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Monday, October 29, 2012

Thoughts During Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy has destroyed many homes and communities and certainly upended lives, but I have no doubt that people  will pull themselves together and rebuild.  The human spirit is too robust and will never acknowledge defeatism.  And, of course, this can't compare with the agonies suffered by so many others, in all  wars and on into today.  Courage and resolve are the cornerstones of survival in adversity.  And Americans have that in spades. So many others were never given the chance, erased from history. Even at this very moment, atrocity abounds.   But it's in our human nature to look forward not back when confronted by hardship. And that is as it should be.

I wrote about my visit to Poland last time and wanted to write a little too about Hungary which was part of that trip.  Both countries' histories are difficult - but most especially Poland's as I tried to indicate in my last post.   The second part of my August  trip after Poland [and Slovakia] was to Budapest and the areas around it and along the Danube.

Hungary was under Turkish domination and the Ottomans for many years, 1541-1718; she too, as Poland, suffered from being invaded and carved up through history but became a powerful entity as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire for the years 1867-1918.  Much of the beautiful building took place during this time in Budapest. Unfortunately, Hungary was on the wrong side in  World War I- her fear of Russia made her join forces with the Central Powers, essentially the German Empire. As a losing power in that war, her territorial losses were huge.

Hungary also suffered during World War II; she chose to be on the German side, so she chose wrong twice.  But at the beginning of the war, Nazi Germany promised she would regain the territories she had lost,  so she collaborated.  When she saw by 1944 that the Axis Powers would probably lose the war, she sought a separate peace with the Allies. The Nazis responded by occupying her.  After that, the Final Solution was put into effect in Hungary as it had been in Poland and all across Europe. Between 440,000 and 600,000  Hungarian Jews and others were deported to concentration camps, mostly Auschwitz, aided by the detested Hungarian police.

After the war, occupation by the Soviet Union [again with collaboration by Hungarian "secret police"] continued a reign of terror which is well documented at Budapest's House of Terror:

Budapest was bombed by the British and Americans and the city was severely damaged.  The misery didn't end then, however, as the Soviets occupied the country from 1947-1989, the "Communist times" as they are referred to. Thousands died, political prisoners and others, at the hands of the Soviets and the secret police in those years, especially after the 1956 uprising which was quashed.  The photo is of the Museum of Terror, the very spot on the elegant Andrassy Way where many interrogations, torture and hangings took place.
Today, as a member of the EU, Hungary's problems are mostly economic and Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  As with Poland, the human capacity for rebuilding, both the social fabric and culture as well as the physical  is incredible and admirable. One wonders if Syria and other Middle Eastern countries will be able to do the same in the years and decades to come.

But for me, visiting Poland and Hungary as well as Auschwitz [and later The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.] truly made me realize what the terrible numbers of lost lives during the 20th century's most horrible period means - the awful silence of 6,000,000 Jews and 6,000,000 others and the loss of their contributions to society.  It's hard to imagine how different the world might be today.

So Hurricane Sandy should not be a cause for despair when looked at in the scheme of things.  Everything is fixable! Except the dead.

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