Monday, July 24, 2017

Visiting the Jewish Museum in Belgrade

I visited the Jewish Museum in Belgrade, just before leaving the Serbian capitol for Croatia.  The museum is on a narrow, steep street.  Just a door and a sign face the street.  Inside you climb up three flights of stairs to an upper floor.  The museum winds through hundreds of years of Jewish history in the Balkans. According to the staff, this is the only Jewish museum anywhere in the Balkan states. 

Most of the collection is artifacts and photos from the mid 19th Century to World War II.  There was a vibrant Jewish community then, several synagogues with very different architecture. During the 1930s as anti-Semitism became fashionable, the Jewish community diminished.  When the Nazis conquered the Balkans during World War II, the Jewish community was wiped out. After the war, a few Jews came back, but in 1950s the last synagogue was demolished.

At this point, the collection stops.  If I understood the guide correctly, the few remaining Jews left permanently or at least for a while in the 1990s when Slobodan Milosevic was murdering Muslims and Croats.  Jews were not a particular target, but the Holocaust was less than 50 years before, so leaving seems a lot smarter than waiting for the guys with guns to start killing Jews.

After leaving the museum, I walked back to the hotel to get my bike and get ready to leave Belgrade.  As I walked along the bustling sidewalks beside constant traffic, I was looking at the people on the street who were middle aged and older.  The slaughter in the Balkans was just two decades ago. Was I walking past a supporter of ethnic cleansing? A killer?  I had the same creepy feeling during my first visit to the city of Wiesbaden after arriving in West Germany with Brigade 76.  World War II ended just 30 years before. Were the people I passed Nazis? Were they Hitler supporters? Were they killers of Jews? 

The history of Germany and Serbia make chillingly clear the vast difference between Patriotism and Nationalism:

Nationalism says our country is the Best and inflames the worst instincts of its citizens. Draft dodgers and other cowards with loud voices can be Nationalists. Grievance and anger are the only prerequisites. Not courage.

Patriotism means service. Patriots make sacrifices. They risk, and sometimes they lose their lives to protect their country and make it greater.  Patriots fought to save the world from Nazi tyranny, then they brought democracy to Germany, Japan, Italy and other countries under tyranny.  Patriotism tears down walls. Tyrants build them.


C.S. Lewis says, "Without courage there can be no virtue."

Patriotism begins with courage. Nationalism begins with fear.

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