Thursday, October 19, 2006

Names on a wall


I have just returned from my holiday in Prague. I am missing the clinking sound of the trams running up and down the street, and the smell of sausages being cooked by the street venders. I am not missing the cobblestones or the excessive walking that we had been doing! Just about half of all the tourist leaflets I saw featured the word “Walks”! I suppose that with it being a quite compact medieval city it makes sense. So many of the groups of people were following someone brandishing a stick with a small flag telling you everything you needed to know absolutely everything! Joe and I did our own stuff!

I kept a journal, faithfully writing stuff in it at the end of every day. I don’t think it has the potential to be a best selling travel book on Prague, but Joe found it entertaining – mostly with the mistakes! The biggest mistake was mixing up Franz Kafka, the author who lived in Prague with Frank Capra, the movie man – how similar are the names?

I knew very little of Prague or of the Czech Republic before I went – and too some extent I am not sure if I know that much more now.

The one place that probably affected me most was one of the Jewish synagogues. It has become a memorial to all of the Jews in Prague and the surrounding areas who were killed in concentration camps by the Nazis. I had read the blurb on the leaflet about names written on the walls, but nothing could have prepared me for what it was like.

Thousands upon thousands of names of people with their birth dates and death dates were written neatly in row upon row. At a glance it could have been wallpaper. One Jewish family had faithfully researched who had been lost during those years and made sure that they were not forgotten. Each name was a person that someone knew, passed in the street, chatted with, drank coffee with – they were real people.

For a while I have been thinking about whether I am as tender-hearted as I could be. So many things that seem to touch some people have left me relatively unaffected. I stood looking at all these names on the wall, and I cried. These were not people I knew, they had all met their death long before I was even born – and yet the only word that I could come up with was “Sorry.” I just stood there, tears streaming down my face, reading out the names of total strangers and saying sorry.

I looked at some of the white spaces on the wall, the plaster above the arches and prayed that they would stay white – that there would never be another occasion where so many people die so needlessly that their names need to be recorded on the white bits of the wall.

I hope that we never reach the point where someone says that events like the Holocaust should not be remembered. The Bible is littered with memorials – not always to help people remember the good stuff – but also the bad stuff. If we do not remember the bad stuff, we will be in danger of repeating it.

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