Boldog Karácsonyt (from Budapest!)

Last year, we were invited by some Olmsted Scholars from the class of 2012 to celebrate Christmas in the High Tatras Mountains of Slovakia.  We had such a good time that we decided to continue the tradition and organize a Christmas trip for 2013.  This year, Bobby and I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to meet up with five other scholars and their families.  We spent four nights in the gorgeous capital city, taking in the Christmas market, seeing the Chain Bridge and Holocaust Memorial, visiting the famous Szechenyi thermal baths, hiking up Gellért Hill, and gathering for nightly meals with our Olmsted friends.  Although we are always slightly bummed we can’t spend the holidays with our families (….until next year!), it was really nice to share Christmas with a fantastic group of people from our military family.

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Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp

Train tracks dead-end in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Where to start?  Last year, Bobby and I visited Dachau Concentration Camp and it was a sobering experience.  However, our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was even more horrifying. It is commonly said, due to the robust rail network built by Nazi Germany, “all roads led to Auschwitz.” It became the number one extermination camp for Jews, Poles, the Roma community, homosexuals, the elderly, young children, and political prisoners during World War II.  The Third Reich shipped the Jewish population, specifically, to Auschwitz from as far south as Corfu, Greece and as far north as Oslo, Norway.  80-100 prisoners were put on each boxcar with little room to sit, next-to-no food, and just a bucket to use the bathroom, for sometimes up to three weeks before reaching their final destination.  Many passengers died during the hellish journey.  For those that lived, the second they stepped off the train they were met by the head SS doctor.  In an interview lasting four seconds, he would give a simple “left” or “right” with the turn of his thumb, effectively granting life or death.  Those directed to the left were immediately put in the gas chamber.  Those put to the right, the “lucky” ones, were condemned to hard labor, until they were no longer fit or worked to death.  In all, 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz from 1940-1945; 1.1 million were Jews, 140-150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs, and 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups.  An estimated 1.1 out of the 1.3 million people who entered Auschwitz died inside the gates and approximately 90% belonged to the Jewish community.  … [Read More]