"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
With Memorial Day almost upon us, I have been thinking back on my memories of some three-plus decades of travel writing. Happily, I’ve never become jaded.
I am still in awe of the fantastic experiences that the magic carpet of travel has swept me to. Yes, it’s been a great ride! I spent a weekend in Monte Carlo partying with the Royal Family of Monaco…met a bevy of movie stars, astronauts, royalty and politicians…flew at Mach 2 on both the British and French Concordes…sailed some 140 cruises…circumnavigated the world on a romantic honeymoon...visited the Arctic and Antarctic…ingested numerous kilos of caviar…and drank enough champagne to fill an Olympic swimming pool.
However, with that being said, the memories most etched in my mind are not those sybaritic, hedonistic ones that brought me undeniable pleasure. The trips that carved a permanent place in my heart and my mind are the ones that inevitably brought tears to my eyes.
As we approach this upcoming Memorial Day, relive with me some of the world’s sad and sobering experiences that have made this business of travel even more meaningful.
WAR SITES: The Normandy Beaches are the sites where the members of “The Greatest Generation” landed on June 6, 1944. The men who landed at Normandy on D-Day made up the largest military invasion from the sea in the history of the world. The code name for the landing was “Operation Neptune”. Omaha Beach was the bloodiest of the D-Day landings. The American Cemetery, located on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach contains the remains of 9,387 American military dead.
|THE AMERICAN CEMETERY IN NORMANDY|
Vietnam’s Cu Chi Tunnels, located approximately 25 miles northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, is an amazing network of tunnels that enabled us to view the claustrophobic life experienced by Vietnamese villagers and guerrillas in the subterranean passages in which they lived during the war. This elaborate 125 mile network of tunnels, spread beneath the ground like a cobweb, is a chilling reminder of the struggle our soldiers encountered fighting an invisible enemy. Viet Cong guerrillas used the tunnels as hiding spots during combat. Today, tunnels at Cu Chi are a war memorial park.
|AN ENTRY INTO VIETNAM’S CU CHI TUNNELS|
CONCENTRATION CAMPS: Auschwitz is a place that says ‘Remember!' "Arbeit macht frei." How many innocent souls were deceived as they passed beneath those words forged from steel? “Arbeit macht frei.” How many false hopes were raised as millions walked under those entrance-gate words? “Arbeit macht frei.” "Work Makes Freedom", that hideous Nazi sign dared to scream out its lie. It is difficult to imagine a more cynical mockery. No guns poked from the wooden watchtowers...no heel-clicking SS officers changed the guard. Where thousands of emaciated prisoners once struggled for survival, thousands of tourists now struggled to understand...to feel...to gain a deeper meaning to the words of survivors like Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel. What we all had in common was our own personal desire to make our assessment of the enormity of the bestial Nazi crimes against humanity.
AUSCHWITZ GATE: ARBEIT MACHT FREI
Terezin, just outside of Prague, was not considered an official “death camp”, yet more than 35,000 prisoners died in this camp due to torture, starvation, and disease. The fortress of Terezin (Theresienstadt), named after Empress Maria Theresa, never saw battle but became a political prison for enemies of the Habsburgs in the 19th century. At the end of November 1941, a ghetto was established in the fortress for the Jewish population from Bohemia and Moravia. It served as a collecting and transit camp. From here, transports left for the extermination camps in the East. A visit to Terezin is not for everyone. A visit to Terezin is for people who cannot pass through their lifetime in a state of denial or indifference. It is for people who want to dispel what may be the biggest hoax of the twentieth century…the belief that the Holocaust never existed.
MEMORIALS: The Homomonument, located in the center of Amsterdam, commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. Opened on September 5, 1987, it takes the form of three large pink triangles made of granite, set into the ground so as to form a larger triangle. The Homomonument was designed to "inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination." It was the first monument in the world to commemorate gays and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis.
THE HOMOMONUMENT IN AMSTERDAM
The Hungarian Holocaust Victims and Heroes Memorial unveiled behind the Great Synagogue in 1991 pays tribute to Hungarian Holocaust victims who were exterminated by the Nazis in WW II. This Weeping Willow sculpture, funded by the late actor Tony Curtis, is in loving memory of his Hungarian-born parents Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Schwartz. In Tony Curtis’s words, the Holocaust Memorial is “dedicated to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who perished in the Holocaust and to the many valiant heroes of all faiths who risked their lives to save untold numbers of Jewish men, women and children from certain death.” Among the poignant plaques at the base of the memorial is that of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation which reads: “We may never understand why or how it happened, but we must never forget it happened.” Edgar Bronfman’s plaque is inscribed, “Evil shall be vanquished by memory”.
|HUNGARIAN HOLOCAUST VICTIMS AND HEROES MEMORIAL|
MISSION OF MERCY: Rovaniemi, Finnish Lapland, is Finland’s Arctic playground. It is the magical home of Santa Claus, his elves, and his reindeer. It is a snowy wonderland that enchants hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world who come to meet Santa Claus and his elves every day of the year. During my visit, I met a remarkable group of unforgettable kids…cancer-stricken kids brought to Santa Clause Village by a Ronald McDonald House in California.
|SANTA AND HIS ELVES CHEERED SICK CHILDREN IN FINNISH LAPLAND|
Accompanied by doctors and nurses, these kids were experiencing a place where the fairytale became true. Smiles came across pale faces; gaunt eyes looked in wonder at living elves; a limbless boy was carried to sit on Santa’s lap; little Nadia told me she would not remove her hat because she had no hair. She also told me she wanted some new clothes for Christmas. When I got home, I sent Nadia a box of pretty new clothes. Sadly, I received a note saying Nadia was thrilled with the clothes, but had passed away before she was able to wear them. Sad as the above travel experiences were, I wouldn’t trade them for the grandest trips in the world. My heart ached, my breath ceased; yet those experiences are a big part of who I am today.
JANET STEINBERG is the winner of 43 national Travel Writer Awards and is a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Cincinnati, Ohio