Monday, 30 April 2012

Life.

“Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life”
- Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel is a Holocaust survivor from Romania who has written several amazing books about his experiences. He has campaigned tirelessly for human rights and has been awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his work. The quote above got us thinking about what is living and the difference between that and merely existing.

Obviously, everyone's definition is different, people put worth in different things and that defines the path that they follow but what paths should we be following? What should give meaning to our lives?

There are several things which we believe make life worth living and they are as follows (in no particular order):

Love:
We have written about this extensively, we believe that love is the most powerful force in the world. Love is what binds us together and what makes people do crazy things for each other. The minutai of day to day living can diminish or distract us from the love we feel for our family, our friends, our lovers but we shouldn't let it. We need to try and remember that we only get one life and we must fill it with as much love as possible. Love knows no bounds, it is not constrained by time or by geography and we should always remember that no matter how dark life can get, we are all loved. 

Hope:
Hope (along with love) gives people the strength to get out of bed in the mornings. The hope that today can be a little bit better than yesterday. This hope is for us but it is also for humanity and the world. We should all have hope and the belief that things can get better, otherwise what is the point in trying? Seriously, what's the point in anything if we don't have hope for the future? In the words of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected American official, 'you've got to give them hope'.


Passion:
This is so important to us! We would encourage everyone to have passion for life. Life is too short not to. Everyday millions of people are forced into situations that make their lives unbearable. They are forced to take up professions that they have no passion for, that don't stimulate them and that make them unhappy. Although this situation is sadly the reality, it shouldn't be. We should all be encouraged to follow our dreams and not to settle for second best.

The three things that we have listed today, are not the only ways to lead a meaningful, happy life but for us, they are definitely part of it. Every single person deserves love, every single person needs hope and every single person should have passion. We must have these things in our own lives but we must help others have love, hope and passion also. As Elie Wiesel said we have an OBLIGATION to bring meaning to life, every life.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Armenia.

Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?
- Adolf Hitler, 1939

Have any of you heard of the Armenian Genocide? Did you know that in 1915 the Ottoman Empire (the predecessor of modern day Turkey) planned and carried out the mass extermination of 1.5 million innocent men woman and children? Did you know that only twenty one countries in the world recognise this genocide today?

As the rest of world was distracted by the First World War, Turkey took the opportunity to once and for all solve the Armenian problem. The Turks rounded up the Armenians and forced them on marches. During these marches they were beaten, starved, shot and raped. They were then sent to concentration camps were they were murdered, often by being burnt alive. Does this story sound familiar? Change the First World War to the Second World War, and the Turks to the Nazis and the Armenians to the Jews and we have the Holocaust.

How many of you reading this knew about this genocide? Despite the fact that it was the first modern genocide, in terms of its organisation and execution, many of us have never heard of it. Ben only discovered it had taken place in 2005, whilst walking through the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Jared only discovered it had taken place today. 

Can you believe that only twenty one countries out of 193 have recognised that the massacre of 1.5 million people? Turkey has applied pressure to ensure that it is not held responsible for these murders and it states that there was no genocide. Can you believe this?

The quote at the top of the blog post, was from a speech made by Hitler in 1939 to the commanders of the German army. He was using the world's bad memory to justify his plans to exterminate millions of people across Europe. As we have said, Hitler made that speech in 1939. The Armenian genocide officially ended in 1923. This speech was made just sixteen years after the end of the genocide. How quickly did the world forget? In 1975, Pol Pot the leader of Cambodia started massacring his people. In total 1.7 million people were murdered. That was just twenty years after the end of the Holocaust. 

One of the main objectives of From Yesterday, For Tomorrow. is to encourage people to learn from the past. People often read the quote that 'Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it', this is quite clearly true. We must know the past, the entire past. We cannot just learn the history of the Holocaust, it is part of a bigger story of prejudice. We must respect the dead and provide hope for the future by understanding the fate of millions of different people from different continents before we can ever think of bettering the world. 

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Intervention.

One of our greatest criticisms of Britain and America, is due to their complete inaction during the Holocaust. First lets get something out the way, they knew exactly what was happening to people in Eastern Europe. Both governments had meetings and consultations, deciding whether to take action but they chose not to act. In fact the British government pressurised the Americans to do nothing, so as not to make them look bad. This inaction is an eternal stain on the characters of these nations.

Humanitarian intervention, is sadly extremely controversial. The issue of state sovereignty (a country being responsible for its own people and affairs) is a major argument against intervention. People and states argue that no country has the right to tell another country what to do. Despite the importance of state sovereignty in some cases, as we mentioned in the 'Women' post, cultural practises cannot supercede the rights of the individual. What we mean by that is (in our opinion), no state has the right to oppress its own people. This then means that we do believe in humanitarian intervention.



At what point does it become the responsibility of foreign powers to step in and help neutralise a situation? We believe that organisations such as the United Nations must facilitate humanitarian intervention if a situation warrants it. How do we decide that though? That is the biggest problem for us here on the ground. Do we only intervene in situations where people are being murdered? What about situations where people's human rights are being completely denied? For us to intervene do we need to wait until blood has actually been spilled?


This lack of action once again points to the fact that we just haven't learned from the past. If the (future) Allied forces had intervened in Germany when they were shipping homosexuals off to concentration camps or denying Jewish people all their basic rights, then perhaps the Holocaust may never have happened? It seems odd that we are still willing to wait for people to be murdered before we even consider intervention. For example, should we be intervening in Uganda if they pass a law saying homosexuals can face the death penalty? Should we intervene on behalf of the women who are beaten publicly on the streets of Egypt? However, even if people are being murdered in their thousands, meaningful intervention cannot be guaranteed. Despite 300,000 people dying in the Darfur genocide, the 26,000 peacekeepers from the UN and African-Union's main job was to report what was going on, not intervene. How many lives need to be destroyed for us to sit up and take notice? 


This issue is difficult and it is hard for a foreign power to essentially invade another sovereign state and tell them what to do. It can be hard to decide at which point humanitarian intervention is justified. All we know is that we should not wait until people are being murdered before we step in. We must learn the lessons of the past. We must learn from the mistakes of the Allied forces. We must not allow great injustices to occur and we must protect the vulnerable. Otherwise in fifty years, people will look back at us and ask 'why did you do nothing!?'

Friday, 27 April 2012

Predisposed.

There is a general belief in western society that some cultures are predisposed to acting in certain ways. Is that true?

If that is true, we want to understand why. Why would certain cultures be predisposed to certain characteristics and are some cultures better than others? These are difficult questions to ask but it is necessary to ask them, not because we want to condemn certain cultures but because we want to understand how certain prejudices take hold in certain areas. 

Two areas of the world which seem to be extremely intolerant are Africa and the Middle East (we touched on this yesterday with women's rights). To be gay and to be a women in the majority of African and Middle Eastern countries is not advisable. These two groups specifically are treated very badly. In Uganda, a bill has been proposed which would see 'repeat offenders' of homosexuality to be given the death penalty. The question is why are these entire regions (in general) so intolerant towards gay people and women?


For us this is actually quite a simple issue. The areas that exhibit the strongest forms of prejudice are often those with the weakest education systems and often the strongest sense of religion (this isn't going to turn into an anti-religion rant, fear not). For example, the levels of homophobia in America are quite staggering and it seems to be due to the strength of Christianity and the levels of education regarding homosexuals and their 'lifestyle'.  America is an interesting example because it is often seen as a bastion of freedom and democracy, sadly the reality for millions of gay men and women is very different. Religion is often used, not as a replacement for education, but it used as the basis for education. Although religion has many positive attributes, it must be kept separate to the daily workings of society. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case for countries all over the world.

The power of education knows no bounds. Certain regions are particularly intolerant (and brutal with their intolerance) due to a a lack of education. It isn't that some regions are predisposed towards certain types of behaviour, it is just that the standard of education they receive, lead them down certain paths. For example, the reason that the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party in Hungary gained 17% of the vote in the 2010 election, is because the population have not been educated properly. Now we aren't calling them stupid obviously but there is a lack of a specific type of education. 


This specific form of education is the discussions of what human beings are capable of and why we hurt each other. We also need to, from day one, teach people that every single person regardless of their gender, sexuality or religion is equal and deserving of respect and love. It is this type of education that the world needs. It is this type of education that is lacking in probably every single country in the world (not just the ones we have mentioned here). So, no, we would argue that no culture is better than others, it's just that standards of education are different. Every society must alter its education before people progress. We can't except societies to change over night but we must begin the process of change through education. 

We must not condemn future generations to repeat the mistakes of the past because we haven't provided them with the right kind of education. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Women.

Yesterday, whilst we ate a delicious lunch of baked potatoes and cheese, we took a break from our heavy work schedule and we watched an American talk show, which dealt with the subject of abusive relationships and women's rights in general. Then we read a quote from a speech by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to the UN, that to many, women's rights are a foreign concept.

It is interesting to us that women are still being treated so badly around the world. Sexism or the oppression of women is something that we find very interesting (as well as very shocking). We find it shocking because every single person in the world regardless of their religion has a mother. We find it shocking that fathers are happy to stand by and see their daughters brutalised. In certain parts of the world, in fact on certain continents, it is commonplace for women to be raped, beaten and denied even the most basic of rights. Although it is important to note that women are being increasingly more protected at government level, in many offender states, the situation on the ground is often very different. 



Like homophobia, many women are victims of oppression from the moment that they are born to when they die. Of course, so much of the oppression of women is based on certain societal norms (such as China and the one child policy, but more on that later) but that shouldn't impact on our ability to speak out on behalf of these poor, downtrodden people. We must step away from intellectualising oppression and realise that it impacts on people's lives. 


Here are some startling facts regarding the treatment of women, just like your mother, sister, aunt, friend, lover:

  • 'Gendercide Watch', an organisation which monitors murder based on gender, states that hundreds of thousands of baby girls are murdered due to their parents wanting a boy because of China's One Child Policy.
  • 35,000 female sex slaves are imprisoned in Thailand.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women are raped in conflicts in countries such as Congo, every year.
  • 70% of the 1.5 billion people who live in poverty are women.
  • Women are completely under the control of men in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where they are not even able to open a bank account without the consent of a man.
  • 140 million women in the world have had their genitals mutilated, meaning the clitoris is removed without anaesthetic. 
  • One hundred thousand women have had their genitals mutilated in the UK.


These facts are just a snapshot of the oppression that women face around the world. Although it seems to us, that a majority of the oppression of women takes place in certain areas such as Africa and the Middle East, we must not be afraid of criticising certain cultural practises for the fear of offending. Cultural practises must not supercede the rights of the individual. Just as we have spoken about standing up against the oppression of homosexuals, the rights of these women around the world must be protected.

We must not site idle while generation after generation of women are having their lives destroyed. Think of your own mother, your sister, your friend, your girlfriend and think what kind of a life you would want for them, or what kind of life you want for yourself. We are guessing it isn't what we have described today.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Empty.

Yesterday, we were reviewing some of the pictures from our trip with friends and one in particular stood out for us. It was from Treblinka and it was the rock in the middle of the memorial that has 'Never Again' inscribed on it, in several languages. It got us thinking, who does the world think that they are kidding? Do the 'powers that be' not think that we have noticed their inaction since the Holocaust? Do the people on the ground make effort to change or do we just float along, getting wrapped up in the mundane (albeit still important) issues.



The Holocaust was an extremely shocking period in history where humanity turned on itself and as a response the world stood together and shouted 'NEVER AGAIN'. This cry for hope was just that, just a cry, little effort (in our opinion) has really been put into ensuring that people are no longer the victims of oppression. In fact some of the worst offenders were the powers that fought the Nazis (African-American civil rights movement anyone?). We find this fact extremely frustrating. We find it frustrating that so many empty promises were made after the Holocaust. We find it frustrating that no real changes were made and we find it frustrating that we pat ourselves on the back by having a Holocaust memorial day once a year. That day means absolutely nothing if no real effort is made to ensure that people do not face persecution.

It seems we do this a lot, we create myths about certain situations (Nazi executioners having no choice for their actions) or we kid ourselves into think how much we have changed. We thinking that it is time to debunk the myths, it is time that we woke up, smelled the coffee and realised how little has changed and how little the world has tried to change. This depressing fact doesn't need to be the end though. Despite the fact that we have failed to make a change, it is not to late to do so.



Hope (and love) are the basis for life, it keeps us going, makes us get out of bed everyday, makes us believe that tomorrow can be better. Not only do we have to have hope that the world and humanity can progress and can make things better but we have to actually put effort into doing so. Every person needs to think about the world that they are creating, how they are treating others, how others are being treated by others and what they can do about it. Very few people in our situations are powerless. It isn't too late and all is not lost but we must have hope that people will want to and will actively learn from the past to create a better future because if we don't have hope then what else is there? 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Experiments.

An incredibly controversial area of the Holocaust is the experimentation that took place at camps such Auschwitz. This issue is so sensitive, that the barracks the experiments were performed in at Auschwitz, are closed to the public.

We are currently reading a book, called 'I Was Dr. Mengele's Assistant' and it is this book that has inspired us to write about the Nazi experiments. The book tells the story of a Jewish doctor who was forced to assist the infamous Dr. Mengele in his disgusting experiments on innocent prisoners. For those of you who do not know, Dr. Mengele was a physician who conducted experiments on concentration camp victims. He had a special interest in twins and dwarves, so often sought them out to experiment on. It is of course important to note that these experiments were conducted without the consent of the victim and were often carried out without any anaesthetic. It is also important to undestand the context of these experiments. They were conducted in concentration camps so the clean, clinical word of 'experiment' does not truly reflect what took place, nevertheless, without a better word, we shall use this word when describing the events that took place.


The experiments carried out were absolutely horrendous and included sewing twins together to see if they could create Siamese twins. A set of Hungarian twins in 1943 were subjected to the cruellest and most painful treatment to track hair patterns. We do not need to write exactly what happened to these poor men but it is suffice to say that they were not treated with any dignity or respect and were subjected to the most humiliating and cruel treatment, before eventually being murdered. Another interest of the Nazis was the ways in which the body responds to freezing. People would be forcibly submerged into vats of ice water for hours at a time or made to stand naked outside in the freezing Polish winter. The results were then used to understand the situation of the Nazi forces in the Soviet Union.

Another story tells us of a woman who had a new-born baby with her when she was in Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele bound her breasts so she could not feed her baby. This went on for several days, and Dr. Mengele came to inspect the baby every day. One day, Dr. Mengele said that he would take the baby to his laboratory.  The following day, his assistant then came to the mother and offered her a syringe, telling her to kill her child. Her mother obviously responded that she could not but the assistant insisted simply stating 'it will be worse what happens to the child when Mengele gets her'. Dr. Mengele forced a mother to murder her own new born baby.

The reason that we are writing about the experiments, is because of the controversy with what to do with the information garnered by these instances of medical torture. These experiments although according to the Nazis, were carried out to 'further humanity’; they were carried out with extreme cruelty and without any anaesthetic so the question is should the information be used? Should we benefit from the torture of innocent people, including many children? It is hard to say. Some would argue that any good that can come from the torture these poor people faced should be utilised. 
Despite the difficulty that has arisen from this situation, some do argue that we should use the information. If we do not, then absolutely nothing positive has come from these people's torture and although that is no consolation to the victims, it perhaps is for humanity. After all we must learn from the past to create a better tomorrow. Others would argue that we should completely disregard any information that we receive from the Nazis. It was not gained through honest or humane methods and to use the information is an insult to the memory of the victims and to humanity.

What do you think?





Sunday, 22 April 2012

Upwards.

We have enjoyed one full day at home resting but now we are back to business!


We have spent the last six weeks having the most incredible journey and our final product is going to be an amazing documentary (even if we do say so ourselves) but now we come to the question of what next? We are not ones to sit and chill. We are always looking at what is next, how we can develop and what other challenges can we face?

We are currently sitting in Ben's house in Newton Mearns (after having enjoyed a very lovely and healthy, non-McDonalds lunch) and we are setting the plans in motion for the next stage of this journey. It is actually a lot harder than you may think! Now that we're back, the world is our oyster. We can pretty much go anywhere and do (almost) anything. That is the problem though. It's like when you are faced with a huge DVD collection to choose from, how can you whittle your choices down to that one all important DVD to watch? 

Which DVD?
We are in the process of really defining what exactly we want 'From Yesterday, For Tomorrow' to be, we have some really interesting ideas, but we wont reveal them until they are more concrete. Let us tell you what we do know though. We want people to learn from the horrors of the past to create a better today, we want to be a force for good in the world, we want to encourage people to question their actions and understand the responsibility they have for the choices they make and we want to see people make a change to the ways in which they treat people, all people. These are very lofty ambitions, but you've got to aim high, right? 

Although we are going to be forced into getting part time work (sob), this project is (for the time being) going to be our full time job. We are going to put our hearts and souls into this project (it deserves no less) and we are going to try our hardest to get it off the ground. We think that we have an amazing thing here and we hope that you would agree with us. We are looking for as much help (both in terms of finances and advice) as we can get, so if you have any ideas or thoughts, or would like to hear more about our future plans, then please don't heistate to be in touch: benmfreeman@gmail.com.


Cheerz

Friday, 20 April 2012

Merci.

After six months of planning, six weeks of travelling, countless Nestea Bsoshkveenyas, eleven cities, four plane journeys, six bus journeys, six train journeys, three missed busses, one Russian detainment, ninety four blog posts, six vlogs and 8,040 blog views we are coming back to you, Glasgow.

We have had the most amazing journey, we have learnt so much, seen so many incredible things and met so many wonderful people. We knew that this journey would be the start of something for us, we knew that we could not just travel to Eastern Europe and return unchanged. It has confirmed beliefs that we held before and given us new insights into different things.

Although the travelling part of this journey is over (for the time being), we do not intend to stop here. Spreading this type of message is something we are both extremely passionate about. We intend to formalise our plans and try to create something that can be used to educate people all over the world to be kinder to one another, to understand each other, to love each other and to remember the responsibility they have for their own actions and choices
 and the responsibility they have to the world around them.


We will continue blogging and continue spread this message but at this stage, we do want to thank every single last one of you who reads our blog and who has wished us well over the past six weeks. As you can imagine what we have been doing is not easy, it's been an intense, emotionally and physically exhausting, adventure. We simply could not have done it without the support and love from people at home and around the world, so thank you for that!


Despite the fact that we are coming home this journey is not over so please continue supporting us in whatever ways you can, keep reading the blog and spreading the message!

Much love

xx

Reconciliation.

We are at the end of the travelling part of our journey and we were thinking a lot about moving forward. We have spoken at length about moving forward (not moving on as that implies forgetting the past) whilst learning something from the horrors of the Holocaust, but how do we do that? How can we ask people who lost parents, siblings, friends, grandparents, uncles, aunts, lovers to move on? How can we move on? 


The answer we feel is closure or reconciliation. We can only expect people to move forward under certain conditions that must (in our opinion) be fulfilled. These conditions are not easy to meet, however and sadly perhaps, the time has passed for some of them to be met. However, if we can learn from the past to ensure that these measures are continued to be used until there is no need for them: 


1. Justice.


This may be the hardest one to meet seeing the Holocaust ended sixty seven years ago, however, it is still vitally important to the dead, to the survivors and to us. People cannot be allowed to commit heinous crimes against humanity and get away with it. Of course, after the war there was chaos and massive political upheavals but that still doesn't justify (it may explain) why thousands of people across the world were allowed to get literally away with murder. The process of denazification (removing Nazis from society) totally failed in our opinion. In both Austria and Germany several Nazis ended up staying in the political system. How can people be expected to move on if their oppressors are still involved in the running of the country? Just because the men and women involved in the destruction of millions of families are old, they need to be brought to trial. Age means nothing to us. As much justice as possible has to be done before we can even begin to move forward.


2. Reconciliation.


This must be a specific, carefully planned process, not just something that naturally happens over time. In Rwanda, after the genocide, a process of reconciliation was undertaken and although it was difficult and at times messy, it was a massive step in the direction of moving forward. For prejudice to be defeated, what we must do is educate. Educate about people and cultures but also we have to come to terms with the past. The countries that were actively involved in the Holocaust that still show huge evidence of prejudice today, are generally those that did not deal with their crimes. Austria is an example of such a country. A disproportionately high number of Austrian's were actively involved in the process of death and a large number of its citizens were extremely supportive of Nazi measures. After the war (because of lots of politics) Austria completely evaded responsibility for its crimes. Did prejudice in Austria disappear? Did Austrian's repent for their crimes? On both counts, it did not. Anti-Semitism was extremely high after the war and in the 1980's its President Kurt Waldheim was accused of being a former SS man and was blacklisted from the United States. No one can move forward if those who are guilty do not recognise it and deal with it. 


3. Education.


This one is the one that we have been banging on about for six weeks but it is extremely important. Society (in our opinion) has naively thought that we will learn lessons from the Holocaust (and other tragedies) just by being shown terrible pictures and upsetting films. There seems to be no real education in terms of learning from the past for a better tomorrow. The Holocaust is taught as a historical subject and thus is viewed as such. We need to be teaching people that the Holocaust is part of a process, a process of prejudice that we are all apart of. We take part in it every day by making certain choices. We need to truly be taught the consequences of our actions. We need to understand that the Holocaust started somewhere. Its starting point is not that different from the ways in which society behaves towards certain groups today. We need to be educated to look to the future by learning the lessons from the past, otherwise we are consigned to repeat it. 


In our humble opinions, these three points would help us all move forward and committed to ensuring that today is a little better than yesterday. 

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Commemoration.

Today was Yom Ha'Shoah (translated as 'Day of the Shoah', in Hebrew. Shoah is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust meaning calamity).

Today was the day that Jewish people all over the world stop and remember their murdered families. In Israel a siren blasts at 10am and everyone literally stops what they are doing and observes a minutes silence. We have both been in Israel for Yom Ha'Shoah and it is an intensely moving experience to watch all people stop and remember their people together, as a community.




In the UK, on the 27th of January we remember the Holocaust on National Holocaust Memorial Day with events being held around the country. Sadly, there has been some controversy regarding this day with certain groups, such as the British Muslim Council not taking part due (in part) to the inclusion of the Armenian genocide of 1915 and the Gay genocide. It is pretty hideous that a day created to mourn the victims of prejudice, has been the focus of prejudice itself.

Today got us interested in commemoration and in what ways the Holocaust is commemorated. Are the commemorations appropriate? When we have visited the sites of the Holocaust many of the memorials were created by the Soviets, so the structures and the message reflect the Soviet message. Gypsy and Gay victims are completely ignored whereas Jewish people are generally mentioned. This is terribly unfair. Life is life and every single person must be commemorated. Perhaps it is now the time to rebuild memorials at each of the sites to reflect all those that were murdered?

We discussed today if the Gay or Gypsy communities hold separate days (like Jewish people) to commemorate their dead and although we can't be certain, from what we know the answer is no. There are various reasons for this (such as the lack of familial structure in the Gay community) but it seems so sad that millions of people are not commemorated. It then falls on our shoulders to remember all men, women and children who were victims of the Holocaust.

To us it is wonderful that Yom Ha'Shoah and National Holocaust Memorial Day exists. These people need to be remembered. We have spoken at length about learning from the past to create a better future, but how can we do that if we do not commemorate and remember? It is not a case of dwelling on the past. It is a case of remembering innocent men, women and children whose lives and loves were destroyed, in order that we ensure it does not happen again to anyone. 

Freemen.

We are free!!


Russia FINALLY let us go at 11:30am this morning (10 hours after we arrived) we then had to drag our bags to the bus station where we caught the bus to Tallin. YAY EU!


We are now safe in our hostel (although we are unsure if we are ever going to be allowed back into Russia, part of us is sad about that, part of is couldn't give two hoots) and we are still trying to process what happened. It all feels a bit like a really weird dream. The range of emotions that we went through would have been suitable only for a Jerry Springer show. There was anger, there was rage, there was worry, there was sadness, there was fear, there was complete unadulterated hysteria, there was tiredness, there was adrenaline and then dear readers there was the crash...


We are unsure if any of you have been in a situation where you have been so tired you wanted to vomit. We had only been allowed to sleep for eight hours in forty eight and after realising and coming to terms with the fact that we were now prisoners in Russia, the most extreme tiredness came over us. We couldn't talk to each other and all we could was try to sleep on a stone cold floor with (homemade) blindfolds on to block out the brightest lights in the world. Once we got on the Tallinn bus we completely zonked out. 


We will write an interesting, thought provoking blog later but for now it's quite clearly time to sleep. 


Detained.

We were just detained by Russia for ten hours!


As we missed the stupid bloody busses yesterday (NOT OUR FAULT), the one we eventually got arrived at the Russia/Estonia border one and a half hours after our visas expired so they detained us in a horrible, freezing room where they made us sleep on the floor, shouted at us then ignored us and kept bringing a sniffer dog into the room. At one point an air raid siren went off and a bunch of Russian soldiers ran out shouting, we thought we had been caught in the midst of a war!

We had to wait so long because we had to pay to extend the visas but apparently ATM's just don't exist in that part of Russia so we had to wait for the bank to open at 9:30am. We then were kept for another two hours. It was the single most unpleasant experience of our lives.


If anyone dares challenge how intrepid and fearless we are then we couldn't possibly be responsible for our actions.

The funny thing is, at the end of the last post we said 'we hope we ACTUALLY get to Tallinn to learn it's interesting history, seriously, with our luck, we may not.' How right we were.


We will blog once we have washed the stench of detainment of us at the hostel (if we ever bloody get there!)

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Bus.

We missed our bus! The stupid taxi man didn't arrive so we missed the 12:45pm bus from St. Petes to Tallinn (the capital of Estionia). We were quite enraged. We then had to spend MORE money (because Russia hasn't cost us enough) to get the next bus at 4:45pm, on this bus we weren't meant to arrive into Tallinn until 11pm! Argh! 


After nipping out for a spot of (unsatisfying) lunch, we arrived back at the hostel an hour and a half before the bus was meant to leave so we could get a taxi. Well lo and behold THIS taxi never arrived in time EITHER, so we had to get the metro and we arrived at the bus station to watch our second bus of the day drive away. Hell hath no fury than Bared delayed. We are sure that everyone reading this will understand how overjoyed we were at missing two bloody busses in one day and spending EVEN MORE MONEY WHICH WE DON'T HAVE! Now the next bus isn't until 11pm, so we don't arrive into Tallinn until 6am!!! Travelling is getting real old.


A Chinese version of us.
Despite the horridiousness (a portmanteau of hideous and horrendous) of today we have loved St. Petes, it has been amazing and the art and culture that we have seen has been mind blowing. We are glad to leave because otherwise we might have to consider selling a kidney just to pay for dinner.


Estonia has a really interesting history, it was under both Nazi and Soviet rule (at different times obviously) and similarly to pretty much everywhere else Jewish people were excluded from the economy, because of this 75% of the Jewish population of Estonia managed to escape to the Soviet Union. The rest were shot into ditches. By January 1942, Estonia was declared 'Judenfrei' (Jew free). The story of the Holocaust did not end there, it was the place of death for many foreign Jewish people in twenty two concentration camps across the country.

We hope we ACTUALLY get to Tallinn to learn it's interesting history, seriously, with our luck, we may not. 




Care.


After meeting Tom last night and hearing his stories from the Russian orphanage that he's visited for his thesis, we decided to watch a documentary that Ben saw in 2008. This documentary was filmed in Bulgaria, not Russia, and documents the life of children who were kept in the Mogilino orphanage.

It showed the horrendous conditions that the children were kept in and it was extremely difficult to watch these children rock back and forth because they were given literally no stimulation whatsoever (animals can do similar things in captivity). They were also given no attention from the care staff so many existed in their own worlds with absolutely no interaction with anyone else. It seemed so horrendous because many of the 'disabilities' these children have were totally manageable if they lived in the UK, children with Down's Syndrome and Cystic Fibrosis were just left to decline. Several children were 'bed-ridden', and would lie in their beds with bent joints for their entire lives. Their health (both mental and physical) deteriorated significantly in the orphanage, so much so that several children died a year. We were stunned to see conditions so bad that children looked like they had just emerged from a concentration camp. 

We saw a young girl called Didi whose 'disability' was mild-autism. She was abandoned by her mother at the orphanage but thought her mother was coming for her. The worst thing about Didi's situation is that due to her imprisonment in the orphanage she became progressively more and more mentally ill. At first she read magazines, then due to boredom she started to rock back and forth and the staff spoke of genuine fears that she will become insane due to her imprisonment. Can you imagine how different her life would have been in the UK? 

After the documentary was shown in 2008 a campaign for its closure began, it was finally closed and the children dispersed in 2009.

It also made us think of the story of Janusz Korzack, the head of the orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto who provided an oasis of love and care in the complete carnage of the Holocaust. Rather than abandon the children in the hour of need, Janusz decided to travel with the children to Treblinka death camp. This story is love.

It seemed just so awful that vulnerable children were treated like this, Bulgaria is a member of the European Union and it was disgusting that it took place within the EU. It would be equally disgusting anywhere but it proved that the standards that the EU sets for its member states are clearly being ignored. It also showed again to us how important it is to show kindness and compassion to others. These children (and we are sure thousands more like them) were denied the basic right of love. They were treated like domestic pets and were ignored throughout the day. Although this situation in Mogilino was resolved, there still exists hundred of places like this across the world. We have talked about the responsibility that we have to stamp out prejudice, that we have to stand up for our fellow man, well that extends to situations like these too. Please take the time to watch the documentary (it is long, but definitely worth it), make sure you are not living in ignorance. If knowledge about certain situations is presented to you, then take it. The children of Mogilino were imprisoned in an uncaring, cruel world and they were abandoned. Let's make sure that other children are not left to rot in a similar way.

Please watch this, knowledge is power and our responsibility to help each other extends to these children too:

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Hermitage.

OMG!


The Hermitage Museum is breathtaking! St. Petersburg had just been a smorgasbord of beauty! It is so stunning, we can't really believe that beauty like that exists. The beauty of the Hermitage is not just the stunning art but the building itself. The museum is housed in the Winter Palace which was founded by Peter the Great who built the city of St. Petersburg in a more Western style. It was really interesting to look at the portraits of the Tsar and seeing the fashions change from more traditionally Russian to a more Western style. It was also really amazing to think that people actually lived in these palaces. We couldn't imagine having a throne room in your 'house'.  
























We could have spent all day there! Amazingly, Ben turned a corner and was faced with one of his good friends from Uni, Mr. Tom Disney, (yes, his name is Disney!). We are currently having a drink in St. Petes together. It was the most incredible coincidence and a fantastic surprise! Tom is doing a PhD in Geography (we know, totally putting us to shame) and is writing his thesis on orphanages in Russia and he was telling us the most horrendous stories. It seems so terrible that people who are so vulnerable are not being cared for in the way that they need.  


Freeman and Disney
Tomorrow we are going to Tallinn for a couple of days before we fly home on Friday (super super sob) but on reflection of our time in Russia we have preferred St. Petes to Moscow. The beauty has been staggering and we feel like we have had our quota of culture of the decade. It is a place that we would definitely want to come back here!

Humanity.

Today we are going to visit the Hermitage museum, it is part of the amazing Winter Palace and is one of the oldest museums in the world. Everyman and his dog has told us to visit so we are very excited, this part of our journey (not trip, journey) has been all about culture and seeing the beauty that humanity has created after spending five weeks largely focussing on the ugly side of human nature.


In our opinions human beings are essentially animals but we like to think of our selves as more than that. We use certain things like religion, art, culture, music, fashion and etiquette to distance ourselves from our monkey cousins. In a time where so many people were stripped of all that made them a man or a woman there are some incredible examples from the Holocaust of people trying to maintain their humanity. These stories are unlike the stories from Babi-Yar or the gas chambers but to us they still emotional. It is wonderful to see how people maintained a little dignity or a little part of their previous life amidst the horrors of the Holocaust.


There was a woman who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, she had her hair shaved, her belongings stolen from her, her family and friends were murdered and her name was replaced with a number tattooed on her left arm. It would have been very easy for her to forget that she was a woman, that before the war she liked to wear pretty dresses and wear make up. Amazingly her spirit never died, she never forget that she was a woman. She miraculously managed to keep a lace handkerchief with her throughout the selection process and she had found a bunk that had a small nail in its posts and every single night she hung her little lace handkerchief on the nail. Why did she do this? It's because that handkerchief made her feel like a woman, it reminded her that she had a name, emotions, interests and that she liked nice things. She said that these feelings saved her life.


Another story took place at the end of the war in Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany (where Anne Frank perished). The British had liberated the camp to find thousands of corpses and thousands more living skeletons. This account is from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was amongst the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945.


'I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen...


Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentery which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated.

It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.'

This is an absolutely incredible story. It is so important for someone who has been the victim of prejudice, who has been made to feel like they don't matter and that they are less than to feel human and proud of themselves. Despite the disease that has riddles the body or the devastating impact of starvation people, want to be human. They want to be a woman who wears red lipstick, who dresses herself in fine clothes. They want to be an individual who matters. We should remember that every single person, no matter who they are, or where they come from, has the right to feel special and beautiful and absolutely no one should take that away from them.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Priorities.

We had a total church filled day! We visited the incredibly beautiful 'Our Saviour of the Blood Cathedral'. This cathedral was the model for the beautiful St. Basil Cathedral in Moscow (at Red Square); It was staggeringly beautiful and the interior is made up almost exclusively of mosaics. 















We then had a hideous walk in the torrential rain (monsoon season hits St.Pete's) to the stunning St. Isaacs cathedral. We were drenched to the bone when we arrived but were delighted to be told that because mass was taking place we didn't need to pay and we could just pretend that we were going to mass. YAY mass! This cathedral was very different to the  'Our Saviour of the Blood Cathedral' from earlier. It was elegant and gilded and quite ostentatious but stunning nonetheless.














These buildings are breathtaking but they are not the only breathtaking churches/cathedrals in the world and it really got us thinking about the wealth that certain religious institutions have. The financial resources of the Catholic church is quite staggering, and the beauty of all the religious institutions that we have visited, are quite obvious. We couldn't help but wonder why religions prosper where the people do not? This blog post is not anti any religious group (that would be quite counterproductive) but it is worth considering these controversial questions.


To us, despite the overwhelming beauty and wealth of the church, we do get uncomfortable knowing that so many people still want for so much. Obviously a church is a shrine to God but would God (if one exists) want people, who were created in his image, to starve whilst a really beautiful big building is built in his honour? Our guess is probably not. Beauty is so important, it makes life a little more wonderful but it should not come at the expense of people's lives. It seems quite absurd that certain religions preach about helping your fellow man and the righteousness of charity yet direct huge amounts of money into architecture whilst ignoring the needs of people. The Catholic church is probably (in our opinion) one of the wealthiest institutions in the world but yet millions of Catholics around the world starve and live in dire poverty. We are not saying that Catholicism doesn't help people, but what we are asking is if the Church is doing all it could to help?


We have really enjoyed our time exploring (intrepidly) the Cathedrals of Eastern Europe and we have stood open mouthed in awe at their beauty but we do think that religions perhaps need to re-evaluate their priorities if this is the legacy that they leave behind, rather than helping 'Gods' people. 

Collaboration.

Yesterday, we had a conversation about how European we feel and how we are wanting to move to Paris this year. We just love the culture and the history there so much, but there is a darker side to French history. In fact there is a dark side to most (not all, mind) European states. The fact that so many Western states collaborated with the Nazis is a troubling and dark park of history that is often forgotten.


When we think of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, most of us think about the Germans or possibly Eastern European states like Poland and the Ukraine but how many of you knew the extent that 'allied' nations took part in the murder of millions of people?


One example of collaboration was in July 1942, when 13,000 Jewish people were rounded up by French police and imprisoned in the Vel' d'Hiv (a velodrome). Although this terrible event was ordered by the Nazis, the French authorities collaborated assisting the Nazis in organising the plans and eventually carrying out the deeds themselves. The people that were rounded up were eventually deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where few survived. In 1995, fifty three years after the murder of French by the French, did a President of France feel the need to apologise for the crimes of his countrymen. The question is why did French authorities happily round up French citizens and deliver them into the hands of the conquerers of the French? 






Many other countries assisted the Nazis with the destruction of their Jewish people during the war. The Dutch civil service was put at the disposal of the Nazis to deport Jewish people. Like in the French round ups that took place, Dutch policemen were used to deport Dutch people to Auschwitz. This terrible situation where people are turning on their own countrymen unfortunately took place across Europe and across the world. 
We are not going to list the number of countries that happily collaborated with the Nazis across the world, but let us assure you that the number is disgustingly high. 


To us, one of the worst things about the collaboration was the lack of recognition after the war. Many people expect victims of the Holocaust to move on, to stop talking about, stop going on about it but how can they without closure? The terrible thing is that these countries and their perpetrators got away (basically) scot free. We have talked quite extensively about moving forward to create a better future and we still stand by that but to learn anything from the past we have to know the past. We have to know that French and Dutch people turned their backs on their own citizens and handed them over to certain death. We have to know that people were rounded up and taken to death camps. We have to know this to ensure that it doesn't happen again. The only explanation is that high levels of prejudice existed all over the world and was not exclusive to Germany or Ukraine. Like people, States must take responsibility for their actions and create a path where we can, using education, move forward learning from our mistakes to make sure that each day is a little better than the previous.