Monday, July 12, 2010
July 12, 2010
We’ve just returned from a full day here in Berlin. The temperature got well over 100 *F so we took our time and drank lots of water!! The day began with a huge breakfast with lots of sausage and bacon and eggs – different kinds of cheeses, fruits, and my favorite - croissants. They also had Lox and Herring which I plan on trying tomorrow morning.
Our bus headed out to Gruenewald Train Station where over 50,000 Jews were sent to work and death camps. When you walk in, it looks like a pretty little German station and then up the steps to Track 17 where the deportation trains left. It is closed now, and the tracks at the station are filled with new growth and trees. The tracks there are surrounded on both sides by large grates on top of gray stones. On the top of each grate is a date, the number of Jews transported, and where they went. Many of them said Berlin to Theriesenstadt or to Bergen-Belsen. It was very unadorned and at the end, there is a large piece of concrete where an artist had depicted five figures leaving. I found myself closing my eyes to listen to the sound of the train going by and imagine the confusion and fear in the voices of the deportees. What is very amazing is that this station is in the middle of a small neighborhood and surrounded by homes, in addition, there were other trains carrying people to and from the area. Amazing that no one spoke up to protest!! I walked along the platform in silence, stopping at a Yahrzeit candle with some stones which were purposely left on a specific transport date. One must take a moment to pause and look at the numbers of people listed as being deported that day: 50, 100, etc but I noticed one that 101 or 99 which made me think that perhaps the 101 was a new baby or 99 was number 100 who already died? The Nazi's liked round exact numbers.
Next we drove to the other side of Berlin to the conference center in Wannsee where the German officials met to decide how to carry out the “Final Solution” of the Jews. The director of the education department, Wolfe Kaiser, who spoke to us as we toured the museum, which is housed in the actual resort for the German officials. Knowing that these rooms were the actual places where such terrible decisions were made, was poignant. We met in a classroom at the villa and discussed the educational value of the material we had seen and how to use it in a classroom. I walked up the original staircase looking at the original beautiful ceiling thinking that Himmler and Eichmann touched the same banister and walked these stairs, on their way to a meeting that would decide the fate of all the Jews of Europe.
We had our lunch in what seemed to be a greenhouse type of building, but it was a bit cooler than the villa. None of the museums have air conditioning and with the heat so high, many of us were having a hard time keeping our eyes open!!
After lunch, we traveled back into the city of Berlin to the Topography of Terror located on the sight of the former Gestapo Headquarters. It is the present-day name of the site on which the most important institutions of the Nazi apparatus of terror and persecution were located between 1933 and 1945: the headquarters of the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Reich SS Leadership and Security Serive (SD) of the SS, and, from 1939 on, the Reich Security Main Office. We saw many documents and their translations and several photos that we had never seen before. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Holocaust Memorial, which Deb and I had seen before. Though the set up of the flat stones doesn’t seem to have any meaning, it is seems to be up to the beholder. We’ll talk about that after dinner! An added bonus was seeing and touching remnants of the Berlin Wall. We could picture the happenings of the past! Across from the Holocaust Memorial, there was a sign identifying the site of Hitler’s Bunker. It was totally unobtrusive and we were told that residents allow their animals to use the site for their business.
We’re so glad to be out of the sun and back “home.” Tonight we look forward to a German dinner and a beer!!!
We still have one member who is feeling poorly, but our bumps and bruises are healing!