Posts Tagged ‘travel’

One Traveler Honors Her Family Lost in Auschwitz

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Thomas Emmert Thomas Emmert, professor emeritus at Gustavus Adolphus College, is a historian of Central and Eastern Europe with a research focus on the former Yugoslavia. He received his B.A. in history from St. Olaf College and his Ph.D. in Balkan and Russian history from Stanford University.

Recently, Thomas led a Smithsonian group on a trip around Old World Europe. One of the most important and moving visits brought the group to Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp, where one of the travelers had a chance to honor family members lost in the Holocaust. See his post from the visit below:


No one is ever truly prepared for a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. For a generation born in the years just before or after the Holocaust, this inexpressible horror of the twentieth century continues to haunt us even as we move fully into our new century with all its possibilities.  We left Warsaw early in the morning and drove through the lush, rich countryside of south central Poland, eventually catching our first glimpses of the Tatra mountains on Poland’s southern border. It was a warm, sunny, infectiously beautiful, late spring day, and one could be forgiven for wishing for a lovely, leisurely picnic instead of contemplating a visit to a concentration camp. We were all so very quiet that morning, deep in our own thoughts, reflecting perhaps on our memories of reading Wiesel, Levi, Borowski or the memoirs of some other Auschwitz survivor. We were steeling ourselves for the shock and the tears even as we knew that nothing could really prepare us for this experience.  As we drove into Oświȩcim and caught sight of the first red barracks of Auschwitz, I reminded everyone that we came here to honor the memory of all those who suffered and perished in this nightmarish place. The silence continued.


Auschwitz-Birkenau main track. Photo by Sylvia Horsta

I don’t know if it’s easier to come to this place when the sun is shining and the weather warm and inviting. I have seen it in pouring rain and in deep winter when the bitter damp cold freezes the tears on our faces, and we cannot imagine a single minute in this place without adequate clothing and food. But the sun and the warmth could not distract us from the reality of what we were seeing.


Zorica and other Smithsonian travelers reading a psalm at Auschwitz. Photo by Sylvia Horsta

Zorica, our fellow traveler, was as ready for this day as she could be. All her life she had waited for this moment to honor all the members of her family who never returned from this earthly Hades. The tour was almost finished when she gathered us together as a group next to the train tracks and the unloading ramp at Birkenau where Zorica’s relatives and millions of others experienced their last moments of life. Embracing Zorica in a circle we together read a Psalm and listened as some of the group said Kaddish. Finally after almost seventy years, Zorica’s relatives and, for the rest of us, these representatives of the millions, were honored and given their own short funeral.


Aushwitz-Birkenau track entrance. Photo by Sylvia Horsta

Afterwards, everyone was silent for a very long time on the drive from Auschwitz to Cracow. Silvija, our Tour Leader, played a CD of some meditative violin music for us. As we approached Cracow, I spoke briefly and reminded everyone of Primo Levi’s admonition to us all. He said that we must not leave Auschwitz despondent and without hope. If we are to honor truly all those who died and suffered there, then it is our duty to live our lives as beautifully, honestly, and justly as we can. I know that  these words were very cathartic for all of us.  We had made our pilgrimage and were humbled beyond words by the experience. But we had indeed honored the millions and we accepted the admonition to live good and just lives. A great burden had been lifted from Zorica’s shoulders, and together we were ready to continue our great adventure into Central Europe.

The Sun Always Shines On The Great Wall of China

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University, and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

Recently, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. This is her second of two posts from the trip. (See her previous post on Giant Pandas here.)


Mutianyu Section of The Great Wall

Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall. Photo by author

Originally we were supposed to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on Saturday, May 19, but drizzle and the forecast of a heavier rain caused us to postpone the trip to Sunday, our last full day in Beijing. As we made our way out of the city and headed northeast toward the predominantly 16th-century section of this famed structure, I glanced at the overcast sky and consoled myself with the knowledge gained after 14 visits to various sections of the Great Wall since 1980 that the Great Wall never fails to impress, even when enveloped in clouds or obscured by rain. However, our Tour Director, Mike Zhao, had predicted a bit of sun and perhaps even some blue sky for this visit to the Great Wall… and indeed, a few sunbeams appeared! Soon we were all admiring and walking on the Great Wall. And no, thank you for asking, I never get tired of visiting it!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall through the trees. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

Black and White and Red, Too

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

This spring, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. See her post from the trip below:


As we drove toward the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding after arriving in Chengdu from Xi’an and having a quick lunch, we were informed by our Chengdu guide that because it was not too hot the pandas would most likely be outside and possibly even somewhat active, although not necessarily all that easy to photograph.

That proved to be true. Still, we all caught many glimpses of black and white Giant Pandas, not to mention the red raccoon-like Lesser Pandas, and managed to capture a few good snapshots to take home with us.

It was great to hear that the important research work done by experts at this site was now completely resumed after the major earthquake of May 2008, which had damaged so much of this region of China.


Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Photo by the author


Panda at play. Photo by author

Panda in tree

Panda resting in tree. Photo by author

red panda

Red Lesser Panda. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

Smithsonian Spotlight: Springtime in Washington

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Springtime in Washington is always a treat. Whether you’re traveling to D.C., or you already live here, don’t forget to take advantage of the warm weather and beautiful sights out there.

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. Photo: Scott Stark

Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC. Photo: Scott Stark

The 43rd Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival takes place on Saturday, March 28th, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on the National Mall, near the Washington Monument. This year, the festival will honor planet Earth by featuring both environmentally and thematically “green” kites that positively reflect the beautiful resources we have available.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival also kicks off on March 28th, lasting until April 12th. There are dozens of events all over the city; click here for a complete list. Events at Smithsonian include The Tale of Shuten Doji, the Freer Gallery’s Seventh Annual Anime Marathon, and of course, our Kite Festival.

Now is not a good time for you to come to D.C.? Click here to see more of our D.C.-based tours, or here for a guide to visiting the musuems of the Smithsonian Institution.