Travel: It can make a big man silent.
People who go on river cruises - what are they like?
Before I went on my first river cruise last month I thought that they would be kind of ordinary. They would want everything done for them and therefore not be very adventurous. Maybe even a little bland.
I was wrong.
I met a wide variety of people on the ship. I found as many people of interest to me as I find in a B&B or hostel or anywhere else I meet people.
Some are fun. Some are interesting. Some are a surprise because they think in ways that I hadn’t thought possible.
On the river cruise from Nuremburg to Vienna I met one fellow who was all three of the above.
Relearning history through travel.
I had dinner with this fellow on our first evening. We had just departed Nuremberg so it’s not surprising that our conversation followed a World War II theme. It was during this conversation that this tablemate who is from South Africa revealed that, until his recent travels, he had thought Hitler was a great man. He didn’t think this because he believed in Hitler’s New World Order, but because the spin on history that he had learned in school omitted many facts.
It was shocking to me and I sincerely appreciate how open he was in sharing how this could possibly be his understanding. Through school in the 70s and opinions expressed by family and friends, he had believed that the Jews had been victims of war like most others – though perhaps they found themselves at the front more often; that stories of the Holocaust were exaggerations. Camps yes, but death camps? Who would think of such a thing. He explained that it was not what the school system and other sources had said explicitly but what had been left unsaid.
A good person with a good heart can be in the dark.
Questions began to arise in my tablemate’s mind when a friend of his visited Dachau and reported back: “It will make a big man silent.”
Researching online, I have not been able to uncover the position of the school curriculum and social attitudes regarding Nazi Germany in the latter part of the 20th century in South Africa. It would have been interesting to do so as my tablemate was a small sample of one. He hardly represents a whole society. But his intelligence, openness and honesty suggest to me that he represents some portion of South African society.
But that’s not what matters. What is important here is that it points to the relevance of travel. That there is still much to learn from each other – that we must learn from each other to increase peace in the world.
We had wide-ranging discussions over the course of the cruise. We learned a lot, we pointed each other to films worth watching and I got to know that an intelligent person with a good heart could be in the dark had he not traveled.
It also told me that the Mark Twain quote holds as much relevance today as ever:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
- Innocents Abroad