Aug. 11, 2011
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Hello everyone, this is Brittany Rayburn coming to you from Prague. Our fourth day of our European Tour started out with a bus ride to the Terezin concentration camp about an hour outside of Prague. As we approached the site, the first thing that I noticed was the silence on the bus. The first thing that we came upon after getting off the bus was the cemetery in front of the former fortress. It is a very large open area with over 7,000 graves. Some gravestones had names and some just had numbers, which showed us how badly these people were treated during World War II.
As we began our tour through the camp, we started in a long rectangular courtyard that had a building with offices on one side. This is the area where the Jews were processed upon arrival. At the end of the courtyard we went into a room that was used as a cell for the Jews and used to be a horse stall. Standing in that 15' x 20' space caused a few gasps from some and shock by all, especially when our tour guide told us that they would put 60 people in there at once. Due to the small space, all the occupants had to stand, day and night because there was not enough room to sit or lay down. This was disturbing to all because there were about 30 of us on the tour and it was not a comfortable fit, so it was hard to image that space with double the amount of occupants.
Another thing that shocked us was the shower procedure which entailed 100 people going into the shower room at one time. That meant five people per shower head. The women and children would go first and would often have warm water, the political prisoners would go next and had cold water and by the time the Jewish men would arrive for their showers, there would only be a thin stream of cold water left, if any at all.
Another thing we learned is that the food rations were minimal, often not enough to keep the occupants of Terezin alive. For breakfast they only got two pieces of bread served with water that had a small amount of imitation coffee added. For the other meals they were served a soup that consisted of water with very few potatoes, no protein, no salt and no fat.
Hitler's regime used Terezin as a propaganda tool, including allowing a tour by the Red Cross during the war. For that tour they created things to fake normalcy and we got to see the shaving room that they built with porcelain sinks and mirrors. The thing is, there were no water hookups in the entire room and which made it obvious that the shaving room was just for show.
As we progressed through the tour of the camp, the effect of the reality of the horrible things that had occurred here showed on our faces. To think that we get great meals every day and we get to spend time together and travel to places like Europe. We have amazing facilities at Purdue and we get great food, showers and places to live. To be honest, we are treated like royalty in comparison to what we saw at Terezin. It was an awesome experience, getting to see for ourselves a place we learned about in history class. I think it reinforced how thankful we should be for everything that we have received in our lives. We appreciate everything that we have access to and for all that our families do to make sure we are happy and healthy.
Finally, we learned that 74,000 Jews who spent time at Terezin were killed, including 2,600 who died while at Terezin. The reason there weren't more murders there is that Terezin was not an extermination camp, but more of a transition place. The visit was one of the best experiences that I have ever had, even though it was a sobering one, and I know that we all had a rewarding time there - coaches, players, staff and fans.
Next on the agenda was an afternoon tour of the Prague Castle. We first stopped at the huge cathedral (St. Vitus) housed within the castle walls where we saw the beautiful architecture of the church, inside and out. The size was unreal and the artwork in the church was beautiful. There were amazing stained glass windows, incredible marble statues and beautiful paintings.
After the short viewing of the church we headed to the many different places on the grounds of the castle. We went into another church called the Basilica of St. George and then headed to Golden Lane. Within Golden Lane, there were these tiny little colorful houses that now hold shops, museums and examples of what the homes like when they were occupied. We went to the Museum of Torture which had information about and examples of forms of torture during medieval times. It was very creepy, but also very interesting.
It was time to leave the castle, so we headed toward the Charles Bridge which spans the Vltava River. We stopped at an overlook which had amazing views of the city of Prague.
As we walked across the bridge we made sure to stop at the famous statue that you are supposed to rub for good luck and to ensure that you return to Prague. We all rubbed the lucky spots to receive everything that we want and desire. We took many great pictures of the beautiful statues and enjoyed great conversations with one another as we walked to a great dinner in town. Some people on the team ranked this restaurant in their top five ever, and just make it clear, we go to many amazing restaurants. After dinner, it was time for lights out to get good rest before game day on Wednesday.
Day five started off with breakfast at the hotel and then a few hours of free time. Some people went shopping and some people just stayed around the hotel and napped or spent time on their computers. I took the opportunity to see some more of Prague and do a little shopping, including at an outdoor market that had lots of reasonably priced items. After the free time, we ate a team lunch together at the hotel and then boarded the bus to our next game destination.
In my mind, the facilities just keep getting better each time we play. The gym of Hradec Karlove was an entire complex that looked like a fitness center that you would see in the U.S.
The game started off a little rough, but we picked things up in the second half and took care of business with a 22-point win. After each game of this trip, we stick around to talk and eat with the opposing team. At Hradec Karlove, they served us pizza and soda and we talked with two of their players. We learned what they thought of our team and style of play and vice-versa. We love playing against such a different style of opponent and I personally learned from this kind of play.
As our fifth day on this amazing trip came to an end, we were excited to get the win and to spend the rest of our Czech money. Prague is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we have loved our experience here. Now we are off to Bratislava to enjoy more wonderful memories.