Prague, Czech Republic
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Trial by Franz Kafka
Testaments Betrayed by Milan Kundera
Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt
Documentary Film: Conspiracy
Study and Discussion Assignments
Students were assigned different topics relating to the territory that they will cover while in Prague. Each topic was matched with an individual student as lead researcher and two students who were expected to design informed and probing discussion questions for the researcher during the seminar.
Topic: Mozart in Prague
- How was Mozart’s death handled in Prague, in comparison to Vienna (be vivid)?
- Which of Mozart’s operas was first performed just down the street from the Old Town Square?
Topic: The Music of the River
- The pride of Prague
- The river
- Their composer, Smetana
Topic: The Germans, Concentration camps east and south of Prague, and Jewish Ghetto in the Old Town
- Where are Auschwitz and Mauthausen in relation to Prague
- How did Eichmann work the tain schedules from Vienna (see Eichmann in Jerusalem)?
- Do you find any difference between the Austrian feelings toward Hitler and those of the Czech citizen?
Topic: Hus and his place in the Czech Conscience
- Were the flames worth the life of this great champion of a free education and ethics?
- What happened to his students at the Bethlehem Chapel?
- Why did Luther, a century later, say "We are all Hussians"?
Topic: Havel and the "Velvet Revolution"
- What makes Havel so different from other politicians?
- What do you think of this human approach to politics?
Topic: Emil Zatopek and Greatest Olympic Effort Ever
- What kind of workouts did he do on his own, in his army boots?
- Why was he loved so much?
Topic: Kafka and his City
- The finest erotic scenes Kafka ever wrote are in the third chapter of The Castle (Milan Kundera). Now that should motivate you. And from Kafka, "if Frieda were to leave him, everything he had would leave him". Any of you guys ever have that feeling about the female?
- Or, how about this one in The Trial from Kundera? "K is guilty not because he has committed a crime but because he has been accused". Do you know that paranoia?
Below are notes from study sessions as the students prepared for the 2007 trip Upon recommendation from Cory Taylor, students had viewed the film Conspiracy prior to the seminar. This documentary focused on the Wannsee conference in 1942 near Berlin where "ordinary" Germans made what seemed to most of them as "ordinary" decisions about how to kill Jews in mass quantity. The conversation between the Arête students was with feeling as they generally concluded that those at the table at the German conference were not "evil" people in their day-to-day living.
I introduced Hannah Arendt and her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann was at the Berlin conference. While stationed in Vienna later, he became the record setting administrator in transporting Jews from cities to death camps in Europe. As Arendt reports, Eichmann concluded that he could be free of guilt because others supported him: "I sensed a kind of Pontius Pilate feeling, for I felt free of all guilt."
Jane Elliott shared considerable information on Eichmann at the seminar. She told of Mauthausen, the concentration camp that we will visit after Prague. I let them know how difficult entering the gas chamber can be and that they are not required to take that on.
Sheehan Mitchell told of the great river that flows through Prague, of their composer Smetana. The cultural pride of the Czech was fortified by my telling about how Kathryn* addressed our 1987 group close to the statue of Prague and how she valued her city.
Others presented Hus, Havel and Zatopek; we had our pantheon assembled. I shared the Arête 1995 incredible moment in the Bethlehem chapel. ** Cory had sent up some quotes from Havel, the playwright who was in prison for political virtue when Arête '85 and '89 visited the city. This day finds Cory back in Prague to do some more filming of a documentary that features the leadership of Havel. Stefan Cheplick knew some things about Zatopek, of his Olympic greatness and poor treatment by the communists after his record runs. I added a line many of us know "you have to run at least 2000 meters to be a champion".
No, we did not forget Mozart. How Prague adopted him as their composer. It has been suggested that they listen to Mozart while they study in preparation for this trip.
The students had read, or were finishing, The Trial or The Castle. We will follow up on this at the next seminar when I ask them to give two or three examples of existentialism from either book.
* Katheryn was the Czech javelin thrower, coach
** the students of Hus were killed for protesting by the government outside the chapel; Arête '95 did not have the money to attend a Mozart concert, but an usher came out a few minutes later and took us to a back pew without fee