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Monday, March 27, 2017

How to travel with two passports: FAQs

To my surprise, the most frequently read post on The Discreet Traveler has been Top 10: How to travel with two passports. Because I keep getting questions about it--thank you, readers!--here are a few quick answers. Most questions seem to be from Americans.

1. If I'm a United States citizen, do I have to travel on a US passport? 
The short answer is Yes, to and from the USA. The fuller answer is that you must (by law) show your US passport to US immigration officials when you enter the USA.
The law says you must enter and leave the USA with a US passport but in practice, the US does not have exit immigration like most other countries do. So the only requirement to leave the US with a US passport is that you must have the passport with you. Checking into a flight out of the US using your other passport is not a violation of the law. Airline officials are not immigration.

2. I am a citizen of X country. If I have a passport for that country, can I travel there without restrictions?
Yes, you can. It does not matter if you were born in that country or if you have never been there before. Being a citizen of a country means they have to let you in, and you never have to leave, and you have the same rights to live and work there as someone who has never left.
Now as with US citizens (1), the country may have rules about entering with its passport, and common sense says check before you travel to any country long term. But if you are a citizen of a country, it cannot refuse you entry. (A US citizen trying to enter on a foreign passport might run into fines or other problems, but s/he can't be refused entry to the US.)

3. But won't immigration officials think it's suspicious if I present a passport without any stamps in it/that's never been used before? Won't it look like I haven't gone anywhere?
This seems to be the most frequently asked, and the answer is No. First, stamps are irrelevant because many border crossings don't even stamp anymore. Electronic systems can show where you came from. If you are a citizen of a country, that country has to let you in!

4. I entered country Y with my US passport, and now I'm going to country Z. Can I use my Canadian passport instead?
Yes. You can use any passport you want anywhere in the world, except the USA. Of course, if you plan to use your other passport and need a visa, make sure to get the visa in the passport you're going to use.
Do be careful when leaving country Y if it has exit immigration (as most countries do): if you entered Y with your US passport, you need to show the same passport to Y's officials when you leave. Then, put it away and show your Canadian passport to country Z's immigration officials (and again at exit).

5. I accidentally used the wrong passport to exit/overstayed my visa/got a ban from a country the last time I visited there. Can I just use my other passport and pretend it never happened?
The short answer to this is No. You could try this, but it would be a mistake. Getting caught trying to "fool" immigration officials always has more serious consequences than just making a mistake in the first place. If you're asked a direct question, you need to give an honest answer.
Always remember that you are a person, not a passport. If you break a rule, don't try to use a different passport to get around the rule. Find out what is involved in rectifying the problem.

6. What information do I put into the Advance Passenger Information when buying a ticket online? The website only allows one passport.
Put the information for the passport you will use first. In other words if you are flying to the UK and will use your British passport to enter the UK, put the British passport information. This is the passport you will show the airline when checking in for your flight.
At some point during the trip you will probably need to show your other passport (for example, at exit immigration from the country you're flying from). Just show the immigration officials the passport they need to see. It does not matter if it's not the same one you used to check in.

7. I'm still confused. Isn't it better just to show everything to every official and let them pick what they need?
Not really. They tend to be to-the-point people and don't want unnecessary information--which is why you should keep your answers short.
Having said that, if you're asked something that can only be answered by your other passport, just tell them. It is not illegal or as uncommon as people seem to believe.

Travel safely. Have a great time. Don't worry; be happy!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kraków, Poland, March 2017

My last post was a look at evil and the past. Here, I want to write about Poland's present, of which my first impression was a good one, and future, about which there is reason to be hopeful.

We've been to two UNESCO World Heritage sites in as many days. One was the memorial and museum, and the other is Kraków's Old Town. One thing I forgot to say about the former is that it must be the last place on earth where adults behave with true respect. No one visits that place who doesn't want to go. No one was acting inappropriately or taking selfies, and yet there were busloads of people there. Agniewska told us it is like this every single day.

That gives me hope: that every day, many, many people, too young to have lived through World War II, remember, and are willing to do the hard work of keeping memory alive. 
Like the English couple, now resident in Spain, who started chatting to us over dinner (kielbasa, pickle & potato casserole--can't remember the Polish name!) They'd been on the tour the same day. Sue used to nurse an Auschwitz survivor, a woman who lived to be 96; Neil used to work as a firefighter with a man whose father was a survivor. Always had a smile on his face, Neil said.

When we look at the past, we remember six million, but think about eleven million. For that is how many Jews were living in Europe before the war, and most of them were in Poland. We in the West are accustomed to thinking of Poland as Eastern Europe, but if you look at a map of Europe spreading out to Russia, Poland is right in the center of it. Poland was the heart of a great civilization that had been part of Europe for 800 years.

In Kraków we chanced upon a free walking tour being given in English. This thirtysomething man was as knowledgeable and passionate as Agniewska, about his country and its history. He wanted to show us all around Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Kraków, where both Christians and Jews lived for much of Polish history. This is the key point: Most of the Jews lived in Poland because for most of that history, this was the only country where they were citizens, like their Christian neighbors. They spoke Polish and paid taxes (and collected them, a profession that earned Jews peasant enmity but stemmed directly from their tendency to educate all of their sons). Look at the wall next to this synagogue, the oldest in Poland: Jews participated in building the defense of their city, because they belonged to that city. 

(The history of the Jews and anti-Semitism in Poland is a huge subject and I am not trying to elide it here.)
There is a saying that occurs more than once in the Talmud, that whoever takes a life takes an entire world--the world that would have come from that person, had that person lived. Our guide referred to the Talmud too: that whoever saves a life saves the world entire. A little more than a kilometer from the Old Synagogue was the ghetto, where the Jews of Kraków were initially forced to move by the Nazis. (Jews were then a quarter of the Polish population.) Before their final deportation, over a thousand of them worked in a nearby enamel factory, run by German entrepreneur Oskar Schindler. If you saw Schindler's List, you know that Schindler, at cost to himself, went against his country's government in order to save the lives of his Jewish employees.

Everywhere there are "righteous among the nations": Gentiles who took risks to save Jews. In Poland, the only penalty for this, if you were caught, was death. Why were Poles who helped Jews treated especially harshly? Because Poland was different. Jews and Gentiles knew each other; the Nazis hated Poles too. They imposed an especially high price on Poles who treated their neighbors in a Christian way.

Jan Karski with The Discreet Traveler, wondering about the great unanswered question of the last century, Photo by T.

So what about Christian Kraków? 

This is Wawel Cathedral, where centuries of coronations and burials took place. In those days, Kraków was the royal capital of all Poland. It's still full of reminders of some of Poland's favorite native sons and daughters: Copernicus; Marie Curie, née Skłodowska; and of course the Polish pope, St. John Paul II. 

Going along the wall of Wawel Castle,

there's an equestrian statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko, who was a Polish-Lithuanian war hero and later was made brigadier general by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution. (After immigrating to the United States, Kościuszko had the vision to will his American assets to the freedom and education of slaves; unfortunately his wishes were never carried out.)*

Hmm, first Tadeusz (Polish and American), later Marie (born Polish, naturalized French). Poland has a history of accomplished dual nationals. If you want more examples, look at the early leadership of Israel; despite the Hebrew names they were later known by, Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion were both born in parts of the Russian Empire that were once Poland. 

But back to the Old Town. Our first trip, disconcertingly, was not to St. Mary's Basilica but next door to the Hard Rock Cafe (a brand now owned by the Seminole nation of Florida!) This was at least a sign of how far Poland has moved towards the West since the fall of communism in 1989. It being International Women's Day, there was a protest in full swing around Plac Mariacki; Poland is currently under a right-wing government and a lot of women are not happy about the direction it's taking the country (sound familiar?) T. pointed out one man at the demonstration wrapped in a rainbow flag. My heart warmed.

I mentioned before the guide who shared with us the history of Kazimierz. Poles have only been free to speak the truth of their history since 1989, and young storytellers like this man and Agniewska seem to be on a mission. He told us of the variety of groups he's shown around his city, like "Faith and Rainbow" which comprised fifteen gay couples. He'd never known before that LGBT people could be Christian.

He told us this story outside the Isaac Synagogue, a seventeenth-century house of prayer. Today it is used by a Hasidic community. We couldn't go in on Friday afternoon, as it was almost Shabbat and they were getting ready for services.

Sometimes he shows school groups their own history, and there is always one young Polish kid with a shaved head who thinks he's a "nationalist." "Though how any Pole can have any sympathy with National Socialism is beyond me." The guide tells these boys what made Poland great: "It was a melting pot!" And by the standards of the sixteenth century, it was. 

Today the population of Poland is 1% Jewish. Yet Kazimierz is full of restaurants serving gefilte fish and playing live klezmer music. We heard "Hava Nagila" played on a fiddle and accordion in view of the Old Synagogue. It may be a museum today, but there is a living community.
Yes, there are Jewish Community Centers in Poland.

In the airport line, there were two Orthodox Jewish men standing behind me. For all I know, they were coming to Poland to start a business. But they were here.


*The tallest mountain on the Australian mainland, one of the original Seven Summits, is also named after Kościuszko.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Teach them that evil dwells

Sometimes you visit places that are really important. Not enjoyable, but important. That was what I found about the (strangely beautiful) D-day beaches in Normandy in 2000. But I will never visit anywhere as important as where we were today.

Oświęcim and nearby Brzezinka are towns in Poland, better known to the world by their German names. The Nazis originally built a camp at Oświęcim to kill Polish political prisoners, which they did, along with tens of thousands of Roma (people once called Gypsies). When the Auschwitz camp was expanded to Brzezinka (Birkenau), however, the world got its most infamous atrocity: the murder of Jews on a ghoulishly industrial scale. Auschwitz II was not the only death camp the Nazis built in Europe, but what is hard to grasp about it, even today, is the cold-blooded calculation and sheer numbers. It was built like a factory, for the efficient killing of human beings. More than a million Jews were murdered here.

I know we've all heard about Auschwitz, but let that sink in for a minute: More than a million Jews murdered. Here.

Here is important because it is a physical place, on this earth, and you can go there. For free, although  we paid for a guided tour in English, and it was the best tour I've ever had anywhere. It started with someone giving the direction "This bus is going to Auschwitz." There was something chilling even about hearing the words. As soon as we were on the bus (about an hour's journey southwest of Kraków), it started to rain. 
Somehow it seemed appropriate that it was raining, gray, and chilly the rest of the day. All those black and white pictures give the impression that it was forever winter at Auschwitz. You get there by a road that goes through miles of woods. The Poles who lived in Brzezinka before the war were forced out, in many cases to concentration camps in Germany, and the bricks from their buildings were used to construct Auschwitz II--Birkenau, the death camp. 

Birkenau, where the trains arrived straight for death. You have to pace it out on foot to grasp the scale of this place.

“One person’s death is a tragedy, while the death of millions is a statistic.” This quote has been attributed to Josef Stalin, and while it cannot be verified, Stalin would know. Not only because of his own murderous regime, but because the USSR lost more millions during the Second World War than any other country. Thousands of these were Soviet prisoners of war killed here. In one of the great, grim twists of history, it was the Soviet army that finally liberated the camps in 1945.
Cattle car. The train journey from Greece (Poland has hot summers too) took 11 days, so most Greek Jews did not even make it to the camps to die.
Auschwitz I was only partially destroyed by the Nazis as they fled, leaving us this evidence of their crimes. I am trying to give the impression that I got, because "millions" does not tell a story. If you are lucky enough to have a guide like Agniewska, she will tell you that she is not a guide, but a storyteller. The only people who truly know what went on in the death camps, she said, are the survivors. And there are fewer and fewer of them left.

But what has made the strongest impression on me has been meeting survivors, and what most moved me today were photographs of inmates, and records of their names. For each one was a person. If you had glasses, if you were a professor, etc., among the Poles, you were the first to go to the camps, because the Nazis regarded Poles as a slave race, and didn't need any intelligentsia.
Rows of barracks at Auschwitz I

Today, there is a giant pile of glasses on display at Auschwitz. Each pair belonged to someone. There are prayer shawls, and room upon roomful of shoes. I saw the match of one pair flung on the other side of the room, in a different pile. "This is the only place on earth we find shoes without people." 

One woman whose picture hangs on the wall was named Amelia Biezker. I hope I have written her name down right. What struck me about her picture was that she has a lopsided smile--despite the cropped hair and the prison uniform. She was a unique person, who lived from 1912 to 1942. Perhaps hers was one of the everyday stories of people trying to make life better for others, even as they faced their own deaths.
The Germans recorded details of their prisoners--giving every Jewish man the name "Israel" and every woman Sarah.

After a while the Nazis stopped photographing prisoners. They learned that after a few weeks of emaciation, the people were unidentifiable anyway. That is when the tattooing with numbers began. And it only happened here. For the rest of their lives, anywhere in the world, if you saw someone with that tattooed number, it meant that they were at Auschwitz.
Used gas canisters. Zyklon B was a pesticide until the Nazis realized it could kill more than lice.

There is a room in one of the barracks where no pictures are permitted to be taken. When the women were gassed with Zyklon B, all their hair was removed. You have heard these stories of it being braided into rope. These were cheap supplies and, as any businessman knows, that's the way to make money. Companies profited from this place; it was a production line. At the time of the liberation of Auschwitz there was still a pileup of women's hair from the most recent trip to the gas chambers. The Soviets preserved this roomful, wall to wall on both sides. It represents the remains of 40,000 women.

It has to be emphasized: no one ever survived the gas chambers. We know what happened there from the few who survived of one group--the Sonderkommandos, inmates (usually Jewish) who were forced to remove the bodies of the dead. It is because a few of them gave evidence that we have eyewitness accounts. 

Gas chamber 1 at Auschwitz. The Germans did not dynamite it only because they used it as an air raid shelter. You can go in.

After Agniewska told us her father-in-law survived Auschwitz, and after we thanked her for the tour, only then did I think of the word for what she is doing. It's a mitzvah. A good deed ("commandment" in Hebrew). Yes, she is paid to tell the story but it's personal for her; it can't be easy to see and talk about these things every day, that affected someone close to her. It is a mitzvah to tell these stories and to keep the memories of survivors alive.

Today, we live in a world where free people are told to deny evidence, even things their own eyes have seen. Where facts are dismissed and the very pursuit of truth questioned. I am not just talking about the obvious: Holocaust deniers, who are in the curious position of denying Nazi atrocities ever happened while simultaneously applauding Nazi ideology. I am talking about the subtle. 

A Holocaust remembrance that somehow never mentions the Jews. A massacre in Orlando that some were quick to link to Islamism, while omitting that it was the largest single mass killing of homosexuals since the Holocaust. The Nazis murdered queer people too. I've been to the Homomonument in Amsterdam, which stands right next to the Anne Frank House. These are real places you can go and see.
Ruins of gas chamber 2 of 5 at Birkenau. Each killed 2,000 people at one time. Electric elevators then raised bodies to the crematoria.
Few people would dispute the particular evil of the Nazis, unsurpassed by any other evil in the history of the world. But with time and distance, it is too easy to feel far removed from the butchery that happened here, in Europe, in the lifetime of people who are still alive today. Cree songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie sang:

“Teach them that evil dwells across the sea
Lives in a mountain
Like they see on TV"

What Auschwitz teaches us is that evil is not just bin Laden in a cave or something on television. Evil is a human thing, ever present, part of our world. Evil can be routine, mechanical, someone's everyday work. It doesn’t dwell across the sea but in the heart of every human being—which makes it everyone’s responsibility to fight. It lives in the vandal attacks on American Jewish cemeteries--twice in one week in February. It lives in the dozens of bomb threats against Jewish schools and community centers across the US (eleven states on one day). 

Block 25, where women destined for the gas chambers waited for death.
Yes, this is a travel blog, but how can I go to Auschwitz and not talk about the anti-Semitism happening every day? No one--leader or private citizen--should hesitate, or not know how to answer, when asked "What do you say about hate crimes against Jews?"

“School bell go ‘Ding! Dong! Ding!’
The children all line up
They do what they are told
Take a little drink from the liar's cup"
--“Suffer The Little Children”