Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Up for breakfast (the enormous spread of cheeses, meats, breads, eggs, fruit, yoghurt, etc., that we’re getting used to), and on the bus at 9:00 to go to Doksany.
The Doksany nuns are cloistered, so their “external” sister gave us our tour. We also met for a while with the Prioress, Sister Alberta. We saw the church – an enthusiastic baroque celebration in white and gold – and the choir. The church was spared during the communist regime because of its artistic value; the convent, however, was basically destroyed.
After our tour of the church, we visited with our guide and the prioress. We learned about the ongoing restoration of the convent, their means of support, and their daily life. The women have a garden that provides them with the herbs they use to make liqueurs and teas; they also make vestments. Many of our students had never heard of cloistered orders, and they were very curious about the daily life in Doksany. After hearing that the nuns get up at 4:45 a.m. and spend most of the day in prayer, they admired the devotion, but weren’t ready to join the order. When asked what they do for fun, we learned that once in a while the sisters play board games, and they watch television once or twice a year. They are allowed to call home once a month, and after two or three years, may visit their families. While that sounds decidedly grim to me, both of the nuns we spoke with were relaxed, smiling women, and the photo album they had of the group working on restoring the convent was filled with smiles and laughter and obvious joy.
On the grounds of Doksany is a 400-year-old tree that was planted by the nuns when Norbert’s body was moved to Prague. The nuns have made much progress on restoring the convent, but there are buildings still in ruins.
Lunch in town.
On the way back to Prague we drive past Terezin.
Emperor Josef II built a garrison town, Terezin (in German, “Theresienstadt”), in the 18th century to protect Prague from assaults. During WW II, the Nazis used Terezin as a ghetto-concentration camp that served as a transit-station to the extermination camps. The numbers are astounding, hallucinatory. People were sent to Terezin from many parts of Germany, Austria, and Czech-land. According to the US Holocaust Museum’s “Holocaust Encyclopedia”, German SS and police deported between 75,000 and 80,000 Czech Jews from Bohemia and Moravia to killing centers, killing sites, or forced-labor camps between 1941 and 1945; 60,382 of them passed through this camp, and fewer than 3,100 survived. Of the 15,000 children who were sent to Terezin, only 10% survived. Many of the greatest musicians of Prague – a city that at the outbreak of the war boasted a culture on par with Vienna and Berlin – were sent to Terezin: Gideon Klein, Viktor Ullmann, Hans Krása, Rafael Schächter, and Karel Ancerl were all in the camp at the same time. They organized and performed concerts.
From the road we can see the see the cemetery.
A poem about Terezin by Jaroslav Seifer:
To the Dead
A grave among graves, who can tell it apart, time has long swept away the dead faces. Testimonies, so evil and terrible to the heart, we took with us to these dark rotting places.
Only the night and the howl of the wind will sit on the graves’ corners, only a patch of grass, a bitter weed before May bears some flowers…
We came back to Prague. Free afternoon, then our farewell dinner. Typical Bohemian food, dancing, clapping, and dark beer.
Highlights? *Hearing about Katrina, Alex, Holly, and Megan’s adventure at the Café Louvre eating chocolate layer cake, *talking to Beth about Edgar Allen Poe, *watching Stacey and others dance the polka at the farewell dinner, *feeling a special bonding moment with David (you’ll have to ask him), *high-fiving Tyler (again – you’ll have to ask him), *the bill (hmmm, ask Jay), *following the students back to the hotel to make sure a creepy Finnish man didn’t get too close to them, *Amy talking about the fearful peacocks, *saying goodbye to Peter, *Ball-sheep still carrying on, *My husband walking with me through the old Jewish Quarter.
Thanks to all – will check in tomorrow. It’s been a fabulous trip.