Auschwitz

In August, before going to Bucharest, I went to visit Auschwitz. The former extermination camp is located around 70 kilometers west of Krakow. From Krakow, you have many options to visit Auschwitz. You can go by train, bus or car.

Although I have read many things about this extermination camp, it’s entirely different from being there. It is one thing to get info about the life in the death factory and a different experience to be in a chamber where hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Entry to Auschwitz extermination camp. In front of the well-known iron gate with the message “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

The Auschwitz camp was first used as a labor camp and then, from 1942 to 1945, was an extermination camp. In January 1942, the Nazis decided to kill all the Jews from the German-occupied territories. Therefore they start moving more than one million Jews from Ghettoes to the exterminations camps by trains. Those who were not able to work were sent directly to the gas chamber. That included old people and children. It is estimated that more than 1.1 million people were killed in this camp. During the war from the six extermination camps, this was the camp with the most victims.

An electrified barbed-wire fence separates areas in the extermination camp.

The Nazis tried hard to hide the atrocities they did everywhere and the massacres against innocent people. Their actions to conceal facts failed. For example, in Auschwitz, they blew up the gas chambers before leaving the camp in January 1945. The Auschwitz museum was open soon after the war in 1947. Since 2016, more than 2 million people have visited the Auschwitz museum in the concentration camp each year. Having many visitors is a good sign that we learn from history not to repeat the same horrors.

Gas chamber II was blown up by Nazis before departing the camp. There were four gas chambers in Birkenau and one in Auschwitz. The gas chamber in Auschwitz is the only one that tourists can visit.
Aerial view of Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp from 1944. Gas chamber II marked on this image was shown in the previous picture.

That day in August, I heard about many atrocities and impressive stories told by our guide. I won’t mention those things here as this is not the purpose of this post.

In one of the buildings, there were two long opposite walls with pictures of former inmates. On one wall, there were pictures of men while on the other of women. Under each image was written the date when they entered the concentration camp and the day they died. They were all prisoners selected for work. They had better physical condition when they arrived. The guide told us that, on average, men resisted more prolonged than women. That was not because of physical strength but because of mental differences. During that time, women were expected to marry, have children and grow them. For many being there meant the end of life, that they were prepared to live. In many cases, the death happened within weeks after the arrival in the camp. It was not dying because of hunger or physical extermination but because of giving up hope.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: a memorial plaque written in Romanian

I wanted to understand more of what was causing that. I read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Searching for Meaning”. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist imprisoned in Auschwitz and wrote about this experience.

He said that those who had a purpose in the life lived longer. His advice for humans was not to ask “what life offered me?” but rather “what can I do for this life?”. The answer would help us find meaning in life.

Another idea from the book is that the things that happen to us are not under our control. What matters is how we respond to the things that happen to us. Seneca said this in a format of heroism: “The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.”

There was one more insight. Viktor Frankl quoted Goethe, who said: “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” I have resonated for a long time with this statement.

On my departure from Auschwitz, I looked back over the camp and saw the light coming down through the clouds over Birkenau. That light was over the place on earth where some human beings killed so many innocent humans. The ashes of so many people rose to the sky there, and human beings suffered a lot. We should not forget this.

Birkenau – a place that we should never forget

Krakow Half Marathon 2021

The 7th edition of the Krakow Half Marathon took place on October 17th. The Krakow Municipality organized this event. Due to Covid restrictions, this year, organizers allowed a maximum of 5000 runners at the start. They did a great job. The highlights were: running on both sides of river Vistula, in Krakow city center, and impressive finishing on Tauron Arena, the biggest arena in Poland.

We were crossing the bridge over the Vistula.

The weather was cold that morning, around 10 Celsius, but great for running. It was the 7th year in a row when I ran a half marathon in October (starting from the MIB edition in 2015). For this race, my goal was to finish in under two hours. Since I was familiar with the half marathon distance, I started slowly. According to the statistics, after 10 km, more than 3000 runners were ahead of me. From 15th km, I increased the pace to faster than 5′ 30″ per km.

On the other side of the Vistula river

For the last 2 km, my speed was above 12km/h, which means running less than 5 minutes per kilometer. Indeed the finish on Tauron Arena was spectacular. There were lights and excellent visual effects in the vast hall. During the last 5 km, I went from place 3007 to 2478. The reason was not necessarily my increased speed. It was because many people ran too fast in the beginning and got tired. That happens every time. This race made no exception.

The official time was 1:56:53. This is 10 minutes below the personal best. However, this time is much better than the result at Bucharest Half Marathon. Given the current situation and my training, I am happy.

Only 2 km to the finish. All good!

One important aspect is that one week before the race, my coach, Stefan Oprina, suggested running 15 km in less than 1 hour and 25 minutes. I told him that I couldn’t do that as this year I am not in great shape. In 2021 I could run 15 km only in 1:27 or longer. Stefan said: “That is fine. Run whatever you can and let me know how it went”. That day I ran 15 km in 1:24. That made me believe that I could run this half marathon in less than two hours.

A gift from Stefan Oprina and the finisher medal from Krakow Half Marathon. The message is the motto of his running team: “Together, we are stronger!”

Stefan’s recommendation relied on the fact that I trained with him and the team for six weeks in Bucharest. During the first training, I was not able to run a kilometer in 5 minutes. Before leaving Bucharest, I managed to run 3 km in less than 5 minutes each.

I’ve learned one lesson from the Krakow Half Marathon experience. Often your brain sets the limits for you. In my case, it was 1:27 for 15km. Once you overpass that limit, you will feel free and boost your self-confidence. For example, last weekend, I ran 15 km in 1:21.

Bucharest Half Marathon 2021

Being in Bucharest, with some administrative issues since August I had the chance to participate in Bucharest Half Marathon 2021 on September 5th. This was the tenth edition of this competition and my fourth participation.

Since it was an event during It was an event during the pandemic. The organizers required participants to be vaccinated or taking a Covid test that should have a negative result. I don’t know how many people were at the start. Only that about 1100 finished the 21.1 km race, including those participating in relays.

II was also registered at Poland Business Run. This was a virtual and remote team race of 4 km, taking place on the same day, September 5th. I do not have enough energy to run 4 km fast after a half marathon. The only option was to run both races at the same time. My choice was to run fast the first 4 km stop the watch and record the result. Then continue for the next 17 km to finish the half marathon. Obviously, I did not care about the finishing time of the half marathon.

At the start of the half marathon. I am at the bottom of the image with a blue cap

The weather was good for running at 8:30 AM when the race started. The organizers asked us to run with masks for the first 100m of the race. As you can see, many runners ignored that ask. I ran the first 4 km in 23 minutes. The time was not good. I made another try. I ran the next 4 km 40 seconds faster and used this time for the Poland Business Run race.

During the race, after 8 km

The picture above is taken at 8 km into the half marathon race. I had only one race to focus on at that time. The remaining 13 km of the half marathon. After 14 km I was tired, but that was not a surprise. The 8 km of faster speed at the beginning were taken their toll. I did not force myself at all. I was just having fun for the rest of the race.

At the finish line, in the center of the image

At 10 AM, it was already sunny and not that easy to run. I crossed the finish line after two hours and ten minutes. It was not a good time. Usually, I should finish in under two hours. But given the circumstances, I was happy with finishing both races. A fun fact is that at this competition, they had the heaviest medal I have ever seen. After running 21 km, they put the medal around my neck. My head went in front, carried by the heavy metal. The joke was that the medal was twice as heavy this time. Because last year there was no competition and they doubled the metal quantity this time.

After the race with some of my colleagues and our coach Stefan Oprina. In this picture, next to Stefan is Valeria Racila van Groningen, the organizer of this competition and of the most important running event in Romania (Bucharest International Marathon)

Despite the pandemic, the event was very well organized. Many thanks to the organizers for the opportunity to run again with such a great community. Everything was well prepared. There were hydration points, many bands singing on the way, and an army of volunteers checking that everything was ok.

During my stay in Bucharest, I trained with my colleagues at “Trupa Lui Fane”. It was great seeing them again after more than one year. I was happy that I could run with them. Many thanks to Stefan for giving me the chance to continue training with the rest of the team!

Another thing worth mentioning is that, among others, I am allergic to ragweed (in Romanian “ambrosia”). I did not know because the previous year, I was not in Bucharest during this time. Two years ago, it wasn’t that bad. It is estimated that around 10% of people in Romania are affected by this allergy. The recommendation is to stay at home during the morning when ragweed is more active. Not only that I did not stay at home that day. But I also ran for more than 2 hours. The result was that during that night, I could not breathe and therefore sleep. If people allergic to ragweed are taking Claritine, xyzal, or both, the symptoms will disappear.

If you are allergic to ragweed and plan to travel to Bucharest between mid-August and the end of September, please take care of this.

Ending on a positive note running a half marathon is always an experience to remember. As Emil Zatopek, the greatest runner once said:” If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life run a marathon”…or at least a half marathon, if I may add.

INFJ explained

As mentioned in a previous post, my Myers-Briggs type is INFJ. The initials come from Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging. Everyone agrees that this is the rarest psychological profile in the world (around 1-2% of the population) with women twice more than men. There is also an agreement on the fact that humans with this profile are misunderstood. In this post I will try to explain this misunderstood profile from my point of view.

INFJ people have an intense internal life. That can’t be observed from the outside. They look calm, and therefore people assume they are very cool inside. This difference makes INFJ people sometimes behave in a different way than other people would expect them. It is not that INFJ will surprise you in a bad or in a good way. They will be just different than what you think about them.

Because of their long-term thinking, INFJ can make predictions of how things will look in the future. It is not about guessing lottery numbers but rather making assumptions based on a system current state and the internal forces. Whether we talk about a political, economic, or social system.

INFJ’s most important value in life is love. This is why you can see this feeling mentioned in this blog. Love is something that resonates with such an individual and makes him go further in life. Casual relations are not possible for this type of people.

To give a personal example, more than twenty years ago when I had a problem one friend advised me to learn a poem. As you can imagine, learning a poem would not make any difference. It would not help my situation at all. Yet this was a turning point in my life as that recommendation was in line with my personality. I learned “Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde. Of course, it was of no help in the short term, and I knew it. But in the long-term, it made a big difference for me.

Banksy – Escaping prisoner in Reading – March 2021. Probably a drawing of Oscar Wilde imprisoned in Reading. He wrote the “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. In my opinion, the symbol is that through literature Oscar Wilde was able to escape prison. Oscar Wilde himself said, “We are all in the gutterbut some of us are looking at the stars”

Let me give another example. Pablo Neruda once said, “If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life”. For an INFJ this sounds like an absolute truth, you just feel like that is powerful. For other humans, it is not. They can replace the word love in the above sentence with whatever motivates them: money, power, glory, etc.

Banksy – Girl with a pierced eardrum, Bristol 2014. A parody of one of my favorite paintings “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer

INFJs genuinely care about other people and want to help them. They are glad of the success of other people. Envy is not part of their life.

INFJs avoid corrupt people or people who lie to them, for example. Often this avoidance is seen as a conflict by the other part. It is not a conflict, no hate or negative feelings are involved.

Because of their rich inner life, INFJs don’t drink coffee. In software companies, most people begin their day by drinking coffee. Instead, every morning I start by solving chess puzzles for a few minutes to get my brain up and running.

INFJ people do not talk about their personal life and what problems they might have. They never complain and give everything they have in relationships. They ask for nothing in return.

Banksy -Girl with ballon, London 2002. The most famous Banksy artwork

Music is an important component of INFJ life. You can see that most of my posts end with a musical moment. The music videos were not randomly chosen.

Every human being is different. A lot of the things that happen in our life are related to our previous experiences. Everyone is free to live their life as they want. However, some behavioral patterns do exist.

Why did I choose Banksy’s artworks for this post? We do not know who Banksy is, but I feel he is an INFJ. I found out that I am not even original in this opinion. Someone else already said that.

Banksy illustrates very well INFJ behaviors. He does unexpected things, he is misunderstood, he is very discreet about his life, has artworks about feelings, has a sense of humor. He is an idealist who does things and does not just talk about ideas.

Hoping that things are more clear now in case you’ll meet an INFJ somewhere in this world.

Spring in Krakow

Pablo Neruda once said that “you can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming”. Today, March 5th, beginning of spring, my intention is not to cut flowers but to write about something nice. One thing that came to my mind was to mention the beautiful and interesting things I see in Krakow when running on the shores of Vistula. The order of images listed here was chosen to make the narrative easier.

Let’s start with the symbol of the city, the Wawel Dragon. These days many kids take pictures in front of the legendary mighty dragon. To make it look more real, the dragon spits fire every few minutes. A dragon guarding a castle is a fairytale image.

The Wawel Dragon

Guarded by the dragon is the famous Wawel Castle. The former residence of Polish Kings before 1596 when the capital moved to Warsaw. The big castle and cathedral form an architectural complex similar to the one in Prague. In fact, Prague is the city with the most similarities compared to Krakow. Probably it is because both cities were for many years under Habsburg Monarchy domination.

A wing of the Wawel Castle

From the castle, the running path follows the Vistula river until the foot of the hill that can be seen far away in this picture. There are a large park and a big forest. It is impressive to see a forest on a hill in a city. The highest peak that can be seen in the picture below is the Kościuszko Mound. That is a human-made mound to honor the memory of Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. As a fun fact, I remember in school learning at Geography that the highest peak in Australia is Mount Kosciuszko. At the time, I did not understand why. The internet was not available to search for the answer. I had to come to Krakow to find the answer. For the explorer who first climbed that mountain, it looked like the mound with the same name in Krakow.

The other way of the running path leads to the Kazimierz neighborhood. Far on the right side, you can see a wheel and a balloon.

The balloon and the Krakow’s Ferris Wheel. Unfortunately, the ballon was not flying when I took the picture. For me flying the ballon is not an option as I am afraid of heights.

Another nice bridge is Father Bernatek Footbridge adorned with sculptures. This bridge makes the connection with the Jewish neighborhood. Kazimierz is the bohemian part of the city, with a different atmosphere than in the city center. Under the bridge, a few ships were transformed into restaurants. Some ships make cruises on the Vistula river.

Bernatek Footbridge

As mentioned above, Krakow reminds me mostly of Prague. I couldn’t resist adding a picture of this modern art symbol from Krakow similar to the ones from Prague. It is always funny to admire such examples of modern art. A theory is that the pig, set in a position to be lit ablaze, signifies renewal. 

Running in a fairytale environment makes the experience more pleasant. Hoping that you enjoyed the pictures above, I wish you a great year ahead! Despite all the difficulties, life goes on!

Since all the pictures were near a river, I thought it appropriate to end with a song on a river

6700 km – Running in Krakow

Last summer, I decided to resume my professional career in Krakow. Living alone in a city where I knew no one was not easy but not that hard as anticipated. The fact that the office is open, respecting anti-Covid norms, was very helpful. I could meet face to face many colleagues. The company assisted me with all the formalities needed to work from Poland.

My improvised office while working from home in Krakow

Running helped me a lot. I continued my training under indications from my coach, Stefan Oprina. In Krakow, I ran 540 km, three times per week, before I had to stop in December. The reason was that it was too cold outside. I had a sour throat after running while the outside temperature was under 0 Celsius. The gyms were closed due to Covid. My only option was to run at home with two dumbbells. I did that three times every week. I hope that I will be able to resume running outside starting from March. At the end of 2020, I still ran 1500 km in total.

Generally, I was running at a slower speed because the area for my training was where other people use to walk. In most cases, my runs were on the shores of Vistula. For example, in October, I ran a half marathon in two hours and thirteen minutes. Almost thirty minutes slower than the previous year. Still, running helps a lot both physical and mental health.

Last October. View from my window in Krakow center.

Krakow is the most popular tourist destination in Poland, with 14 million visitors in 2019. The city looks great, full of medieval buildings and the biggest old center in Europe. Most of the people speak English as they are used to interact with tourists. That is important for someone who doesn’t speak Polish. Coming here last July was a good thing. All the museums and restaurants were open. For example, visiting Shindler’s factory, I understood the plot from “Schindler’s List” movie. Laying on the hills the city has many spectacular landscapes. A must-see is the Wawel cathedral and castle, the residence of Polish kings before 1596. Then Warsaw became the capital of Poland.

View from Wieliczka Salt Mine

Close to the city, there are many other attractions, the Carpathian mountains with the famous resort Zakopane situated about 110 km to the south. There are hills, small towns, lakes, and nice sightseeings. Other cities in proximity are Katowice with wide-open spaces reminding of US cities, Częstochowa and Ostrava in Czechia.

View of Zakopane from surrounding mountains

Other positive things? The food tastes better and is cheaper than in Romania. Big malls and better roads.

What are the shortcomings? The winter is colder here than in Bucharest. Also, for me, the Polish language is hard to understand, but my colleagues are friendly.

Coming to Krakow was a great decision. A great life experience so far. Maybe I will post later some tourist experiences around Krakow.

Krakow International Chess Festival 2020

Traditionally, at the end of the year, there are many chess tournaments around the world. At that time, most chess players are on vacation. The most famous example is Hastings International Chess Congress, which had its first edition in 1895. This year, because of the Covid pandemic, tournaments decades older moved online or got canceled. There was one exception. The XXXI edition of the Krakow International Chess Festival took place from December 27th to January 4th in a traditional format. Players were meeting face to face. They were grouped by rating in six different tournaments. Almost 500 players participated.

To play chess during a world pandemic… That sounds like Antoninus Block in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”. “A man seeks answers about life, death, and the existence of God as he plays chess against the Grim Reaper during the Black Plague”. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it. It’s one of the most important movies ever made.

The most famous chess scene in a movie

These days, in chess, Grim Reaper was replaced by computers that can defeat any human being. Computers are trying to kill the soul of chess by exploring all the possible variations of the game.

Returning to real life, there were, of course, special safety measures for the Krakow tournament. All players had to have their nose and mouth covered with a mask. Each player’s temperature was checked at the beginning of the game. The hands were disinfected. Also, no visitors were allowed inside the playing venue. The pictures for this post were taken from the tournament site.

Before entering the playing hall. Arbiters making sure that I respect the tournament rules. On the table, you can see the device for checking the temperature.

Due to the current world situation, I expect to pass a long time until the next chance to play chess at the table. The alternative is not too good. There are many online chess tournaments. The problem with online chess is that some players are cheating with software. They are identified after the games with the help of software that detects computer moves. Unfortunately, the rankings can’t be corrected at the end of the tournaments. The damage remains.

My hope for this tournament was not to get infected with Covid. Now, I can say that I achieved this goal. I was playing in the B section of the tournament. Together with 95 other players and 3 arbiters. We were in the same room for 3 to 4 hours for 9 days. Although we were wearing masks, the risk was present. The context was that at that time, Poland had a high rate of infections.

This is how the tournament B playing hall looked like

The tournament venue was the Galaxy Hotel on the shores of the Vistula river. It is not far from the city center. The playing conditions were great. Many boards were transmitted live on popular chess sites. The organizers had to cancel some other touristic activities planned for the chess players because of Covid.

The only image from the tournament hall where I could identify myself

As for myself, I played in the intermediate level tournament. It was open for players rated between 1700 and 2100. The nine players that I encountered were rated higher than me. I lost 5 games, won 3, and draw one. Not a great result. However, because of the differences in rating, I ended up winning 15 ELO points. More important, I was able to enjoy some chess games. Normally, I would share some chess positions as highlights. Unfortunately, I had no chance to make combinations. The only combination that was played against me was incorrect. I played correctly and my opponent gained nothing out of it. All the games were interesting. It was tough fighting even if there were no fireworks.

Children section of the tournament. The future of chess is in their minds.

I would like to end on a positive note. It makes me really happy that chess is so popular among children. This happens not only in Poland or in Romania but in many other countries around the world. Children can learn a lot of things from chess. Maybe I will write later a post about the benefits of chess.

Across the world, based on the average ratings of the top 10 players, the leading countries are Russia, the United States, China, and India. This can give you insight into how popular chess became worldwide.

I had a dream in Washington D.C.

Two years ago, on a trip to East Coast, I visited Washington D.C. The US capital has many museums and plenty of tourist attractions. It is really an interesting city. It was the place in the US in which I learned most things.

Like all the visitors, I took a picture in front of the White House.

At that time, Donald Trump was the US President. The victory sign was my hope that one day this period of hate will end. That day has come. Donald Trump was not voted for a second term. Hence the timing for this post.

I did not resonate with the values promoted by Donald Trump. In my opinion, a country governed by fake news and lies goes in the wrong direction. Lying is a norm in day to day life in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy. I know that because I lived in Romania before 1989.

A day after the picture in front of the White House, still in Washington, I witnessed a scene that impressed me.

In Washington D.C. there are many memorial monuments. Including the famous Lincoln Memorial and Vietnam War Memorial. One of these memorial monuments is Martin Luther King jr. Memorial.

Next to Martin Luther King’s memorial, I saw an old man together with his family, children, and nephews. The old man was in a state of deep emotion. He was trying to convey his feelings to his family. I saw gratitude in that man’s looks towards Martin Luther King’s statue. His family moved on from the memorial. He remained for a while next to the monument. It was then I took the picture below.

The monument, inaugurated in 2011, is inspired by the line  “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”. From the memorable discourse, “I have a dream”.

“I have a dream” is maybe the most famous speech in US History. Martin Luther King had that speech during the March to Washington in August 1963.

At the time the man in the picture above was grieving next to the monument, Martin Luther King was gone from this world for fifty years. Yet, people are still honoring his memory.

Seneca once said that gratitude ages very fast. We rarely see this feeling expressed in the modern world.

The United States owe to Martin Luther King the fact that they are not a segregated nation. He paid that price with his life.

That scene in Washington D.C. made me think about the fact that for politicians, the test of time is the most important. If people will honor a politician’s memory years after they depart from this world, it means the politician fulfilled his or her mission. For those aiming for a political career, this should be the ultimate goal.

My political dream is for responsible leaders. Leaders who will think beyond themselves, their relatives, and friends in the first place. I hope that the human race will finally move over this form of tribal leadership.

The speech “I have a dream” was not prepared. It was improvised by Martin Luther King when Mahalia Jackson shouted to him “Tell them about the dream”.

The Pianist and Mihail Sebastian

When playing Chopin’s Nocturne 20 on September 23rd, 1939 at Warsaw Radio, Wladyslaw Szpilman did not know that it will be his last performance for a long time. Hours later, a German bombardment destroyed the power supply. The radio was shut down for almost six years.

Chopin Nocturne 20 played by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Last year, while reading The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman, I had no idea that Covid will come. That everyone will be isolated inside, living like the hero of this book during World War II. The book reminded me of a famous journal in Romanian literature, Mihail Sebastian’s Journal. As a consequence, this year, during isolation, I read, again, Sebastian’s journal. This happened after more than twenty years from my first lecture.

These days, when the Covid pandemic affects the whole world, I found these two books inspiring and powerful. Despite the tragedies happening at every step in the books, I found them very human. These are real-life stories. They describe how the authors kept going in difficult circumstances. I hope people reading these testimonies will find help in overcoming the current situation.

These books depict the stories of two men, a pianist, and a writer. Both were highly esteemed before the war for their talents. During World War II they lost everything they had. In both cases, the only reason behind this was their Jewish origin. One lived during the war in Warsaw. The other one in Bucharest. They went on living and fighting for their lives during hard times. They overcome the difficulties in the end.

If you don’t have the time to read the book, you can watch Szpilman’s story in the video below. Or you can watch the famous movie directed by Roman Polanski.

Szpilman recounting his life in Warsaw during the German occupation.

I don’t have a video for Sebastian’s story. But his journal is very well written. He was a talented writer. His family kept his journal private for more than fifty years after his death. It was published in 1996. By then, most of the people mentioned in the book were no longer alive.

Below is a short video of his biography. He was honored with a Doodle on the occasion of his birthday in October 2020.

Mihail Sebastian was honored with a Doodle on October 18th, 2020 on his 113th birthday anniversary

Both books offer great insight into historical events. And how ordinary people lived them. We can read in history books about what happened during World War II. However, reading about day to day life is like zooming in on a historical moment.

When reading Sebastian’s journal, I realized that possibly before the war, Sebastian listened to Szpilman playing live on Polish Radio. He mentions in the journal a few times listening to classical music at the Warsaw Radio. Once, it was a three piano concerto. Szpilman worked with Polish Radio since 1935.

That happened in a normal world, before the war. A writer passionate about music could listen to a talented musician from another European country. Then the war came. Szpilman was no longer playing the piano. Sebastian was not allowed to write plays or novels. Because he was a jew. However, during the war, in 1942, he wrote his best play. He named it “A star without a name”. Somebody else had to assume writing that play to bypass the law. Sebastian saw the great success of the play. Yet, he took no credit for it until the end of 1944.

Szpilman lived with his parents, his brother, and sisters at the beginning of the war. By 1945 all his family members died in the Treblinka concentration camp. Sebastian lived alone before the war. He had to move back with his parents and his brother during the war. He lacked money. At the end of the war, Szpilman was the only one alive from his family. Sebastian the only one who died.

There were many stories in both books that impressed me. In most cases, it’s about human nature. The books contain mostly sad and sometimes tragic scenes. But in the end, after going through all these difficult experiences, the message is optimistic.

In 1945, when the Polish Radio station broadcasted again, Szpilman played the same Nocturne by Chopin as in 1939. It was a superb way to resume life and overcome the pains suffered during the war.

One day, like him, we’ll have the chance to resume our usual lives.

Vera Lynn -We’ll meet again. A message that remains actual.

Goethe’s lessons for life

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test, Goethe was an INFJ, the same type as me. I recommend this personality test. You’ll learn many things about yourself. You can take this test online for free from many sites, including the one linked above.

Goethe liked to travel, and he traveled a lot for his time. This would be his first life lesson. Once, I realized that I have visited over twenty towns and cities in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, where Goethe walked over 200 years before me. I do agree that the places you’ve seen do not influence you as much as the people you interact with during a lifetime or the books you read. But still, they have a small impact on you.

For these “elective affinities” I resonate with Goethe’s vision on life and the world. When I was in high school, I liked some of his quotes. “Chess is the touchstone of intellect“. Being a chess player, I shared that opinion. “One look into the book and two into life“. The ideal proportion of reading and living. My favorite quote at that age was “Life is the childhood of our immortality“.

Years have passed and I see things differently now. I do no longer rate these sayings as high as I did then.

Later, when I was a student, I read “The Sorrows of Young Werther” and “Faust“. That was all I have ever read from Goethe. But I’ve also found out many interesting things about his life. Probably I liked those books as they were inspired by real-life happenings.

In “The Sorrows of Young Werther“, Goethe writes about a sad love story ending with the suicide of Werther. In fact, the novel recounts a biographic love of the author for Charlotte Buff (Lotte) while he worked as a lawyer in Wetzlar. Goethe redirects his sufferance for the lost love in writing about it. Instead of killing himself, he writes about the suicide of Werther. Psychologically this is explained by the fact that by focusing his energy on writing, Goethe was able to pass over this painful episode. This way he offered us another life lesson. In 1939 Thomas Mann wrote “Lotte in Weimar” on the ending of this famous story.

“Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!” – Goethe, Faust

Faust” was Goethe’s most important creation and he worked on it for many years. It is also inspired by a sad story from Goethe’s biography. I don’t want to discuss it here. I knew about Faust’s story from a movie I saw in my childhood. He sold his soul to the devil and the devil made him look younger. The devil gave him anything he wanted. Only to make him say that life is so beautiful and wish that moment stay forever. If he will say “Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!” that moment he will die. This is the most famous line in German literature.

Perhaps, one life lesson behind this story is that anything is possible in life, even getting younger if you are willing to pay a price.

The first time I’ve heard about Faust’s story was during my childhood. I was impressed by the movie “La beaute du diable” with Gerard Philipe and Michel Simon. Faust signing the pact with the devil.

Over twenty years passed by and now I appreciate more some other words of wisdom from him.

If you don’t feel it, you’ll never get it” – Goethe

It did happen to me to hear people talking about their lives, their problems, and the losses they suffered. It was a lot easy for me to understand those who talked about issues I was confronted with and felt the pain myself. Even if someone was talking about greater pains, for me it was easier to understand the pains I experienced before.

Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them.” – Goethe

Such a modern saying, we all know cases like this where having the best intentions the parents harm the lives of their children by “helping” them.

Actually, Goethe had many quotes that would categorize him as having a modern growth mindset.

I love those who yearn for the impossible.” – Goethe

We live only once, so why not try to get out of the beaten path? This is a recommendation for people at any age to move out of their comfort zone. For trying to achieve what they feel would give meaning to their life. Even if we won’t succeed at least we’ve tried and did whatever we could.

Dear reader, hopefully, by going over these lines, you’ve found something to think about.

Egmont was a play by Goethe. Beethoven composed the music for this play. Celibidache conducted it in a destroyed post-war Berlin in 1950.