The Holocaust Remembered | Leger Holidays

With the atrocities of the Holocaust brought firmly back to the forefront of our attention this week, it’s important for us to remember the millions of victims who suffered at the hands of evil during one of the most horrific parts of World War 2.

Our Holocaust Remembered tour follows the moving story of Anne Frank as well as the story of Oskar Schindler. Our specialist guide, Charlotte Czyzyk, who also works at the IWM North, specialises in the Holocaust, and here talks us through some of the most moving and thought provoking aspects of this emotional tour.

The Holocaust Remembered – Charlotte Czyzyk

This tour covers the history of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jewish men, women and children were murdered, as well as countless others because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or disability. We follow the footsteps of those whose lives were affected by persecution, and include testimony from individuals such as Anne Frank to bring our excursions to life. We visit beautiful, vibrant cities where Jewish culture thrived before the war, including Berlin, Krakow and Prague, which reminds us of everything that was lost in the Holocaust.

We see the traces of Nazi architecture in the German capital of Berlin, and visit the villa outside the city where senior Nazis held the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This secret meeting sealed the fate of European Jews, and it is always striking to think that such a beautiful lakeside location could provide the setting for such cold and calculated decision to murder millions of people. We also visit one of the earliest concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, where barracks have been preserved to gain a sense of the prisoners’ daily life. 

Achsenhausen Concentration Camp
Achsenhausen Concentration Camp

Moving onto Poland we walk through the sites of the former Krakow ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp, which during the war were plagued by overcrowding, violence, hunger and squalor. Later in the tour we also visit the so-called ‘model ghetto’ at Theresienstadt near Prague, which deceived the Red Cross inspectors into thinking that conditions were acceptable for the people held there. 
Krakow Ghetto
Krakow Ghetto

For many passengers, visiting the former concentration and death camp at Auschwitz is a particularly emotional experience. Seeing the huge displays of confiscated belongings – shoes, spectacles, even women’s hair – is overwhelming, and it helps us to begin to come to terms with the human tragedy that unfolded there.  The remains of the vast death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including the railway lines, prisoner barracks and gas chambers, show how the Nazi machine was geared to destroying people using industrial methods. 
And yet amongst the suffering and loss, there are tales of hope and courage. We look at stories of inspirational individuals such as Oskar Schindler, and visit the museum at his former factory in Krakow where he employed and saved 1,200 Jews. We also move to the Czech Republic to see the church in Prague where the brave assassins of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich met their fate, a building which still bears scars from the fighting that took place there over 70 years ago.
Auschwitz
Auschwitz

The end of the war created new challenges for survivors. We visit the former concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. At this emotive site we think about the difficulties that soldiers faced in providing the food, clothing, and medical assistance required to save as many people as possible, as well as the psychological support needed to help survivors to make sense of all they had come through and all they had lost. Some people poured their efforts into seeking justice from the perpetrators, and we end the tour by visiting the Nuremberg courtroom where the trials of leading Nazis such as Herman Goering took place. 
Bergen Belsen
Bergen Belsen

This tour follows journeys of many kinds:  journeys of death in trains, in ghettos and in camps; journeys of escape, hiding and survival; and journeys made after liberation to a new life. I hope that you will join this special trip to unforgettable sites, which create evocative memories for all those who travel with us. Click here to view WW2 Battlefield Tours.

5 Big Reasons to Visit Eastern Europe

Think of Europe, and we know what would spring to mind, popular holiday and sightseeing destinations, such as the likes of Italy, France, Germany and Portugal, for example. But what about those destinations a little further east?

It may not have the most glamorous reputation, when you have the glitz and glamour of western Europe heavy weights like the French Riviera and the sunny Spanish coast to compare it to, but there’s a lot more to Eastern Europe than stag do’s and a cheap pint.
In fact, we don’t think we’re alone when we say it’s actually one of the most fascinating pockets of Europe.

The view over Budapest from the Fisherman’s Bastion

From the Czech Republic to Russia, there’s plenty to see and do, and if you aren’t mesmerised by it all, we’ll eat our hat! But, as we’re not ones to keep things like this to ourselves, here are our top 5 reasons to enjoy a holiday in Eastern Europe.

History

Eastern Europe has more historical tales than you can shake a stick at. It is complex, it’s gruesome and it’s fascinating. The good, the bad and the downright ugly, from the Red Army to the Iron Curtain, there’s a lot to be learnt. And, you don’t have to be a history buff to be astounded by what can be found here.
Auschwitz, for example, is a place where the word ‘visiting’ simply does not explain the wave of emotion and the feelings that you experience when you are where the most deadly of the concentration camps stood.

Auschwitz

In 2016, a record 2 million visitors, from all over the world, came to Auschwitz. Walking into the site, you’re met with the eerie reality of what happened there, not all that long ago, allowing us to re-live to the darkest echoes of the past.
Budapest offers a unique look at how previously independent communities of Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube, have come together to create one of Eastern Europe’s most popular cities.
From medieval castles to memorials built in honour of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces, it’s one of many fascinating cities that should be on every European explorer’s wish list.
In Berlin you can still learn about the reality of the segregation, including the Iron curtain that lead to the Cold War.
Brandenburg Gate

With parts of the Berlin Wall still visable, and Brandenburg Gate now one of Berlin’s most popular attractions, the reminders of the past that separated the communist countries of Eastern Europe and capitalist countries of the west are still apparent and give us an interesting opportunity to learn about the history of Europe as a whole.

Variety and Culture

Within a relatively small area of Eastern Europe, you can enjoy a variety of different cultures. From Finland to Russia, the cultural landscape is diverse. You can even cover a whole spectrum of exciting destinations is just a short time, as there are plenty of exciting countries in close proximity to each other.
Even though the east is rapidly becoming more westernised, enjoy the Bohemian lifestyle in the Czech Republic, the rich culture of Russia with its outstanding arts, music, and of course, ballet.
Even cities such as Prague and Krakow are still steeped in fascinating tradition. Cobbled streets, horse and carts and plenty of museums and theatres, you can be sure to get a cultural feast in either of these cities.

Krakow

But, it’s certainly doesn’t end there. With the likes of Vienna, Ljubljana and Dubrovnik, there’s plenty to see for all the culture vulture’s out there.
And, best of all, you’ll get more for your money! In most areas you’ll find a vast difference in costs between Eastern Europe and its western counterpart. A pint of beer a relative steal, and a tasty meal just a snip at what you’d expect to pay, even at home.

Sight-seeing

A real crowd pleaser, Eastern Europe doesn’t fall short when it comes to photo opportunities. Forget about the Eifel Tower, here we’ve got the un-sung heroes that might even top the list when it comes to sightseeing opportunities.
As Winston Churchill once said “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume” – and that’s just the start of what’s on offer! In fact, Vogue called Eastern Europe 2017’s hot travel destination. Ooh, you trendsetter, you!
As we’ve already stopped off there, let’s delve a little deeper into Prague… it is host to a wonderful selection of landmarks, most famously the Astronomical Clock, and of course, Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge, Prague

In fact, in 1989, the largest number of tourists were recorded at Charles Bridge, coming in at a whopping 1562 people. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Considering the bridge is only 1600 feet in length, and with four lanes of traffic, that’s almost one person per foot!
But, of course, that’s only dipping your toes into this amazing city. There’s also Prague Castle, Petřín Park and Wenceslas square right on your doorstep. Luckily, there’s also a host of fantastic bars, restaurants, and cafes, if you need to take the weight off for a minute or two.
The imperial city of Vienna gives you a chance to see incredible architecture, such as the Hofburg Palace, in all of its glory. And, of course, we have to mention the Giant Wheel.
What better way to see the city than from the top of a 64 metre tall Ferris wheel? It’s also one of the oldest operating wheels in the world, so it has its historical value, too.
Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Whilst in the ‘City of Music’, for all you Musicophiles out there, there’s plenty of sights that sing to your tune, having been home to Mozart, Beethoven, Johann Struas and Brahms, you can even head over to Schoenbrunn Palace where Mozart presented his first concert at the age of six!
And what about the UNESCO world heritage site of Warsaw’s old town? With the Royal Castle and King Zygmunt III Waza Column, there’s plenty to see whilst you’re there.
That’s before we even mention the spectacular sights of western Russia. With plenty to see in Moscow and St. Petersburg from the Kremlin to the Bronze Horseman statue, you will certainly leave with a lasting impression.
Phew! That’s enough to fill any photo book, and that’s just skimming the surface…

Food and Drink

If you’re into hearty and wholesome foods, you’ll be very excited by the Eastern Europe cuisines. You can find and array of traditional and unique dishes in each of the countries you visit, and if local cuisine is your thing, you’re in for a treat when you’re touring the east of the continent.
Soups, meats, fresh fish and vegetables, you’re on a tour of the taste buds as the food in eastern Europe is renowned for its spectacular flavour. A tasty goulash in Hungary, catch of the day on the Dalmatian coast, or maybe a hot or cold borsht in Poland (Beetroot soup, if you were wondering.).

Goulash & Borsht

But, as with many places in relatively close proximity, of course you’ll get some overlap. Stuffed cabbage, stews and even a tasty chicken schnitzel will be on the menu in many Eastern European countries.
And, if you’re not one to turn down the opportunity to try a new tipple, there’s plenty of local spirits to quench a thirst. From Russian Vodka to Polish Wódka, you can get a taste for Schnapps in Austria, Becherovka in the Czech Republic and a Palinka in Hungary.

Geography

From picturesque beaches to stunning mountain scenery, and all that is in between, Eastern Europe has it all.
Heading over to the coast of Croatia is fast becoming one of the top travel plans of many Brits and it’s easy to see why. White, sandy beaches and the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, it’s far from the dull and dreary scenes we’re so used to at home.

Heading inland, if you’ve got a head for heights, the Tatras Mountains are certainly a good shout. Forming the border between Poland and Slovakia, their granite peaks were formed over 60 million years ago and attract over three million visitors a year!
But, even with the heavy footfall from inquisitive tourists, the mountains have maintained their pristine state and well worth a visit if you want to see nature at its finest.

We’re even treated to some of the most amazing waterways offering some incredible river cruising opportunities along the River Danube. Flowing through Germany, Austria and Hungary, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to embark on possibly some of the most relaxing sightseeing trips in Europe.

 
We could go on for days, but don’t let us just tell you how great Eastern Europe is, let us show you. Take a look at our exciting range of eastern European coach tours, here.
 

David McCormack : Who is Anne Frank?

This month marks the 72nd anniversary of the relief of Bergen-Belsen where more than 50,000 people perished through wilful neglect, including the young diarist, Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s posthumously published diary first appeared in print in 1947. Since then, it has become an international best seller, instantly recognisable to millions. Less recognisable, indeed largely unknown, is the posthumously published (1979) wartime diary of Etty Hillesum (An Interrupted Life), a young Dutch woman who was murdered in Auschwitz in November 1943.
Hillesum’s remarkable diary shares the same literary qualities as that of Anne Frank, which is hardly surprising as both aspired to be professional writers. Arguably, it is Anne Frank’s far more complex afterlife which has resulted in her much greater posthumous success and reinvention as a symbol of hope and forgiveness.

Mari Andriessen’s bronze statue of Anne Frank was conceived in 1975 and has stood on the Square of the Westerkerk since 1977

The reinvention of Anne Frank began with the publication of her diary in the United States in 1952. To make what Anne herself initially referred to as ‘the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl’ more attractive to a wider (non Jewish) audience, the diary underwent a process of Americanisation, bowdlerisation and sentimentalisation.
This process extended even further with the dramatisation of the Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway in 1955 and the release of the Hollywood film (adapted from the stage production) four years later. Whilst both the play and the film were critical successes, neither captured the true essence of who Anne Frank really was.
Neither Susan Strasberg on stage, nor Millie Perkins on screen came close to capturing the mercurial and precocious young woman whose words have fascinated and inspired so many. Instead of highlighting her particular qualities, the version of Anne Frank presented to the world was a universal figure, designed above all to appeal to American youth.
Auschwitz-Birkenau. Here, after a three day journey from Westerbork, Anne and the other seven inhabitants of the secret annex were selected for labour.

This distorted, reduced, infantilised and decontextualised figure was even furnished with a happy ending. In true Broadway and Hollywood style, the adaptations of her story conclude with those lines in her diary about believing that people were good at heart.
However, we know that in reality, there was no happy ending. As such, the decontextualising of her good-at-heart passage represents the literary equivalent of plucking a rose from a bed of thorns. The impact of that decontextualised passage has nonetheless been enormous, as from it, she has come to be recognised as a universal symbol of hope and forgiveness.
In recent years, the story of Anne Frank has been subject to literary interpretations, or re-imaginings, most notably Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer (1979) and Sharon Dogar’s Annexed (2010).
The symbolic grave marker for Anne Frank and her sister Margot at Bergen-Belsen

Whilst both are written with a degree of sensitivity, neither help us to understand the true story, that of a life of great promise cut tragically short in the most terrible of circumstances.
For me, as a guide, it is important to distinguish between the crafted image of Anne Frank and the real person. Therefore, on The Holocaust Remembered tour, we take in the locations which serve to inform us about her real life and the circumstances of her death.
In a sense, Anne Frank lives on through her diary. However, we know that she isn’t alive, as this ordinary, yet extraordinary young woman was buried in a mass grave in Bergen-Belsen in late February 1945. That is what makes her story so unbearable and yet so fascinating. Furthermore, it is what makes this tour such an emotional, yet rewarding experience.
Anne Frank and the other seven inhabitants of the secret annex were sent on the very last transport from Westerbork to Auschwitz in September 1944

 

Will and Pat Nicol take on our Highlights of Eastern Europe Tour

Will and Pat Nichol recently travelled with Leger on our Highlights of Eastern Europe tour, after sending some great photos to Leger HQ, they have kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for our blog.

So, if you’re looking to head off with Leger shortly, here’s what they have to say about their experience:

What was it about the tour that made us want to book? We had planned to visit these cities on a backpacking trip booking as we went, until, your brochure dropped onto our mat. It was going to every city we wanted to visit. Now, having reached a mature age, we decided to let you take the strain.
Which day were we most looking forward too from the itinerary? The day we were looking forward too, was the trip to Auschwitz and Krakow. Both places have been high on our list, due to the fact we have always been interested in WW 2 history. Auschwitz, what can we say, the impact  was exactly as we had imagined. Krakow, we had been told the old town was stunning, yes it was, both by day and by night.

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“Thanks for laying on a flypast of a Lancaster at the Mohne Dam. Surprised everyone one on the coach. Took a model of a Lancaster with a loop of fishing line and my wife held it in a suitable position near the dam – looks brill.”

How did we find the travelling aspect of the holiday? It was easy, sit back and relax, comfortable seats, excellent drivers, plenty of refreshments, good choice of DVD’s to pass the time on the long days, what more could you ask.
Which city that you visited, was the most memorable? Prague, without a doubt, so much to see, so much to do. A city to re-visit, finished off with a boozy ride around the city in a vintage tram – brill.
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“Mike and Keiran try to recruit a new Leger driver”

Did we find any hidden or unexpected delights on our tour? Yes, we did. Being aircraft enthusiasts we found a hidden aircraft museum in the middle of Warsaw.  Amongst all the hidden gems were four WW2 Russian aircraft, which we never dreamt of seeing, they are as rare as hens teeth!
What was the best part of the trip? the evening tour of Budapest. A fantastic champagne organ recital followed by a stunning tour of floodlight Budapest. We took hundreds of photographs!
"Keiran and Mike present the Budapest guide with two cuddly sheep for her children"
“Keiran and Mike present the Budapest guide with two cuddly sheep for her children”

What would we say to someone who was thinking of booking this tour? Don’t think about it, just do it, you will not be disappointed.
What was our favourite part of the whole experience? Spending a whole day wandering around Prague, its bridges, its squares and shops… and a pint of beer (or two!), watching people and the river activities. Ending the day with the vintage tram ride as already mentioned
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Do we have any funny stories from the tour? Yes, I spent twenty minutes riding the lift. Having forgotten my room key card in haste to collect my suitcase from the lobby. The keycard was designated to the floor we were on, so it took considerable time  to find a guest staying on the same floor. I thought I would be spending the night in the lift and without dinner too.(Moral, always carry your door key when leaving the room).  Four fellow travellers after hearing about my dilemma decided to take the stairs to breakfast the following morning. Not realising they were using the fire exits, once the door had closed behind them, they were trapped. After shouting and banging on the doors to no avail for over half an hour, they thought to call Mike Brannon on their mobile phone to come and release them. They made breakfast, just (Moral to this one, don’t use fire escapes except in an emergency).
Finally, would you head off on  tour with Leger again? Yes, already thinking about taking the Bavarian Castle’s tour.
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“My wife Pat really appreciated the coach named after her, seeing as it was her 60th birthday, she thought I had arranged it, I haven’t said I didn’t.”

One of the most rewarding things from a travel company’s perspective is to hear that customers have had great experiences on their holidays and we’d love to hear from you too!

If you fancy becoming a Leger Blog Star, get in touch at blog@legerblog.co.uk