Ancestral Pilgrimage, Stopping the Trauma Train

What’s Wrong With This Picture?


We are nearing the end of our ancestral pilgrimage now. Here I am in front of the Volksopera in Vienna between the feet of the Wicked Witch of Oz, proclaimed dead and powerless amidst bells and revelry.


But the Witch is not dead. Evil is still afoot.

We saw many commemorations to the dead on our short journey through Central Europe. At each stop on our way—Prague, Terezin, Uhersky-Brod, Slovakia, Budapest, Vienna—we learned how lives much like our own were disrupted, how unfathomable atrocities occurred. Decades later, museums and commemorations arose. Iron shoes nailed on the shores of the Danube, walls filled with carefully calligraphed names, gold-squares set at the doors of houses—all beautiful attempts to ring the bell of awareness, to awaken us to cognizance, to give a semblance of honor to those who could not be saved.

Is this human cycle inevitable, I wonder? Deport, Kill, Remember, Repeat.
Will we be doing the same in twenty years time for the Muslim families who are currently crossing continents looking for sanctuary?

My sister and I have seen a lot. But as I walk the streets of Central Europe looking at historical markers, I have found myself asking: What are we not seeing here? What is not in this picture?

For instance, we have traveled on many trains and have frequented many stations but have seen no refugees, though there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants traversing the continent right now. No immigrants in any of these places, at least not visible to my eyes.

This sends a shiver up my spine. I have read how self-styled vigilante groups have formed in Hungary and Slovakia to patrol borders and trains to defend against the “menacing incursion of asylum seekers” from war-torn nations in the Middle East and Africa.

But how long can people hold back the intolerable? Last year 400,000 asylum seekers passed through Hungary on their way to Germany and other more hospitable countries. One of the officials from the border guard units there was quoted as saying: “Europe is Christian, they are Muslims.” The asylum seekers now pouring through the continent, he sad: “It’s a financed and organized wave by Zionist Jews to destroy Europe.”


It’s not hard to read between the lines. To see what’s wrong with this picture. The news is bracing to anyone who knows a little history. Can we think ahead and interrupt the pattern before it repeats one more time?

All quotes from the: NYT 6.10.2016

Previous Post Next Post

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Eve Ilsen June 28, 2016 at 12:02 am

    Scary stuff, the re-emergence of this mindless aggressive prejudice as a reaction to fear or paranoia.
    The strange and impolite thought that has been nagging me is: what if countries would commit to safely caring for immigrant women and children, and would train and help/join the men to fight and take back their countries from ISIS, etc? So many refugees leaves a vacuum… E

  • Reply Sharonah Laemmle June 28, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Scary, is it not?
    I am grateful to our ancestors who came here, mourning for those who did not.

  • Reply Lester Kurtz June 28, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    A colleague and I went to the Volksoper in Vienna one weekend when we were teaching at the European Peace University a few miles outside of the city in the Alpine foothills. The opera playing that weekend was ideal – I was teaching a course on religion and violence, and Verdi’s “Jerusalem” was about the Crusades. In the end, the Christians “won,” of course, and in the grand finale as the majestic music soared across that magnificent house, the Crusaders moved the bodies of the dead Muslim soldiers into the form of a cross. Chills down the spine, still. The next day we returned to Stadtschlaining, where the synagogue is now a library and the EPU’s Haus International was built, I was later told, over the ancient Jewish cemetery, which disappeared during the Nazi era, along with the surviving Jewish population. Students used to come, mostly from conflict zones in the Global South, to get a master’s degree in Peace & Conflict studies, until the Austrian government withdrew its financial support and the EPU ended up closing for lack of sufficient funded students.

    • Reply Tirzah Firestone June 29, 2016 at 10:42 pm

      Chilling indeed. My time in Vienna was very unsettling.
      Maybe I know too much about its past, but I felt things roiling below the city’s beautiful surface.

      —— “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” ― C.G.

  • Reply Aleza Grazi Tuohy August 30, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Hi Tirzah,

    AS always, you have targeted the gut of things and shined the light on it. I think that, until the eclipse, I felt that I was weathering the crazy hatred and demented leadership in our country and around the world. But, feeling nature during the eclipse, seeing it respond to the wonder of the coming together of earth, sun and moon, made me realize that I’ve been holding my breath all these months, not dealing with it. I was not seeing the horrible disparity of truths that has infected the world, only weighing it in my rational mind. I wonder if this very behavior, this closing of the eyes to unpleasant and dangerous radicalism, is what made our ancestors not believe the vileness people can exhibit, and so didn’t do more to protect and defend themselves.

    Thanks for shining the light. Love


  • Leave a Reply to Lester Kurtz Cancel Reply

    8 + seventeen =