Post 75 – Holocaust memories are grim … but what awaits us in the future?

I walked from my hotel in Prague along by the Vltava river until I reached the old Jewish cemetery at Josefov. It was quite small and did not in any way give an indication of how many Czech Jews were sent first to the local detention camp at Terezin and then on to the German extermination camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka in occupied Poland.

I thought briefly of my family members who had fought with the British Air Force and the US Army to defeat the barbaric Germans. We were lucky I guess to survive. For if Hitler’s troops had reached the United Kingdom and Ireland our lives, and those of our children, would have been very different.

I was pleased to make a small contribution in Euros towards the upkeep of Prague’s old Jewish Cemetery. But I could hear an ancient clock tower bell announcing that it was now mid-morning – so I hurried through narrow little streets until I reached the Old Town Square. The cafe I needed was nearby, and I could see an attractive young woman sitting at a table on the terrace. She smiled as I approached, and I was reassured by her recognition.

‘Phil,’ she said, extending a delicately manicured hand. ‘You do resemble the last photograph I saw of you in New York.’

It is not always a good idea for journalists to be photographed with pieces they’ve written. But Bella Samirov was a joy to meet, and my hands shook slightly as I sat opposite her and a waiter appeared.

‘For me, I think orange juice,’ she said – ‘and you Phil?’

A large Irish whiskey would have been very welcome, but I thought it best to hold off and went for coffee.

‘It is a pleasure to meet with you,’ I told Bella, ‘and I really do appreciate your agreeing to see me here in Prague.’

‘There are many memories, Phil, which for me are frightening. I was born in London and grew up in the States … but my grandmother escaped from here on a Kindertransport train in 1940 while she was still a girl. All of my relatives who remained were deported to the camp at Terezin, which the Germans referred to as Theresienstadt. They were then taken to Auschwitz or Treblinka in occupied Poland, where they were exterminated.’

I had read about this, but it was a little surreal to be sitting here in Prague with this beautiful young woman – most of whose Czech Jewish family had been murdered by the Nazis.

‘Did your grandmother speak to you about what it had been like here in Czechoslovakia before the Germans arrived?’ I asked, and she nodded slowly.

‘It depended on where you were,’ she said after a moment. ‘The Czechs were anti-semitic – especially amongst the Catholics. But we were also hated in the Sudetenland and in Slovakia. The Slovaks actively assisted the Germans in deporting us to the concentration camps – and it was much the same in Bohemia and Monrovia. In all we lost almost a quarter of a million of our people, although many more Polish and Russian Jews were eliminated by the Nazis … but today there are less than four thousand Jews in what was Czechoslovakia.’

My hands were shaking again beneath the table when our waiter returned with a smile and a tray with coffee and orange juice.

‘Later, I will take you for lunch, Phil, with some Jewish people I know whose family survived the Holocaust here in Prague. It is maybe good for you to meet them … I mean, I am essentially just an actress in the States with a few scary memories … but I would like you to tell me about how you see the future now for all of us in the West.’

In other circumstances, I could have chatted amicably for hours with the beautiful Bella Samirov. Right now though, I needed to try and focus on the world we lived in so that I might be able to answer her question.

‘It is difficult,’ I said after a while. But her gorgeous pale blue eyes were still waiting for a response. So I whizzed my thoughts discreetly around ISIS lunatics with nukes; the awful possibility of Donald Trump being elected as our next US President; Putin going completely mad in the Crimea and the very real possibility of the rightist Front National taking over in France – with the even more scary Pegida neo-Nazis toppling the saintly Mrs Merkel in Germany. Eventually, however, I came back to the heroic US and UK pilots, sailors and soldiers who had seventy years previously saved us from the awful Adolf and an army of Japanese maniacs.

‘Bella,’ I said as steadily as I could. ‘It goes up and down all the time wherever we are … but I think that what is good and what we value usually survives and triumphs in the end. I’m afraid I haven’t been to church for a while … but I do believe that we have a lot to celebrate in the West … and if we continue to make progress together, I’m sure the world will be a better place for all of us.’

For a moment I thought I might have lost her, but gradually her lovely blue eyes brightened again into a smile.

‘Phil,’ she said, moving her delicate hand across the table. I wasn’t quite sure about how I should respond, but I moved mine from my knee to the table, where Bella touched it lightly.

‘You are right,’ she said quietly. ‘I strive to feel like that when I am occasionally overwhelmed by what happened here in the late nineteen thirties and early forties … but now I want to take you for a walk around this fine old square … with perhaps a visit to the church we all love.’

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