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.
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 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.