I'd like to add an experience of my own to coverage of the commemoration at Auschwitz Jan. 27th. I made the journey (from Slovakia, where I lived at the time) to be there for the 50th anniversary. I had to change trains several times on the arduous overnight journey - during which I slept not a wink. When I arrived at the camp, it was bitter cold and windy with just a few flurries to add to the bleakness of the scene: the last stop on the rail line, the concrete posts which once held the barbed wire.
Numerous European heads of state attended, including Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel. But the most important guests were the survivors, among them Elie Wiesel (read his speech here). After the main event, I joined the ordinary folks who wandered through the camp as former prisoners identified the barracks they had slept in and described the random role calls and other harsh and demeaning routines and conditions.
This year, 300 survivors attended, most of whom are now about 80. These last witness will not be with us much longer, and I'm so glad I attended when I did.
See original coverage of the event 20 years ago here, and the recollections of a U.S. diplomat who attended here.
The German and Slovenian names of this town reflect its multinational heritage.
The Slovene influence is evident in the cuisine, heavier than your usual Italian fare. I had a soup called "jota"--beans with vegetables, meat and a bit of herbs. The main course was gnocchi - Italian enough - with mushrooms and sausage, a bit on the greasy side, just like the always over-indulgent Slavs like it. And a mezzo - 'half' (liter) - of red wine.
The Germanic influence is due to its time as part of the Habsburg Empire--like Sarajevo, Vienna and other cities, it is commemorating the events that led to WWI.
After the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, the couple's bodies were transported from the Balkans to Trieste (and from there by train to Vienna). At right, a display on the Piazza Unità d'Italia (incidentally, the largest sea-front square in Europe) with photos of the funeral entourage. Although most Triestini did not sypmathize with Austrian rule, they still mourned for the slain couple. The architecture on the square, with its cream-colored facades, really does look more like Vienna than Rome or Florence.
More pics to come in the Gallery section!
It's been a busy, long-awaited day for me--and nothing has turned out as expected. Partly because preparations for the centennial have not been well coordinated--perhaps because, while everyone considers the centennial worth commemorating, there are so many different takes on it--should we blame the assassin for WWI, or the Austrians, the Germans? Peace groups have arranged some events, the city of Sarajevo others, the East-West forum here in Sarajevo others. Karl von Habsburg, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian dynasty, spoke briefly last night from the bridge closest to the spot of the assassination--and that (as best I've been able to determine) amidst various sound checks for tonight's musical performances at the Latin Bridge. In the picture at left, a member of a peace organization places a wreath at the spot from which Gavrilo Princip fired the fatal shots.
A hundred or so visitors gathered at the site of the assassination around 10 AM, the approximate time of the assassination, to...? No ceremony, but there was a car identical to the one used by Francis Ferdinand and his wife on their visit. The actual vehicle is in the Historical Museum in Vienna. A number of bystanders complained that that one should have been on display; other commented that Vienna no longer has much love for the Habsburgs and that the arrangements would have been difficult and expensive--so it goes for controversial history. So, as if expecting ceremonies that were never in the plans, people stood around and improvised, taking selfies in front of the car and commenting on the lack of organization. A young couple appeared as the archduke and his wife (below) while a man in a modern Austrian uniform stood on the riding board as if protecting them with his body (somewhat true to history).
Tomorrow, June 28, will be the hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand. Disagreement among Bosnians and Serbs about how to commemorate the event (the latter tend to regard the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, as a hero) has discouraged participation from major heads of state, who prefer to avoid the controversy. Although I've been planning this trip for over a year, I've found it difficult to get specific information on centennial events.
Now that I'm here, I can offer something in the way of preparations. Hence, the following pics...
It's a tradition in Slovakia, not just Hungary. Since I lived in Martin, SK over
20 years ago, I've visited the choir many times, but this is the first time I've
been back for a goulash party, the sort of gathering that served as my goodbye
after a year of singing with them back in 1992. The weather this time was cool
for the first day of spring, but despite threatening skies, only a few
drops fell on us.
Much of the membership has changed: the current director is a Lutheran pastor whose husband, also a pastor, is playing the gajdy or Slovak bagpipes in this
clip. The bearded guy with the hat is Laco, the owner of the cottage, a good buddy who's been active in the choir since well before I joined in 1991.
Musical & Literary Wanderings of a Galloping Gypsy
Mark Eliot Nuckols is a travel writer from Silver Beach Virginia who is also a musician and teacher.