Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I have written many facts, but have not always written how I am feeling. Each day I feel as if we go deeper and deeper into the belly of this beast. Each step gets harder to walk, its gets harder to inhale as we walk along the cobblestones of a camp. The question ‘How could this have happened?” or just a simple “Why” is always present in my mind- but there will never be an answer.
What remains a constant is the systematic, bureaucratic way in which this was so well planned. People like to believe there is hope, people want to believe that in our hearts there is a shred of goodness. These people ( I avoid saying monsters because after all so many could not have been monsters they were ordinary people) used every part of every man woman and child. They knew human nature and used it: keeping people unaware, making up the facade of a nice warm shower after the long arduous journey by hanging hooks for clothes, telling them to remember their hook number to retrieve their belongings , the orchestra played music, the showers looked real - all in the effort to keep people calm: it worked.
Then taking everything that makes one human from clothes to eye glasses, combs, forks, prosthetic limbs, baby clothes, and shoes shoes, more shoes. Then taking away dignity- being stripped and being naked in front of everyone, What was left? The victims still held on to each other, some prayed, some were silent.
As we walked down the dirt and broken cobblestone roads at Birkeneau I heard the clomp of the feet of many 50 people walking at one time. The sound was somewhat in uniform “ Slosh, swish, slosh swish” It was raining and difficult to walk with good walking shoes on. Now I thought about wooden clogs, that were in itself a torture then some were too small or too big, This was also well thought out torture. The shoes hurt. They would cause sores which would cause the person to become weak and unable to work. You know the result.
So in essence everything was a means to an end- death. The sheer magnitude of Birkineau was impossible to grasp. The conditions of the barracks are indescribable, I looked over at Elaine watching her gently walk around the bunks knowing her mother was one of the women who endured there. What saved her was the compassion of other women, who after her sister dies, embraced her and watched over her- that sustained her and she defied the Nazi Ideology by living.
Meeting with the Polish teachers was together upsetting and enlightening. The two I spent time with both were passionate about teaching the Holocaust but spend little time on it. Krzysztof was about my age, an admitted liberal who writes for a local paper, published some poetry, and remembers what life was like under Communist rule. He recalled how he was beaten by police during a demonstration. He teaches history and takes students to Auschwitz once a year . When asked what their reaction was he motioned that they cry. The other teacher was a young student who has not actually taught as yet. He told us he has 1 hour in which to teach the Holocaust. He also told us that his grandparents live in a place where 3,000 Jews had lived. That is the point “had lived” all were taken- none returned.
There are many stories that were told and each again is a person. If I repeat this over and over it is because we must always see the multitude as individuals.
Today we will visit Oscar Schindler’s factory. Picture of me by the factory is posted here. I recalled how I did research on Rosalie Weiser Klein for my class at Kean. She was sent here to Krakow and then to the Plaszow camp-not far from here. You can get information on her on the internet . Her story is harrowing.
Today we visited The Jewish Quarter and saw the oldest synagogues still in use for Orthodox and one for Reformed Jews. There actually is a small Chasidic Jewish community that came from the States that live here now.
What intrigued me most today was visiting Oscar Schindler’s factory. It was where the film was done and where the actual events unfolded. You can see the street where the young woman walked down to get Schindler to help her parents, and we saw where the workers walked from the ghetto to the factory. The windows have copies of the list displayed and on the outside, actual photos of the “Schindler Jews” are also on display.
The scenes where the ghetto was emptied and where the belongings were thrown from the balcony were actually done at a location that Speilberg felt was more ‘artistic.’ You can recognize them from the photo.
There is a museum inside the building. We also saw what was left of the Krackow ghetto wall, which was built by slave labor Jews. The Nazi's in their effort to humiliate, had the walls built in the shape of head stones so that the Jews inside felt like they were inside a cemetery.
We then had the afternoon off so we shopped for amber, which is famous in Krackow. We ate Lodi ( ice cream). and are waiting to have dinner with Linda’s Polish relatives.
This morning, one participant, Mitch announced to the bus that it was my 25th wedding anniversary and Elaine led the group in a rendition of “Simentov and Mazel tov.”