White Poppies

There has been much in the Canadian press this week about the 215 bodies found at a former indigenous residential school in the west of the country. Last week the Israelis and the Palestinians were hurling rockets at each other and the beastliness of the Chinese in Xinjiang province doesn’t seem to be letting up. Down in the US mass shootings are a daily occurrence … all somewhat depressing in fact. I have been spending odd hours trawling through many years of old photographs trying to clean up the archives – not very successfully – and yesterday one particular photograph jumped out at me. Worth sharing, I think and something to ponder on.

This week in 2013 we were enjoying a couple of week’s touring in Austria and the Czech Republic that was almost totally focussed on birds and botany. One day was spent on the road travelling from Moravia to Bohemia with little opportunity for serious birding. However, a bit of culture and enlightenment never being a bad thing, and the rain still incessantly falling we visited the Jewish cemetery in Mikulov which was both fascinating and thought provoking … The community in this small town went back to the 15C and was well established. By all accounts the various communities lived contentedly side by side for centuries. Numbers fell in the early part of the last century as people drifted from the country to towns but it was still significant … and then the Nazis set up a regional headquarters in the town and suddenly everyone was on the train to Auschwitz and 500 years of settlement was gone. The cemetery is very, very old and full of trees and flowers and really a wonderful place – in particular, it has a small, self-set patch of white poppies which seems to me to be entirely appropriate this week (see above).

Canada is particularly concerned with these things right now but really, they are everywhere once you look. I read yesterday of the reason for the orange shirt symbols with relation to “our” current issue but I personally find the white poppy speaks more loudly in an international context and more meaningfully than any cheap T-shirt … it’s a pity it seems to have been forgotten in the years since the Cold War ended. If symbols there must be there is a need for one that all cultures can unite behind.

It was chance that took us that way, but the Jewish cemetery at Mikulov is worth an hour of anyone’s time