Hello from Budapest, Hungary! My mom and I just got in to Budapest from Prague this afternoon, making it the third country we’ve visited this week. This week has been an atypical one, so I guess I’ll start with Monday. Since the Commission does work with the U.S. and Poland the staff has all Polish and U.S. holidays off. Almost all of the office took Monday off to make it a 4 day weekend since we have the Fourth of July off. So, I spent Monday working on alumni profiles and website updates. In the evening I met up with Alyssa for smoothies to recap our weekends (Alyssa’s in Berlin, mine in Vienna).
Tuesday was the Fourth of July which is a non-event in Poland, but I was fortunate to not have to work on the holiday since my mom arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday. She got in at noon and I met her at the airport before taking a cab to our hotel for the next 2 nights. I decided to stay with her because not only would I be able to spend more time with her, but the beds at the hotel were much nicer than the futon I’ve been sleeping on. We walked into Old Town and she agreed with the assesment of it being a Disney World version of Poland. We had lunch in the main square, but had to relocate indoors when my mom got her first taste of Polish rain. We had a relaxing afternoon because my mom was still dealing with some jetlag, but after dinner I helped her organize the materials for her meetings the next morning. While my mom is with me she’s meeting with alumni in all of the cities we’re visiting, since she does fundraising for LSA at UofM.
I slept in for a bit on Wednesday because of my mom’s meeting which was a nice change of pace from having to be up and at’em every day for work or a flight to whatever country I’m heading to that weekend. Since my mom had read and seen the Zookeeper’s Wife she wanted to go to the Warsaw Zoo. We were able to see the zookeeper’s house and one of the tunnels used to smuggle Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto along with many animals, including something I’d never seen before: penguins on grass. We went to lunch with 2 of my coworkers because they wanted to meet my mom and ask her some question about fundraising and the University. They were amazed by the fact that Michigan has more than 500,000 living alumni and the amounts of money that the University brings in in their annual campaign.
In the afternoon, we headed over to the Uprising Museum, which I had already done, and my mom agreed that the layout was very confusing. We also thought it was very interesting that there is very little mention of the Jews in the museum, despite the fact that the uprising had everything to do with the Germany occupation during World War II. In the evening, we went out to dinner with Alyssa, Matt, and Michael, the other interns in Warsaw, which was nice since all 4 of us hadn’t been in the same place yet this summer. We also went out for bubble waffle sundaes afterward which was basically a sundae wrapped in a belgain waffle that, rather than having indents, it had bubbles with fillings. My strawberry-banana sundae had chocolate chips in the bubbles which made for a nice surprise.
Then came Thursday, it was a day I had been dreading since I heard the announcement in early June. President Trump was in Warsaw. This summer I have been to Israel, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, the Neatherlands, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. Trump has been to the UAE, Israel, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Germany, and is heading to France for Bastille Day (and might be going to the U.K., where I will be next weekend). I’m convinced he’s been following me, but luckily I had avoided being in the same city (I was in Antwerp, Belgium while he was in Brussles) as him on the same day until Thursday. On Thursday morning streets were closed and police cars and busses used to bring people in from the country side were everywhere. I had heard from many people that the Polish government had rented out the entire bus fleet to bring people (read: Trump supporters) in from the country side since neither Trump, nor the Polish government, is very popular in the more liberal Warsaw. Trump was also speaking at different location than Presidents have spoken at in the past, the reason: it’s smaller.
After my mom had finished her 2 meetings we ubered to Polin, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, since both of us wanted to go. While we were waiting to get our audio guides Alyssa, who works at Polin, came up to us and told us Ivanka Trump had just been at the museum. Apparently, she was there to visit the education center and lay a wreath at the memorial for the Warsaw ghetto uprising, a place that her father did not visit breaking from tradition. My mom and I were happy to have dodged her, having a much stronger interest in the museum than the Trumps. The museum covered the 1,000 year history of the Jews in Poland, something I actually knew a decent amount about since I had taken a class my freshman year about the history of antisemitism. I had learned all about how antisemitism in Europe had stemmed from the fact that Jews could lend money while Christians could not. I also had heard from my dad some about life in Poland around World War I because some of my great-grandparents had lived in Poland during that time, so I had heard about the fact that Polish Jews were Jews first and Poles second, partly because Polish schools had segregated them, and refused to teach them Polish. One of the most powerful things for me were the quotes on the walls as well as the list of streets where the removed Jews from to send them to concentration camps. I was able to find the street where my apartment is here in Poland since I live where the Warsaw ghetto once was.
Thursday night we got in to our hotel in Prague and prepared for an active day in a city we had both heard great things about. We walked into Old Town Square and I was shocked by how toursity it was. I have travelled to a lot of touristy places, but I was still surprised to find guys in costumes and painted silver with boxes for money to have your picture taken with them. We ended up walking over to the Jewish quarter and purchasing a Jewish Museum ticket which got us access to 4 synagogues, the cemetery, and a funeral home (effectively, it was called something else). The first synagogue was a memorial to the 77,000 Jews who died in Prague and the surrounding communities during WWII, the second had a lot of information on Jewish culture, and the third had the history of Jews in Bohemia. After the synagogues we took a break and went on a free walking tour which allowed us to learn a lot more about Prague, since neither of us new that much about the city. We finished up the Jewish Museum by going to the funeral home and the Spanish Synagogue which had been used during WWII to hold all of the Jewish artifacts the Nazis had collected during the war to be used for a museum of “the extinct race” once they had killed all the Jews. It was chilling to see pictures of the rooms wall to wall with Torahs and Silver from synagogues.
Saturday was a little more uplifting since we took a tram to the top of Petrin Hill and the climbed up the mini, 300 step, Eiffel Tower to get an amazing look at the city, followed by a trip to the John Lennon Wall. In the afternoon we did a guided tour of the castle complex and got to see the changing of the gaurd. Today was mostly a travel day with our flight to Budapest, but we did manage to squeeze in a Jewish walking tour. We learned about the Jewish community in Hungary that had grown to 910,000 at it’s peak in 1910, but was down to 700,000 at the start of World War II only to have 600,000 of the Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust. We did get to see the Great Synagogue which is the biggest in Europe and is on the land where Theodore Herzel was born and the Raul Wallenberg memorial tree since he saved thousands of Hungary Jews during the war (and was also a UofM alum)! Tomorrow, we’ll be tackling Parlament, inside the Great Synagogue, and Fisherman’s Bastion!