Saturday, March 31, 2012
From our view at the top of the hill, we overlooked the spectacular view of Prague, and discussed its different units: The Castle Town, Lesser Town, New Town, and the Old Town which includes the Jewish Ghetto. All of these were in place by the 14th century, when Charles IV was the Holy Roman Emperor and Prague was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Next, we saw the Czernin Palace, which today houses the Foreign Ministry, and the Loretto Shrine, one of the finest baroque structures.
Continuing into the Castle premises, we saw a whole diversity of architectural styles, beginning at the St. Vitus Cathedral, with its unique gothic and neo-gothic architecture. As we walked through the king's palace, Shalmi explained the significance of manure in world history and how defenestration was utilized to punish individuals.
We then went into the Lobkowicz Palace. The Lobkowicz family is one of the most important in Czech nobility whose estate and property were very, very extensive. They lost their property twice in recent history: once to the Nazis, and once to the Communists. They retrieved it in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution, and recently opened it to the public as a museum. Inside we had an intimate look at the inside of palace life, and especially at the Lobkowicz's contribution to culture: music, painting, and architecture.
After lunch, we walked through the Lesser Town, crossed the Charles Bridge into the Old City of Prague, and saw the Clementinum, the Jesuit campus. The Jesuits were called in after the 30 Years War to head the spiritual and cultural revolution initiated by the Catholic Church in what was to be the counter reformation. Their main role was in rebuilding education in order to disseminate the principles of the Church. This was the first case of a cultural revolution that caused ambivalent attitudes within Christianity.
Before dinner, Alexandra Zapruder read excerpts from Otto Wolf's diary, and led a discussion about the role of the diary in the Wolf family. When Otto is captured and killed by the Vlasovites in April of 1944, his sister Lici took over writing the diary. She writes the last entries, ending on VE day, May 8, 1945. We are looking forward to tomorrow when we will meet Lici's daughter, Eva, in Olomouc at the Jewish Community Center. Eva and her husband will be joining us for the dedication of the memorial to the Wolf family and their rescuers in Trsice on Monday.
Friday, March 30, 2012
Our busy day began with Holocaust survivor Pavel Stransky, our dear friend, who told us his "Holocaust Love Story." The students were very moved not only by his story, but by his willingness to share his entire day with us at Theresienstadt.
Accomplished, prestigious Jews from Prague, Berlin and elsewhere were sent to the former garrison town of Terezin, renamed by the Nazis as Theresienstadt. Despite the crowded conditions and lack of food, these Jews, who didn't know where they were going or how long they were going to have to "wait it out," composed operas like Brundibar, wrote literary journals like Vedem, and painted beautiful works of art. Pavel wrote a cabaret, “why do we laugh?” along with other poetry, and in June of 2011 it was performed at Theresienstadt in a former barrack of the ghetto.
As we toured the museum, Shalmi and Pavel shared information about what we were seeing, including the propaganda film made by the Nazis after the Red Cross visit. The Nazis forced the Jews in Theresienstadt to beautify the ghetto, and even, as Alexandra Zapruder pointed out from Alice Ehrmann's diary in Salvaged Pages, had children sit under heat lamps so they would appear more healthy. The reason for the Red Cross visit? In what was known as "The Artists' Affair", five ghetto artists were able to smuggle drawings out of the ghetto which depicted the deplorable living conditions. A local art dealer was able to get them to Switzerland to the Red Cross. About the same time, when the Danish Jews were taken, their foreign minister demanded to know where they were going, and the Nazis told them they could visit them. The Red Cross came as a result of the concern of the Danish foreign minister and increasing international pressure to view conditions in the camps. Shalmi pointed out that the Nazis, again as the dictator, are very sensitive to criticism. Therefore, they clean up of the ghetto and propaganda film, for a visit that lasted only two hours,and ended without the Red Cross going out of their way to find out what was really happening there.
We went to the hidden Danish synagogue that until ten years ago was used as a garage to store potatoes. Inside this synagogue, Shalmi read the Hebrew prayers still visible on the walls:
"May it be your will, O God, that we return to Zion and see it once again."
"Please God, abstain from your anger and take pity on the people you have chosen."
"Despite everything O God, we did not forget you. Don't forget us.”
After lunch we went to the small fortress, the concentration camp or prison, ¼ mile north of the ghetto. Shalmi explained that the concentration camp was intended for prisoners who could be rehabilitated to enter into society again, and weren't intended for Jews who were a destructive element in any society and could not be rehabilitated. However, because of the need for labor, many Jews were sent to concentration camps,with the intention that they would be worked to death and not survive. This military fortress, used for hundreds of years before World War II, housed many prisoners, including the Jews of the ghetto of Theresienstadt when they were being punished. The guards of this camp, as well as others, were not only SS, buy also included prisoners, primarily criminals. Most were extremely cruel, showing that "brutality is made by human beings."
After a rainy bus ride, we entered the parking lot of Lidice Memorial site, where the Nazis razed the Czech village as a
reprisal for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. Because of the mistaken Nazi belief that the villagers of
Lidice harbored the Czech resistance fighters who threw a grenade into Heydrich's convertible when their machine gun malfunctioned, the Nazis made a lesson of Lidice. They shot all the men of the village, and sent the women to Ravensbruck in Germany, and most of the children were sent to Chelmno, where they were killed in the gas vans that had carbon monoxide channeled into the enclosed vans.
As we stand in the rain looking at the faces of the children in the memorial, the raindrops streak their faces, just like tears.
Once back at the hotel after dinner, Alexandra Zapruder read to us from the diaries of two children who were in Theresienstadt: Eva Ginzova and Alice Ehrmann. She spent time talking to us about how what we saw today was reflected in the words of these teenagers during the Holocaust.
Today we visited the former village of Lidice, which was decimated by the Nazis. They barged in, took the women, deported them, then gathered every man over the age of 15 and shot them. But the most horrid crime they did was the killing of 82 children that were in the town. The memorial represented them in great detail, and coupled with the rain, I broke down and cried for the first time in a while. This was the strongest of the memorials for me, emotionally.
Pavel said something to me that was so appropriate, but that I had never thought of: What was important in the outside world was not important in the ghetto, and what was important in the ghetto was not important in the outside world. Life in the ghetto was separated from the outside world. While waiting for nothing, the Jewish culture emerged within the ghettos. A culture filled with music, literature, drawings, and paintings brought the Jews together instead of the separation from the outside world breaking them apart. By building a community the people in the ghettos had hope for the future.
Hannah C. says:
While at Lidice, the children's memorial hit home with me, the first child I looked at looked exactly like my brother. Tonight, Ms. Zapruder read an excerpt from Eva Ginzova's diary where she is writing to her brother. The level of love and concern that she has for her brother reminded me of my relationship with my brother back home. I can't imagine leaving my brother, seeing him for the last time, through bars, as Eva did.
The memorial statue of the children at Lidice was the first memorial I have seen that did not make the figures anonymous and gaunt. They showed emotions like sadness, despair and fright. Their eyes looked up at us pleading for help. The rain falling down made it appear as if they were crying.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Our first full day in Prague focused on the Jewish Quarter. This part of the city is just off the old town square: as Shalmi says, in the center, but off center. Because Christians were forbidden by religious law to loan money and Jews were able to loan money to Christians, Jews were invited to Prague for economic reasons, to help in business transactions. The king allowed them to live in a central location, but also required them to pay taxes. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians carried out pogroms against the Jews. The Jews lived with the reality that at any time they might have to leave.
We visited The Old-New Synagogue, the oldest functioning synagogue in the world, built in the year 1270. This synagogue or shul, from which we get the word “school,” was where Jews studied the Talmud, the first five books of the Christian Old Testament. The shul is central in Jewish life. Jewish boys, even in the Middle Ages, began learning to read at the age of three. Because the Jews were always literate, this set them apart from the majority of society. Inside the New Synagogue, Shalmi read the Hebrew inscription on the wall: "Greater is he who says amen than he who reads."
Here, Shalmi teaches us that the use of star of David as a Jewish symbol originated in Prague. Displayed proudly in The Old-New Synagogue is the flag that the emperor allowed the Jews to hoist. The symbol on the flag is the star of David, or Jewish star which was the family symbol of the Cohen family, a prominent family in the congregation when the Jews made the flag. The flag also displays the yellow hat, which was a derogatory symbol because the king made the Jews of Prague wear the yellow hat whenever they left the ghetto. Although it was originally meant to be disrespectful--it was the color yellow because that was a symbolic color of the plague--it later becomes a symbol of pride for the Jews, as they chose to take a negative and turn it into something positive that connected the community.
Before World War II began, when the Nazis came into Prague in April of 1939, occupying the remainder of Czechoslovakia, they required all Jews to register. According to Nazi law, any person who had one grandparent who was Jewish was classified as a Jew. Many Czech Jews, who were highly assimilated, did not identify themselves as Jewish, but they did register. Then one day they received a letter telling them they had been summoned, and needed to bring a suitcase. They were being sent to Theresienstadt,a former garrison town, outside Prague, where we will visit tomorrow.
Next we go to the Maisel Synagogue, a place of significance during the Holocaust, because after the Jews of Prague are sent to Theresienstadt, the Jewish Museum asked the Nazis if they could collect personal and communal artifacts of the Jewish community. During the war, the Maisel Synagogue was a warehouse where Jewish curators catalogued and stored religious artifacts from synagogues, as well as personal religious items. The Nazis even allowed five special exhibitions of the artifacts during the war. Once their task was completed, the Nazis sent the curators of the museum to Auschwitz on the last transport, and only one of them survived.
At the Pinkas Synagogue, we see the memorial to the Jews of Prague and the surrounding towns who the Nazis murdered during the Holocaust. Upstairs,we pause at the name Otto Wolf, from Trsice. Beside this memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust, some of our students ask Alexandra Zapruder about meeting Otto's sister, Lici, while researching her book Salvaged Pages. We stand beside the wall bearing Otto's name, birth date and date of death, a person we would not even now about if not for Alexandra's work, and learn more about the diary,and the Wolf family.
Outside the Pinkas Synagogue is one if the most famous Jewish cemeteries in the world, made famous by the false document, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In this pamphlet used as antisemitic propaganda, it states that the rabbis supposedly conspired to take over the world at a meeting here in this cemetery.
Gabrielle L. says:
I was moved today when I learned about the decree that was forced upon Jews in the ghetto of Prague during the early 1300's. It was shocking to me that Jews could only move out of the ghetto if they wore this bright yellow hat that labeled them outside the ghetto. I was shocked and thought if I had to wear that hat I would not have left the ghetto because I would have been too embarrassed.
The images drawn by the children from Theresienstadt were all drawn like any child that we see now; however, their pictures were more dramatic. Some children drew of their possible freedom, whereas others drew the monstrosities that they witnessed daily. It was amazing to see the terrible situation that young children had to endure and go through at such an innocent age.
Alyssa S. says:
Today I learned how the Jews were treated in the medieval ages when they were in the ghetto of Prague. Besides being treated like an economic object, the Jews were treated as objects when forced to be isolated in public by having to wear these ugly collars and yellow hats. The one amazing thing that the Jews did was taking a symbol of embarrassment and having enough pride to put that hat with the Star of David on their first flag, erasing the shame.
What I found most interesting at the Maisel Synagogue was the yellow hat and badge on display. It opened up for me a whole new aspect of history of which I was unaware: the way Christian kings put Jews in ghettos and how the medieval ghettos sparked ideas for Hitler. I was shocked to find out that others had previously put Jews in ghettos prior to the Holocaust.
Alyssa L. says:
Seeing the names and dates of death at the Maisel Synagogue, I realized that not everyone was murdered in the camps. When we think about the Holocaust we don't always think about the indirect ways that people were affected. However, even the deaths that were a result of a lack of medicine or medical attention and anyone who was sick by natural causes can be linked to the Holocaust.
After seeing the cemetery, the walls of names, and hearing Mr. Barmore talk about all of the artifacts that will never be reclaimed, I am really hit by how many families were decimated in the Holocaust. It is so important to every country and culture to pass on the information from past generations, but the killing of entire Jewish families, destroyed much of their history. I wonder how many years of experience were lost and I mourn for our world because it has lost the oral histories behind these artifacts.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
For tonight's blog, instead of pictures, we have included video reflections of students on their Berlin experiences, filmed during our train ride from Berlin to Prague.
Our busy day began at the Book Burning Memorial near Humbolt University. Here, in 1933, students burned books written by Jews, socialists and political dissidents. The memorial is not visible from the street, in fact, one has to almost walk over it to even see it. Under the ground, beneath clear plexiglass, is a room lined with empty, white bookshelves. Shalmi again asked the question, “Who were these people” who fought the power of ideas and the power of words by burning them? What an unexpected place to burn books and to be threatened by ideas: in a city square adjacent to Humbolt University. Engraved in the plaque near the memorial is the Heinrich Heine quote "There where they burn books, they will be one day burning people." Ironically, and perhaps prophetically, Heine wrote this in 1820.
Our day continued at the Rosenstrasse Memorial. This site recognizes the brave Christian women, whose Jewish husbands and children were arrested during the Factory Action, in February of 1943, when the Nazis swept through Berlin in their efforts to make it "Jew Free". These women, whose husbands and children were being kept in the former Jewish Community Center on Rosenstrasse street, stood outside in an unarmed, quiet protest, demanding the release of their families. Despite Nazi efforts to make them go away, they did not give up, and Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, decided to release them to prevent a public relations nightmare and prevent additional protests.This memorial calls to mind what Shalmi spoke of as the sensitivity of the dictator to the will of the people. As brutal as a regime may be, if people protest and don't give in, the regime will fail.
We visited the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind.
To view pictures of the museum and its architecture, click here.
Shalmi again spoke of the one-sided love affair and the love that Jews felt for Germany before the Holocaust.
He said that Germany,as does a former lover, jilted the Jews, and dumped them, completely rejecting the one-sided love the Jews felt for their country. For Shalmi, this museum poses more questions - does Germany miss the presence of Jewish culture in German society? Is there lack of presence felt as a void by modern German society?
After our five hour train ride from Berlin to Prague, we ate dinner at a beautiful, Czech restaurant with traditional Czech entertainment.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
We began our day on the bus to the Bavarian Quarter with Shalmi framing our day with the question: "Where do these people, the Nazi perpetrators, come from?" The Nazis came into power through a democratic election, and a consistent part of their ideology included racism based on faulty but, accepted scientific theory. The Nazi ideology included the belief that the Jews were not only inferior, but were also destructive to the German race. Pardoxically, inherent in this ideology, Nazis needed to eliminate the Jews but had no idea in 1933 what that meant. At that time in history, the entire world was "pre-Auschwitz," meaning that this milestone in Western civilization had not yet occurred. The Nazis were then part of the Judeo-Christian belief "Thou shalt not kill." The Nazis couldn't simply say "let's kill all the Jews" in 1933 because the population wouldn't accept it. However, the Nazi perpetrators could initiate decrees that were small actions against the Jews. These more subtle actions would be accepted by observers, or bystanders.
We get off the bus at the Bavarian Quarter to view the memorial there that consists of 80 signs with pictures on one side, and anti-Jewish decrees on the other. In this part of Berlin, lived around 6,000 Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. Here we discussed that some of these laws came from the top down--such as "Jews can't use public telephone booths"--and some came from the people of the community--such as "No Jews are allowed to sing in choirs." It is important to reliaze that the Nazis set some laws in place, but community members in Germany also made their own anti-Jewish rules. This memorial pulls us into a discussion, because unlike traditional memorials, this one interacts with the people of the community. For instance, Shalmi spoke of a man who works in the neighborhood who, even though he is a Turk, still feels guilty when groups are looking at the signs as he walks by.
Our next stop is the Grunewald Train Station, the site where many of the 55,000 Jews of Berlin were deported to camps that included Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where we will be going in a few days. This memorial shows the dates of deportation, the number of Jews deported, and the camp to which they were sent. Here Shalmi explained another part of the bureaucracy that made this happen. The memorial itself was commissioned by an important part of this bureacracy: the German railroad.
Another part of the Nazi bureaucracy established the definition of who was a Jew. Most Jews in Berlin were assimilated into society. People who didn't identify as Jews were suddenly defined by the Nazis as Jewish simply because one of their grandparents was Jewish. People might have converted, or their parents might have converted to Christianity, but by the Nazi definition, they were still considered Jews. Bureaucrats working in offices, who may or may not have been Nazis, made lists of Jewish people by looking at registration records of Jewish communities. Famous, prominent Jewish people were sent to Theresienstadt for awhile, and were not killed right away. In this way, Nazis prevented some of the possible public outcry.
After a stop for lunch, we continued our day at the Wannsee Villa, site of the luncheon meeting(January 1942) that assembled important leaders of the Nazi bureaucracy. At this meeting, known today as the Wannsee Conference, these leaders, who included Heydrich, Eichmann, doctors and a priest, planned the implementation of the horror that had already started: the industrialized killing of Jews. The bureaucratic terminology for the outcome of this meeting was "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question." A tactical strategy of the Nazis was to industrialize the killing of the Jews in order to spare the mental health of the killers. The Einsatzgruppen actions, and the mobile gas vans of Belzec caused nervous breakdowns in the Nazis who committed these atrocities. Therefore, they needed to create factories of death, where eventually the Nazis forced Jews to do the killing, as recorded in testimony of the Sonderkommando of Birkenau.
As we sit there in the room where the Nazi officials put their seal of approval on the process of killing that we would one day refer to as Auschwitz, it is impossible not to be emotional. Yes, we are all "post-Auschwitz" and realize the ramifications of the small steps, and the shifts in the thinking of the Nazi perpetrators, which led to the meeting in this room in January of 1942.
What appears to be truly perplexing was the fact that an SS officer would leave his family in the morning and begin his job of extermination and violence against the Jews that very day. It does not seem possible that one can make sense of the Nazis´ decision to eliminate the Jewish population. At the Wannsee Villa I learned that despite the horrendous crime of the Nazis, what was extremely interesting was the fact that the Nazis were human: they had families, laughed, loved, cried, talked with their friends, and did everything else a human does.
Today at the Bavarian Quarter, Mr. Barmore talked about the gradual alienation that occured between Jews and their Christian friends. We learned about how people in Germany were upset and desperate which allowed Hitler to come to power, but as the decrees started to come out and it was obvious that the municipality was involved in their creation it showed local support for national policy.
While I was walking on the tracks of Grunewald I noticed a deportation date of January 1st. I could not help but think of the countless people who walked there clutching their belongings, comforting their crying children, all while being confused themselves on a day most people plan for the future year. Maybe they had hoped that this year would be the year that the persecution ended and would set them free.
Throughout the day listening to Mr. Barmore, I learned that new laws persecuting the Jews did not impact the average German citizen. Because people were not affected, they had no reason to try and resist these new laws. Nazism made non-Jews feel embarrased to be friends with German Jews which allowed the Nazi government to continue passing minor discrimanatory laws which led later to deportation to camps with no one questioning the goverment´s authority.
Hannah C. says:
At the Bavarian Quarter today we talked about the people who supported the Nazis and the people who were wavering, unwilling to speak up. Influence was a huge tactic during the Holocaust. I know when I was in middle school, if you supported gay marriage, you were automatically deemed to be gay, and because of this many people decided to be against gay marriage so they would not be made fun of.
To all the people who are following our journey and offering thoughtful comments we wanted you to know that each morning we read your comments and it sparks interesting discussions amongst us. We are grateful for your participation in our learning experience and hope you will continue to offer your insights. THANK YOU !!!
Monday, March 26, 2012
From the museum, we continued to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind. In this factory, students heard about the blind and deaf employees who made brooms and brushes from horse hair and pig hair. Otto Weidt also employed Jews, and used the Berlin Work Act to legally keep employing his Jewish workers during the war. Otto protected his Jewish employees by a Jewish family in a secret room built behind a secret wardrobe closet. Inside the false back wall of the wardrobe, behind clothing was an opening into the room where the Jews would sleep at night and hide during Gestapo inspections.
After a time out for a lovely lunch in the square, we continued learning as we walked to the Jewish Cemetery. On the way, Olaf pointed out the Stumbling Stones memorials scattered throughout Berlin, which are brass squares placed in the sidewalk near buildings in which Berlin Jews lived prior to being deported and killed during the Holocaust. Each stone has engraved information about with the name, birthday and fate of the individual.
From there, we walked to the Old-New Synagogue, which was inaugurated in 1867. In 1938, during Kristallnacht, the synagogue was burned and vandalized by the SA. However, the chief of police of the neighborhood,Wilhelm Krutzfeld, prevented more destruction by chasing away the arsonists and calling the fire department. The synagogue was ready for use again by April of 1939, but in 1940 it was confiscated by the Wehrmacht and used as a warehouse for the remainder of the war. The last service was held in March of 1940.
Gabrielle V. says: