Wednesday, July 14, 2010
July 14 2010 Warsaw Poland
I was not able to Blog yesterday because we had just a busy, emotionally charged day and we did not have dinner until 10 pm. Once we returned to the Hotel Berlin Berlin we had to pack in order to be ready for an early departure to Poland. I am composing this on the bus. We entered Poland about one hour ago, .after an 8 hour ride! I was surprised to learn there is no official border between Poland and Germany. The country side is quaint with many thatch roofed structures.
Poland had a thriving Jewish community before WWII which all came to a halt with the invasion by Germany.
At this time I would like to write about July 13th,
First I would like to mention as a point of trivia and reflection the price of gas! In Israel it was about $7.00 per gallon; in Berlin it was about $6.00 and here in Poland I have seen the equivalent of $6.50.
Yesterday we made a 4 hour trip to Bergen Belsen. concentration camp. This camp originally served at a POW camp, In 1943 the camped changed directions as Jews were sent to this came to be exchanged for Germans and for goods. The POW’s are referenced in documents housed here, as being ‘released” which really meant they were transported to other camps. In 1944 Jews were used as forced labor. Moe than 50,000 died in the last month prior to liberation due to starvation and disease ( such as typhus). Between 1940- and 1943 30,000 POW’s were held at Bergen Belsen. Many of the Jews who survived the Holocaust survived at Bergen Belsen since the camps primary reason for incarcerating Jews was for economic gain. However, once the Camps on the East began to be liberated, they sent thousands of Jews to Bergen Belsen which resulted in severe overcrowding. The same amount of rations ( which was meager to say the least) was now divided amongst 60,000 men women and children as opposed to 15,000 earlier, Disease was rampant and the Nazi’s themselves did not want to enter the camp in its final days.
Our morning began with an introduction by Carola Rudnick from the memorial. She spoke about the specific reasons teachers must teach more than Holocaust education. In addition she shared with some of us that her grandfather had been a member of the SS and she feels a personal responsibility to teach about the Holocaust. Another one of the workshop teachers told us that his grandfather had been a judge who had played a part in enacting the Nuremburg Laws.
Carola swent on to say she was going to give us a “bouquet of ideas” to use in the classroom. The Museum was opened only 3 years ago for the purpose of educating Germans. Second generation family members who must understand themselves and the role their family may have played in this. The video documentaries include both the life of each person prior to the Holocaust and what has happened both during and after in order not to victimize the individual again. The group then was broken up into small study groups, with a person from the museum with a specific agenda. I chose Christian Wolpers a teacher of history who would be talking about the use of art in teaching about the Holocaust. The art can be used as primary documentation because there were no photos or film taken at this camp while it was in operation, only after liberation were the graphic film and photos taken of bull dozers pushing corpses into mass graves for burial. The artwork was done during the camps existence by inmates who at deadly risk and peril, depicted life at the camp and hid their work. These artifacts are the only proof of the daily life at the camp.
Christian began by taking us outside of the main exhibition hall. Having been told that there was ’nothing to see’ at this site due to the fact everything was burnt. The liberators had to destroy what was left due to the diseases that ran amok in the camp. However, in actuality I felt that there was so much to see! As you wander out of the building one notices how the building is built a few feet off of the ground. The reason is that the entire site is considered a Jewish cemetery, therefore it would not be respectful to have the building touch the ground.
We walked down a path, which so many walked before us, and I had to stop and look up at this beautiful blue sky, the lovely little wild flowers growing and think that the victims also saw this sky, but I would venture to say anything else living like flowers or grass became food and was ingested. We stopped at a pile of bricks- where were the remains of the barracks- and the bricks outlined an area of 80X20 in which over 1000 Jews were held. The number did not mean as much as seeing with my eyes such a small area. The bricks have been engraved with the names of people who were at this camp, with their number and date of birth and death or no date of death if they survived. Many rocks have been placed there in respect. There are also artifacts placed there that one can touch and hold like spoons, pieces of a bowl- small items that meant life and death to an individual. We continued on a path that had been the end point for the arrivals who came into the camp via a railway ramp 3 miles out of the camp. The Jews had to walk all the way. There are many houses near by and the people in them have testified that they had seen what was happening, but many felt they could do nothing.
We then walked by many huge mounds of earth that are the actual resting places of the Jews placed in these mass graves. Each one has a marker with the date they were ‘buried’ and the number of people which are interned. There are so many that my vision became blurred as I looked them all. Some contained 500 some 1000, some 200 on and on it went. We also stopped at the memorial headstone for Anne and Margot Frank who are buried somewhere in these mounds of mass graves, Many people have left small mementos at the headstone: rocks, toys, letters, etc are placed gently on the site,
Time restricted us from seeing the remains of the ‘bath house’ or where the crematorium was housed. We entered the exhibition hall which appears to have been planned so carefully, respectful, and with great dignity. The use of space and light is awe inspiring. In the floor are many many artifacts from barbed wire, to small notes which were found, in many cases by local children. They are incased in well lit exhibits on the floor of the museum. Stories told by survivors are interspersed throughout the exhibit. Many things that were told are very difficult to absorb one of which involved cannibalism, but I would rather not dwell on that.. The films that are shown have long pauses- which are done intentionally so that the visitor will stop and take time to listen .
Documents are displayed throughout the exhibit that both serve as primary sources and as stories of POW’s, Jews, Roma, and other victims. Behind a black curtain there are graphic films taken by liberators and press that are placed away from the main exhibit for the discretion of the visitor,
The visit to Bergen Belsen was very personal to me when I looked into the Book of Names and found the name of the person I had done research on for my course at Kean University. My connection from the classroom in New Jersey brought me to the same place where she walked, she suffered and survived.
The day was very full both physically and certainly mentally. Walking there, feeling the road, touching the road and imagining…….