Destination Europe

By Steven Michalove


Travel with a spouse or partner is always a series of compromises. A trip with a non-Jewish partner can be even more so. This is especially true if that person is more interested in learning the Jewish history which you had already learned through your childhood and via extensive reading later in life. If you are interested in relaxing, and your partner wants to know more about what makes your Jewish soul tick, your trip will require careful planning and a series of compromises.

In one of Europe’s major capitals–Copenhagen–my wife and I were able to agree on what to see. We went to The Museum of the Danish Resistance and the dock where the Jews were smuggled out so the Germans couldn’t send them to their deaths. They are positive sites which we each agreed provide an uplifting experience. We also explored the synagogue in Copenhagen, took long walks in the city, visited the modern art museum and took a canal tour of the inner city. So far, so good.

The choices became quickly more painful as we contemplated traveling east or south of Copenhagen. My wife wanted to visit the home of my grandparents, which would have meant a trip to the Ukraine and a village in nearby Kiev. But why would my Jewish self want to visit the farm my family was expelled from during a pogrom? Or visit the site where the czar’s soldiers forcefully evicted my grandmother’s family? Where my great uncle was tied to a horse and dragged nearly to death by one of “them”? My wife wanted to see and learn, but I felt a need to relax and celebrate a hard-earned holiday. I would have preferred to visit the old centre of Kiev, see the remaining synagogues and drink coffee at an open air café. Choices.

In fact, my Danish (non-Jewish) wife, who speaks Russian, had gone to Russia once on a language study trip when it was still part of the USSR. She really wanted to go back, post-USSR, and combine it with a little Jewish sightseeing and see a bit of my family history. We talked, we discussed–and finally decided not to go. I decided not to go.

Difficulties also emerged when we tried to plan a trip south of Denmark, to Paris, a magnet of culture, of revolution, of days and nights filled with culture, entertainment and tourist sites galore. Should we look up one of the local Reform congregations and spend a Shabbat with fellow Jews? Explore how Parisian Jews live today, if we had energy after playing tourist in Paris? But what about the Vichy government? Should we visit the holding pens where Jews were sent before boarding trains to concentration camps? Would we give up a visit to the Rodin Museum to see the Jewish Museum of Paris? In the end, we decided to let the weather decide. On rainy days we would spend the day inside at museums, and if it was sunny we would stay outside. Our days in Paris were warm and sunny.

It’s strange, but I never could visit any of the European memorials to the Holocaust while I lived in Europe. I had been to Yad Vashem (the Israeli Holocaust memorial) when I was a teenager. It was a very traumatic experience. Perhaps it was that very trauma that made me resist. Maybe it was latent anger and disbelief that it could happen that kept me away. Even though my wife’s family had lived through a stressful occupation in Denmark under the Nazis, she was clearly not traumatized the way I was. My interest lay in another direction: the Resistance.

In fact, The Museum of the Danish Resistance was one of my favorite places to take the kids. When we were on holiday on Crete, in Greece, I remember we went to the National Resistance Museum. The interesting thing was, my wife was always willing to go. On the other side of the coin, I agreed to visit a lot of historic churches. My wife is always interested in fascinating architecture, and some of the best-preserved interior and exterior architecture in Europe is to be found at historic churches. Whether it was the gothic churches in Vienna or the Dome Church in Roskilde, Denmark, we did see a lot of churches. And one of the things we always agree on during our holidays is to go to the beach or on a long bicycle ride!

Before you plan your trip to Europe, talk together about what kind of holiday is right for you. Find common ground. You know your choices in some countries, like Germany and Austria, may be painful for both of you. Your partner thirsts for knowledge about the Jewish you. These same visits may bring the trauma of your background to the foreground. Your trip could turn from enjoyment to depression. Make compromises. Aim for both sides of the coin, but most of all, discuss together first!

© Steven Michalove


About Steven Michalove

Steven Michalove recently relocated from Copenhagen to Seattle with his wife and their two children. He works for Microsoft as a senior security strategist.