The Holocaust study tour is an educational tour that motivates, challenges, and engages students to rethink one of the most critical and horrific events in history. Traveling through Germany, Czech Republic, and Poland, students significantly connect to the Holocaust, by making meaningful and accurate cultural connections to the people and nations they visit.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Day 1 BERLIN
There's snow on the ground in Berlin as we began our adventures. Bishop O'Dowd students had arrived yesterday afternoon and were able to tour the dome of the Reichstag building this morning while waiting for the rest of our group from New Jersey who arrived this morning. We all met up at our hotel this morning and after brief introductions we were off on our day. Our local guide, Olaf, took us first to the Central Airport which had been built by the Nazis and which later served as the airport for West Berlin until the unification of the city in 1989. We were challenged to analyze what the building could tell us about the identity of the people who had built it. Mr. Barmore led the discussion about the straight lines, the uniformity, and the symmetry, all values which were important to the Nazis.
Our tour of Berlin continued as we went from the former West Berlin into East Berlin, passing through one of the three checkpoints which had served as links between the two sections of the city. The checkpoints had been named Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. We passed through the most famous of these checkpoints, Charlie, which has become more of a tourist attraction than many residents of Berlin prefer. Olaf reminded us that many Germans who were living in the Soviet zone of Berlin, which would become East Berlin, were killed, trying to escape to the West Berlin zone.
A new exhibition is being established to serve as a reminder to all visitors of these events.
We continued our drive through what was East Berlin, and Olaf pointed out sites such as the Berlin City Hall, the Jewish Museum which we will visit later in the week, and Aleksandrplatz, where thousands of East Berliners demonstrated during the Velvet or Peaceful Revolution in 1989.
On the famous Museum Island, we saw several museums which had been constructed under Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and we learned how, at that time, Germany was, in fact, more than 300 dukedoms and municipalities. Mr. Barmore spoke to us about how Frederick the Great wanted to unit these smaller governmental units and unify them into a united, modern nation of Germany and the practical difficulties of achieving that goal. There ensued a discussion of "American nationalism" and what we believed that meant.
Ideas that were offered included: freedom, wealth, the American Dream ........all of which Mr. Barmore told us, were individual goals, whereas in Europe, when people are asked about nationalism, they tend to go immediately to their history and tradition, which provide a more collective identity. When Frederick wanted to gather those with similar traditions into one nation, the most common and most important of those traditions was language, so he attempted to unite by force those people who spoke German. The Nazis would later attempt the same thing, trying to identify and define their nation by something which didn't actually exist.....a common 'blood'.
Our next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews which is a city block on which are 2711 blocks. We talked about what these blocks might represent to various visitors, the structure of the memorial, and what the architect might have wanted to achieve with his unique design. We then proceeded to two adjacent memorials to other victim groups in the Holocaust. Across the street was the memorial to the homosexuals who were victims of Nazi persecution and a little farther down the street was the memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims, more commonly known as Gypsies. Both of these memorials were distinct and we discussed the role of memorials. Is a memorial intended to bring understanding to an event and educate the visitor? Is it intended to cause the visitor to ask questions and keep the event alive in our memory? These memorials are all considered modern memorials which are often more interactive, disturbing, and thought-provoking.
After lunch at the Potsdamer Platz near our hotel, we proceeded to our last stop of the afternoon, the Topography of Terror, a museum which attempts to answer the question "How was it humanly possible?" by taking us through the bureaucratic process of the Third Reich on the site of where many of the offices so instrumental in the Holocaust stood.
We headed back to our hotel to check into our rooms and freshen up before dinner at our hotel. After dinner we will be reflecting on the day's events and have our first journaling session before heading off to get a good night's sleep which the New Jersey students, especially, are eagerly awaiting. Students will be posting their individual reflections on our blog beginning tomorrow.