It was a rainy day for our first day of touring Prague and though rain is occasionally romantic in dark, brooding movies, it’s just plain annoying when trying to soak about some Czech beauty on a Spring day. We wisely spent most of the morning indoors at the various Jewish museums and synagogues, though it hardly uplifted me to read about the 800 years of on again/off again persecution of Jews in Bohemia and Moravia. Now you have legal rights, now you don’t, now you can go to schools, now you can’t, now only your eldest son can get married, now we’ll outlaw your books, now we’ll give you a few rights, now we’ll massacre you, now we’ll banish you. The same old tired story of the in-group and the out-group and one at the mercy of the other. And somehow, it’s the white Christian men who are always on top. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch-trials, African slavery, Native American Genocide, that long brutal history brought to you by the religion of loving your neighbor—well, as long as your neighbor isn't Jewish, Muslim, a woman, a person of color, a mystic. A history that unrolls right up to our very doorstep, as the Trumpites are trying to repeat the same exclusionary politics that created the nightmare we call history.
The most moving of all the exhibits were drawings from children in Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp that was a way-station to Auschwitz. Though brutal, overcrowded and unsanitary enough to cause some 33,000 deaths, it was the Nazi’s propaganda piece, designed to show (like the way people depicted slaves on American plantations) how happy people were. The children were allowed to be educated by some of the inhabitants and thus, a few teachers who knew the healing power of art had drawing classes for kids and this was what was miraculously saved and displayed at the museum. They also were allowed to put on a musical theater piece called Brundibar, one my colleague Sofia did with the kids at our school many years ago (I was gone at the time). The basic story line is that the children’s mother is sick and the only cure is milk, but the children could not afford to buy it. They thought of earning it by singing, but the mean Brundibar had cornered the market on street-singing and people only paid for him to sing his ugly songs. The children eventually win the public over with their more beautiful and humane songs and are able to cure their mother. Feels to me like slave songs secretly preaching resistance to those who understood and the slave masters where oblivious. Did the Nazi’s who allowed and filmed the production understand that Brundibar was a thinly-disguised Hitler? Seems remarkable that they allowed this to be performed!
Other exhibits included the wall of names of some of the 77,000 Jews killed in Prague, a way to show the lie of statistic and the truth of human beings who had names. I didn’t see a Goodkin on the list, but certainly some last names the same as people I know. And then the graveyard with its overcrowded stones showing that even in death, the Jewish Ghetto was a difficult place. The tour ended with a Spanish-style, architecturally-speaking, Synagogue that was exquisite in design and color.
By the end, the rain had not only let up, but increased. We soldiered on to the Fred and Ginger house, Charles Bridge and Old Town, but secretly hoped tomorrow would be sunny and we would return.
Meanwhile, back home they are deciding on whether to confirm a friend of tyrants to the highest court in the land. Those who don’t know the history I witnessed today or care to know it will casually accept such disastrous decisions. So I’ll end with a drawing from one of the children showing the pain of being evicted from school. And a warning from the end of Tony Kushner’s and Maurice Sendak’s book version of Brundibar. May these lessons be heeded!