Traveling while Jewish

Traveling while Jewish

Our correspondent reacts to Eastern Europe sensibilities

Lois Goldrich, right, with her friend Bea Gopoian of Teaneck as they cruise the Danube River.
Lois Goldrich, right, with her friend Bea Gopoian of Teaneck as they cruise the Danube River.

I’m willing to concede that when I arrived in Germany, my internal sensors were already on high alert after visiting Prague — which is a delightful city.

But it had already hit me that Jews process information differently than other people.

Call it being thin-skinned, or oversensitive, or simply taking things too personally. Call it what you will. The fact remains that we listen for what remains unspoken.

Lois and her friends went to the Altneuschul in Prague, which still is functioning as a synagogue.

An example: On the day after Yom HaShoah, when the Czech tour guide proudly touted her city’s enlightened attitude toward the Jewish community — we had been expelled from there only twice, for four years each time, rather than for centuries, as had happened in England — oh, and we were brought back because the king’s coffers were growing low — I had to fight back the snarky impulse to say wow and offer my congratulations.

Of course, she did seem to recognize the gravity of the fact that 80,000 of the city’s 110,000 Jews were wiped out during the Holocaust.

Perhaps I was just feeling a bit peevish because a fellow traveler told me that she was taking the optional trip to nearby Thereisenstadt (Te-re-zine, in local parlance), because her husband had always been “fascinated by that.” By what exactly, I wondered.

Plaque in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, commemorating Sigmund Steiner, who opened an antique store in 1847. The monument is for the sixteen family members who were killed in a concentration camp.

No. I don’t think anyone was being anti-Semitic, or mean-spirited, or even thoughtless. They were just processing the data differently.

Interestingly, several fellow tour members, also Jewish, as it happens, turned out to have had the same reaction to an earlier incident.

When we crossed from Czechoslovakia into Germany on the autobahn, our enthusiastic tour guide said, “Hooray, we’re in Germany.” The words jarred. Scarcely 60 seconds later, she noted our proximity to a former concentration camp — Flossenburg, I think — and then went on to extol the virtues of Bavarian beer.

I never really intended to visit Germany, afraid of precisely the kind of paranoia I seem to be experiencing, but my river cruise to Budapest begins here, in Regensburg. In the city center, yet another guide told us how Jews were protected by neighbors in the Middle Ages — until they weren’t. A small memorial marks the site of a demolished synagogue.

We’ll be sailing tonight for Austria, where I have no doubt I’ll overreact to some well-meaning docent who loves her country. I have no idea how to prevent these gut reactions, though I’m not allowing them to overshadow what otherwise is a lovely trip. Still, it would be nice to be able to trust our host countries unreservedly, rather than conjuring up images of a less welcoming past.

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