KGB In LIthuania


I visited the Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, Lithuania last week and really learned a lot. Above is a photo of Lithuanian Resistance Fighters in the cold woods of Lithuania. They first fought against the Nazis and then the Soviets, and continued fighting for 20 years after World War II ended! They were waiting for the Allies to come and take on the Russians, but they eventually lost hope and were either killed or escaped to the west.

What happened to the Lithuanian people last century is tragic and the museum documents many aspects of it. Stalin might be worse than Hitler. He exiled whole families to remote work camps in Siberia. Those were the lucky ones that were not executed. There are many stories of families trying to stay together in those harsh conditions.

The building is where the Gestapo and then eventually KGB were headquartered. I took the tour of the cells and execution room. What a horrible feeling that would have been to be carried away in the middle of the night and locked away in the basement of the secret police. One of the cells in particular struck me. As you can see below, there is a small, metal pedastel in the center of the cell. The floor was flooded with water and the prisoner’s only dry area was that little space. What cruel bastards they were!

It was strange to see eventually that Lithuanians replaced the Russians as KGB officers. I can imagine the effect of all those conspirators, informants, and spies on a society. It will take probably as long as the communist regime was in power to take away the effects of mistrust and hate sown in the people and structures. I can see why the Lithuanians are very closed and withdrawn to foreigners today.

It was a moving and informational experience and I highly recommend a visit if you are in Vilnius.

A real Molotov Cocktail

Ivo Andric Museum

Note- Any of my Serbian readers can translate what is on the page above?

Yesterday I went to the Ivo Andric Museum located near the Parliment building in downtown Belgrade. He was a true Yugoslav, being born and raised in Bosnia and having homes in Croatia and Serbia. He ended spending the majority of his life in his later years in Belgrade. The Ivo Andric Foundation made a museum out of his apartment. It was a modest apartment, and typical from a man that material things did not mean much. He was a man of principles. 


Andric's 1961 Nobel Prize

It was interesting to see his small cerca 1976 apartment. The photo above is from his desk. It was also the first time I saw a Nobel Prize medal. He won the 1961 Nobel Prize for literature for his book, Bridge Over the River Drina. I was a chaperone with the grade 11 students from the ISB High School. We stopped at the Hotel Moscow for a cup of coffee before visiting the museum. Andric used to spend a lot of time there and the cafe there was THE place to be in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. All the celebrities, intellectuals, and visiting dignataries made a stop there. The morning gave me a glimpse of how it was back in the time of Tito and Yugoslavia. Sad that they couldn’t keep the federation together – I think everyone would be much better off if they did. 

I asked the tour guide if Andric had any living relatives and she said no close ones. There is a group of people that manage the foundation. I wonder what Andric would have thought about Višegrad today. It is the scene of his book and it is much different after the Yugoslav Civil Wars. He probably understood Bosnia better than anyone. 

The View of Andric's Apartment Building From Pioneer Park

Visit to the Belgrade Museum of Aviation: April 25, 2009

Yesterday we toured the Museum of Aviation located on the grounds of the Nikola Tesla International Airport in Belgrade. The kids loved it and we spent an entertaining two hours in the museum. I highly recommend a visit to anyone with a interest in flight, military history, and with children.

Ollie and Owen are shown above in a cockpit of one of the planes. They were impressed with being able to move the tail and wings with the controls. The building is very cool and upon entering, is like going back into a time warp of the early 70’s. I told Owen, “This is what it was like when I was a kid.” They still had that 70’s fake wood paneling, credit card stickers from long ago, and the funky desks and furniture from the era. They had an impressive amount of planes with many having English descriptions. On display was also a tail of an US F-16 that was shot down during the NATO bombing (the pilot ejected and was rescued) and a British unexploded bomb found in Kosovo, also from the NATO bombing. Here is a link about the history of the building.

The Museum of Aviation
The Museum of Aviation

All eras of flight are on display including the World War I fighters, World War II, Communist Yugoslavian Air Force, and the history of JAT Airlines. As I said, a very impressive and complete collection! The boys were totally punped and were running around outside on the planes and helicopters, pretending to be James Bond.

The F-16 Tail
The F-16 Tail
Ocean next to the Mig-20
Ocean next to the Mig-20

I think the visit will generate an interest in aviation for the boys. We may buy a model plane and put it together for them. We also have to watch the ultimate in fighter jet movies, Top Gun with the boys.

The Golden Age of Dutch Painting



Yesterday I visited the Rijksmuseum here in Amsterdam. The museum holds a very large collection of paintings from the “Golden Age” of the Netherlands. This was when the Netherlands was the richest country on earth in the 1600’s. They did it through military conquests, battles with Spain and England, and through trading. Amsterdam was the New York of its time and the beautiful canals and buildings I saw over the weekend are from that era. 

I was particularly interested in beside the master Rembrandt, paintings of people involved in the Dutch East India Company (VOC). This was the publicly traded business (equivalent of today’s multinational corporation) that went all around the world buying and selling goods for incredible profits. Being an expatriate in the “Golden Age” of the USA, I can relate to the Dutch that lived in various parts of the world.
Pictured above is a Dutch family in Batavia which is today’s Indonesia. The painting is from 1672 and it is by Jacob Jansz Coeman. It features a portrait of Pieter Cnoll and his family posed in their tropical villa. You will notice the two servants in the far right. Cnoll was the head accountant of the VOC in Asia and his wife was the daughter of a VOC official and a Japanese courtesan (a high class prostitute).  Sounds much like Thailand today. The two children are truly TCK (Third Culture Kids) and they seem to be well off. Of course, I am a teacher and not a businessman and not as well off as that family was, but I can totally relate to them. 
The rest of the museum is absolutely fantastic. There are huge oil painting from the era depicting daily life three hundred plus years ago. It felt like I was there, the works are so realistic. The master Rembrandt’s paintings were very impressive. I have limited appreciation of art, so I judge works that I can’t personally do (realism) as great while abstract works that I could do as not so great. There were also lots of pieces from the naval battles with England and Spain that I particularly liked. I highly recommend visiting the museum when you go to Amsterdam. 

Another VOC Merchant in Batavia
Another VOC Merchant in Batavia


Family Holiday Journal December 21, 2008: Visit to the 25th of May Museum

Lil’ angel Oliver sure looks holy in this photo. We stopped at the St. Sava’s Cathedral with his grandfather, Hermes Chavez (affectionately known as “Popa” by the boys) to show him the scaffolding. Hermes owns a scaffolding rental and sales business in his hometown of Santa Cruz. The cathedral is under restoration now that is is finally peaceful in Serbia.

The girls (Alejandra & Nadia) went with Brad & Ocean to the big outdoor market downtown while Hermes and I took the boys the cathedral. We then visited the 25th of May Museum. The museum holds memorabilia and the mausoleum of the former Yugoslav leader, Josip Broz “Tito”. The museum is named after his birthday. The day used to be huge in Yugoslavia. One of the events was the annual running of the baton across the country by socialist youth. The boys were fascinated with the different batons.

They wanted to know which baton was the oldest (1945) and the newest (1985). The first was right after WWII when the Partisans rid the country of the Nazis, and the final one was five years after the death of Tito. There was a wall display of different batons that were gifts to Tito. The boys were picking their favorites. Most had very cool socialist themes. There was the heavy industry factory baton, a red star on top of a standard screwdriver, another with a JNA tank, a rocket missile, etc. Perhaps I’ll have them make their own batons in the Communist Style of the 60’s and 70’s. A big part of the complex is showcasing the gifts Tito received from Heads of State and Yugoslav citizens throughout the years. The current exhibition were a display of all of his hunting rifles and equipment. He was a big-time hunter and there were antler trophies mixed in with the guns, and photos and videos of his hunting trips. Tito started the Non-Aligned Movement and the museum housed many gifts from developing countries including an elephant tusk gong from Burma and a devil carnival mask and costume from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. My only criticism of the museum is I would have liked a bit more information about his career and personality. I envisioned the place like the Carter Center or Clinton Library, that would be a place to for scholars to study the writings, photographs, etc. of Tito. It was more a showcase of his gifts more than anything else. It does hold his remains. Owen asked should we say a prayer when I explained that his remains were probably buried under the big marble tombstone. I replied that he was an atheist and didn’t believe in God so we shouldn’t.The museum is close to our house, located between Haid Park and the Partizan Football Stadium.

For a man that believed in communist ideals, he sure lived a life of luxury.

The boys yearned to be good socialist youth!
The boys yearned to be good socialist youth!

Oliver, Owen, and Sebey loved running around the complex. The grounds were nice although a bit neglected. They were running up and down the hills and stairs and in between the many trees. We then went home and played soccer in the yard with Brad. Nadia is cooking a delicious soup while everyone else is playing Wii.