Mar 2004 Journal

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RG's travel advisory

'When April with his showers sweet/ The drought of March has pierced unto the root', wrote Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales, 'Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage.' Six centuries on, spring is still the season when our thoughts turn to potential holiday destinations. Jews, and in particular refugees, naturally bring a certain emotional baggage to a consideration of places to go to, or to avoid. To help undecided readers I have drawn up a plus-and-minus list (which does not claim to be comprehensive):

Austria The epithet Waldheimat says it all.

Belgium Despite some Flemish collaboration, an above-average number of Jews survived.

Despite an exceptional wartime record only a small community stayed on subsequently.

A wartime Nazi puppet; now on a bumpy road to democracy.
Czech Republic Prague's synagogues, cemeteries etc are the treasure trove of Europe's Jewish past. Influx of Westerners helps the local community.
France A chequered wartime record; current Jewish anxieties owe more to extremists among 5 million Muslims than to the fifth of the electorate who voted for Le Pen.

A society that reverted to man's Neanderthal origins with astonishing ease and has made some amends since.

A good wartime record, though Salonikans watched the deportations with stony indifference; unremittingly hostile to Israel since.

Hungary Despite huge wartime losses Budapest functioned as the centre of Jewish life behind the Iron Curtain, and remains a focal point today.

Italy Birthplace of non-toxic Fascism and - earlier - of the ghetto. Jewel of mainland Europe.

Lithuania An area of massacres but the capital, Vilnius, was once revered as the Jerusalem of the North.

Moldova Another segment of the Jewish heartland with towns like Iasi and Kisinau redolent of Jewish history.

Poland The absolute graveyard of Europe's Jews - but there are signs of a small-scale Jewish revival, such as a several-thousand-strong Association of 'Hidden Children'.

Slovakia A wartime Nazi satellite that deported its own Jews, but endemic corruption helped some to survive.
Spain Long a hostile environment for Jews (although many families claim Marrano descent); upholds Western values today.

Switzerland Perfection untouched by human hand - or human need.

Turkey Laboratory for forging the world's first Westernised Muslim society - and a sublime holiday destination.
Richard Grunberger

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