russian history, and a community engagement and social change concentrator.

Czech It Out!

View from my run in Letna Park

View from my run in Letna Park

by Tziona Breitbart

High: Running. Settling in has its ups and downs, but running has been my way of feeling like I am home. Where I live in Prague (the most beautiful city) I have two amazingly gorgeous parks that are great for running. Feeling unsure of the area of where I live, I decided to go running in Letna Park which overlooks the Vltava River and the inner city of Prague. It felt great to go alone as it forced me to recognize where I was and see the surrounding area of where I live. It made me realize how appreciative I am of being here and to have this opportunity. I also went running in Stromovka Park where I found an old bunker which made me realize that history is literally everywhere you turn in Prague. Running has allowed me to feel connected to Prague so very quickly. It is something I can do alone and gives me time to digest everything I have experienced and will experience.

The bunker I found in Stromovka Park.

The bunker I found in Stromovka Park.

Low: Leaving home. Filled with excitement, nervousness, and fears I stepped onto the plane that would take me to a new country to start my journey. I have never flown alone or been away from my family more than 6 weeks (and that was hard). Leaving behind my family and friends scared me and made me question if going was the right choice at all. I questioned why I was going and if I should leave my life behind for four months. Flying alone was terrifying and it did not help that I happened to be sick. The plane ride felt incredibly long as I could not stop thinking about how sad I was to say goodbye to my family, but I knew deep down that I needed to take this step and experience an opportunity of a lifetime—I just needed to get there first.

Glitter: Recognizing that I will be living in the most beautiful city for four months and experiencing new adventures that will open my eyes to the world. This first week has had its ups and downs, but it has made me realize that this is a chapter of my life that I will never forget. I will see places that I never imagined I would, while living on my own in a historical city. I cannot wait to see the friendships that are formed and the places I learn about in Prague and throughout central Europe. Living in Prague is something I never thought would happen, but now it’s my reality and I would not change that for anything.

Tziona BreitbartTziona Breitbart is a junior at Smith College. She is studying abroad in Prague, Czech Republic during the 2015 spring semester. She looks forward to exploring the culture and learning about the enriched history of the area. While abroad she will be interning with the Aspen Institute Prague. At Smith she is a history major, concentrating in Russian history, and a community engagement and social change concentrator.