Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Tension of the Opposites

Sitting in the tension of the opposites is apparently where I find myself these days.  I’ve been reflecting on our recent trip to the Czech Republic and Austria.  So much beauty, both natural and cultural.  I fell in love with beautiful Prague and the charming Czesky Krumlov.  I admired the artwork of Alfons Mucha and Klimt.  We had the sweet companionship of friends and family.  I was thrilled to see the Artemis of Ephesus in the museum in Vienna.  And the Austrian Alps – what words can truly describe their grandeur? 

Then there was the old Jewish Quarter of Prague and Terezin.  There was beauty – the Spanish Synagogue, for instance, and the old cemetery.  And there was also the horror and sadness of the names of all the Holocaust dead covering the walls of the Pinkas synagogue.  And then there was the strangeness of Terezin itself.  The Nazis had adapted the fortified town of Terezin as a ghetto and concentration camp. They evicted the Czech residents and interred primarily Jews from Czechoslovakia, as well as Jews deported chiefly from Germany and Austria, and some from the Netherlands and Denmark. More than 150,000 Jews were sent there, including 15,000 children.  Although it was not a death camp, about 33,000 died in the ghetto.  And of the 15,000 children only 100 survived the war.

But going to Terezin… It is a charming little town, once again inhabited by Czechs.  The odd paradox of this fine little town and the horrors that happened here….it is hard to take in.  Only in what they call the small fortress do you really get a sense of the nightmare.  

We were there around the same time as Charlottesville was happening here at home.  The synchronicity was chilling.

But doesn’t this all make sense in a larger context?  We are, many of us privileged and (relatively and so far) safe, yet horrified by what is happening in our country both naturally and politically.  Shortly after we came home we got word of the sudden death of a friend.  Hurricane Harvey hit, and all the California fires.  And yet, I, for one, am in almost daily contact with the most beautiful and wonderful of granddaughters, for whom I have to have hope. 

How do we sit with it all – the beauty and the horror?