I was struggling today with thinking up a blog post. I had no idea what to write about. And now I just hope I can write about it through my tears. Today I discovered what it means to be humbled. Truly humbled. To feel so small and so ignorant of what it means to suffer. The people back home, they don’t feel a connection to Europe so much. We don’t realize for example that Sweden, is a capitalist country. As is France. It has been over two hundred years since a war touched us on our own soil for any real span of time. We don’t realize, we conveniently forget, when we look at all the laughing smiling highly educated Europeans… That they have a trail of tears behind them. Many of them have stories to tell of things that have happened here, in this sunny bright area, where today everyone goes about their business laughing and smiling and even singing. The grave yards, are not near by, but the graves are fresh. Much fresher than those in American soil. Today, I am going to share some stories. This is part of travel too. The ugly past is ever present in every place you go. And every person who is today in these sunny bright Austrian streets has been touched personally in one way or another by the ugliest that humanity has to offer.
I spend my days at a local dog park. They have become my family and my community over the last four years. They have become int his time my whole world. I am largely alone here in Austria. My family except for my husband is a million miles away and across oceans. All my friends, I left behind me. Just my husband and my dogs, and now the Austrian people of the dog park that have adopted me. They share with me everything from teaching me their language to telling me how to make Austrian food. They tell me where to buy the things I need and they assist me with my every day life. The younger ones mostly speak passable English. Some of the older ones are kind and they try to help but they can’t speak enough English. I had 1 month of notice that we would be coming here. I never conceived of the notion of leaving my home in Boston for any real extended period of time until I met my husband.
Every day here is difficult for me. These people who have become my family have welcomed me with open arms. They share with me the beauty of their home. They also share with me the history.
I have heard stories from friends about members of their family who when the allies came in at the end of the war, they stripped their three little boys naked. All of them under the age of ten. They knew it was the end and some just went crazy. They made their little boys lie on the balcony on their stomachs. Then they waited for the bombs because they were too far away from the nearest bomb shelter to make it in time.
Another friend, had a family member who had partial Jewish descent during the war. This descent was rather far removed, but during the war, some ways outside Vienna on a small farm, they hid Jews from the Nazis. At one point, they showed up at the door of my friend’s great grandmother’s farm. They took her away. It was 48 hours before she came back. She would never talk of what happened to her or what was done to her while she was in Nazi custody.
Another close friend I have made here had family that was just…. a college professor and ended up somehow in the Gulag prison in Siberia. He too would never talk of what went on there.
Every so often you see someone here on the street. Usually an old woman of some kind. And her brain is just scrambled. Her body survived the war but the rest of her didn’t.
One of the women I have been loosely in contact with here who always wants to talk to me…. But my German though it gets better is still not good enough to have a fully functional conversation, today spoke to me through a friend. She wanted to tell me her story. She is eighty three years old and alone. Her daughter is a touring musician somewhere. She herself played piano when she was young. She was married till six years ago when her husband died. Then she got herself a little dog. She speaks no English. Or so I thought. Today, she told me her story and for the first time she used english. She said, she was in a building beside one that got bombed. She lost her parents early in the war. She and her brother, then pretty much roamed the streets trying to survive. She was only thirteen. The older one. I can’t imagine what she was subjected to at about fifteen years old when the Russians came in and all the women in this city were raped and abused by the allies and the russians. I don’t want to imagine what she traded to buy survival for herself and her baby brother. Today, we are sitting on the park bench and she tells me the only words she knows in English, go as follows, “I’m hungry.” She learned those words during the war.
“I’m hungry”, what do you say to that knowing that it was the people of your own homeland that caused the death of her family. They caused her to starve…. She was just a child with no protections from society.
We sit in our fancy houses back at home…. We watch our fancy TVs. We listen to them all talking about wars in distant places. We have no idea what the reality is. We are so far removed from it. But here in Europe, it is never far from mind or heart. And even today it effects the people even those who didn’t live through it greatly. Many of them were raised by rape victims, who’s brains were scrambled by war. Even today, children as young as six are taught about what they are responsible for in school. They are taught how they are responsible for the holocaust. I fail to see how a six year old can be held responsible for anything. Certainly not for atrocities committed nearly 100 years before their birth. Even today the scars live on. When you come to Europe, especially if you plan to live here, you have to be aware. You have to be gentle. And you have to be a stone not to feel for these people and what they have been through. I feel for the Jews that died in the holocaust. But after hearing the stories of which I have only shared a few, I am just as humbled by the stories of the Austrian people and the suffering. That a woman can sit next to me on a bench in a park in the sunlight and tell me the only words she knows in English are “I’m hungry.” I don’t know what to say. I broke down. And I just started to cry. And I am sitting there and she is comforting me in German….. It is astounding to me the depths of the human heart. When no words are left and only tears remain. I have never responded to anything like this before. I just had no words. Just those simple words “i’m Hungry…” Of all the beautiful words of English…. Of all the plays written by Shakespeares….. All this woman knows of English, “I’m hungry.”
I find, that I too am hungry. I am hungry for an aware world where children in war zones don’t starve and where humanity can come up with an alternative solution to violence for it’s disputes. We grow up hearing the hell stories of the Jews, but every day, I hear the hell stories of the German and Austrian people. They too have suffered. Why, do we as a human race continue to do this to eachother? I just don’t understand.