Traveling Can Change Your Disposition

| July 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

You’re going where? I could almost hear my father’s voice although he’s been gone 17 years. You’re going to Germany? I remember the first time I bought a German car and my father was disappointed in me, in fact he was aghast. He had been a young man when called to service in World War II, leaving his wife and me, his three-month old baby, behind. He was part of The Fighting First, The Big Red One, the brave men who stormed Omaha beach fighting for their country and for their lives. He was also a Jew. It was an experience he did not forget and the Nazis represented an entire country to him.

I love to travel. I’ve been to European countries, Scandinavian countries, most of the US, and too many balmy tropical islands to count. I had never been to Germany. When my oldest friends invited me to join them on their trip to Prague, Germany and Paris I really wanted to go. The only thing holding me back was that nagging thought, did I want to visit the country my father felt so strongly about. And it wasn’t just my father I realized, it was me as well. His feelings had influenced my own. I mentioned my dilemma to my 16 year old grandson who seemed quite surprised. It wasn’t Germany, it was the Nazis, he proclaimed, with all the forthright indignity of an intelligent teenager. You have to get over that feeling, it’s 70 years ago, he said. I thought about that long and hard and decided he was right. Very few people living in Germany were even alive then. Do I blame them for the sins of some of their people, sins that happened before their time? Do I know why some people complied, why some turned a blind eye, a deaf ear. Do I know what I would have done? I like to think I know, but do any of us know?

Germany is a beautiful country and everyone I met there was friendly, kind and welcoming. The food is amazing, just bite into an apple strudel or a piece of schnitzel. The beer and wine are superb and the towns look like little glimpses of Disneyland. Everything is clean and orderly, although so much of it is recreations of cities before they were bombed. As I walked around with our guides I wondered how they would frame that part of history. Most of the guides were young and scholarly and they talked about history without any political slant, to them it was history, not a history they were proud of, but history just the same. The only comment I noticed was in Heidelberg where our guide, when talking about a medieval despot said, “ And we Germans know what happens when you let someone have too much power, we learned that the hard way.” So there it was a statement of fact, given in a matter of fact way by a young man in his twenties to a woman much older, a woman whose father may have fought this young man’s grandfather…or maybe a young man whose grandfather had sheltered those oppressed. I don’t know, I’ll never know, but I do know this – Mark Twain was right. I have traveled to a place I felt prejudice toward and I felt free to forgive and move on.

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