The next journey begins CHINA!!

The next journey begins CHINA!!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Majdanak July 31

Tonight my friend Kazia joined us for dinner and will join our group tomorrow for a while. We are in Warsaw, capital of Poland and once a thriving Jewish community.  We came here via Lublin and then to Madjanik death camp.  My previous trip there was more detailed as now much of the camp is not touchable. the crematorium is protected by plexi glass and we did not visit the gas chambers as I had done three years ago, However, it still remains a haunting place with many things in tact such as the ovens, barracks, shoes etc.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Aushwitz-Birkineau July 29

A very hot day , over 100 F, and we began at 8 am and it ended after 10 pm.  Again I will be posting out of order.  I apologize for this but will try to edit this blog later on adding more information.
My friend, Media director, Pawel Sawicki- surprised me by being our actual guide for the day. Maude Dahme arranged it and l did not know.. Pawel and I met several years ago at the JFR fellowship. I am so fortunate to have him as a friend who has skyped with my classes, and now has inspired 22 teachers. He took us to places, which is off limits to the public such as the actual, not renovated building Block 10 where women were unfortunately subjected to horrific experiments. The dissection table stands where it was along with actual drawings on the walls by the women who died there.
He also took us the the private garden of commandant Hoss in the back of te home he occupied

outside the camp gates.  Pawel explained so much to us and did it from an educators point of view to other educators, He said that the three most important things teachers much remember is that the point of education  is to "remembrance, awareness, and RESPONSIBILITY.
In the 100 degree heat, and in the open pounding sun we all learned so much today and became even more inspired by Pawel's passion in this continuing quest of education.  His last project is a book ( which many of us purchased) where he had painstakingly used the photos of the "Auschwitz album" and found the actual locations of the photos, his book "The Place Where You Are Standing" and juxtaposed the original next to the spot as it looks today.

After we left the camps after 7 hours, we went changed the mood by visiting the home town of Pope John Paul the II.  A very quiet hamlet that has become a famous town Wadowic.
We ended the evening with dinner and several guests of Maud who discussed their experiences in teaching Holocaust to students.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 29 Krackow

I will try to catch up here. It has been a physically and mentally exhausting trip thus far and little time to blog coupled with sporadic internet.

Presently in Krakow after a 7 hr bus trip from Prague.  I will have to try to recall what we did in Prague and may have to work backwards.
Yesterday we toured Prague including a beautiful synagogue that is now used for concerts. Its called the Spanish synagogue although it is Askanazi.
The city of Prague was not bombed during the war so the beauty of the city and all the ancient buildings remained in tact, The reason was Prague is centrally located in Europe and Hitler intended on having his Jewish museum here- a place where he wanted a museum for an extinct race. outside this musuem is an amusing statue of Franz Kafka that clearly symbolizes his complicated mind.
We visited the oldest synagogue in Europe that is used today . it dates back to 15th century, the clock in the public area is in Hebrew and must be read right to left.

Today I will see my friend Pawel at Auschwitz and hope to continue this later.  Have to run

Friday, July 26, 2013

July 27

Just waking up getting ready for a FULL day here. It will be a tour o the city and a boat cruise later on.  The seriousness of the trip must be offset with some enjoyment as well, last night we walked to a pub that was suppose to be like a Viking era place, I had my first experience with Czech drinks.
Earlier Vicki and I explored and 'found' an old Jewish synagogue that was beautifully decorated in pastel colors looked like a Turkish influence

In Prague
A 6 hr bus trip to a beautiful city.  Gothic architecture next to modern glass buildings.  The Czech Republic is a democratic country formerly of the Eastern block.  The city of Prauge was unscathed by WWII and therefore there

was no damage to the beautiful buildings and streets of the 1000 year old structures.
The streets are teeming with people from all over, the pubs open with all kinds of beer, and people are just enjoying this city.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wannsee and Sachsenhausen July 25-26

Its Friday -I think-  we are off to Prague.

I will post photos once I have internet that I can sit and use for a while.  Internet is very expensive here

Yesterday my friend Walter Domke joined us for the day. We went to the Wannsee Mansion where the meeting took place deciding on the Final Solution. Although I had been there before, it was entirely different as Walter added his perspective and our amazing guide Christophe did as well.  It is such a beautiful setting it is so hard to visualize such a place was the place of such evil talk.

The conference was rather more like a Wednesday afternoon staff meeting. It was not particularly significant, in fact not all of the participants invited attended.  Hitler was not there´, he sent Reinhard Heinrich to oversee it.  The minutes are there, and the talk so -boring- that it has been recalled THE BANALITY OF EVIL. for indeed it was banal and so evil to be discussing the extermination of millions of European Jews.

We then went on a unscheduled tour of Sachesenhausen camp.  Many of us, including Maude, had never been there.  It was small in comparison to the other camps but yet overwhelming in its vast space of emptiness.  Some barracks still stand and the separate torture rooms are visible as well.  The hanging square is there, as well as many other structures.  The camp was primarily a place where Russian prisoners of war were tortured and killed, as well as Jews.  It was the first entrance for the group into the Bloodlands of the Nazi regime.
Walter also told me about a disturbing memory he has abut an old woman who he rented a room from in Berlin. she told him how when she was a teenager she and her friend would look for rich Jews and when they got deported- sh

e was proud to be one of the fist to take what ever they could from the homes. Walter was appalled and still is disturbed by this revelation.

we also visited Track 17 Gruenwald station.  Although I had been there before, it still affected me in such a profound way.  It s still a working station. and many people often take the stairs to track 17 unaware that it is a memorial to the Jews being deported.  I wrote a poem on the bus after visiting the site.

Suffocating-in the open air
Numbers- equal and round
   100, 1000, 500...
Trains routinely pass by-
An audible reminder of today
While the ghosts crowd the platform

Blindness is abruptly broken
In this place of purgatory
A blonde woman on a bicycle
(a good place to ride)
A dog along side
(a good place to run)
A taxi patiently waiting
for a fare amid the vacant masses

Blurry vision
selectibe hearing
Can they not hear the palpable silence?
Can they not see them waiting on the platform?
for a train  for a taxi

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Berlin July 25

We arrived in Berlin 8 am yesterday and with no sleep  stepped onto the bus and started our adventure.
I have already visited many of the sites we saw, but I always see things a bit differently when I see something again.  Having learned so much in the past few years I view the city in a new light. What impressed me were the new memorials that have only recently been erected . One is  to the Roma and Senti who were murdered, The spot is grassy and people are quietly reflecting on the names of the places where these people died. The corner stone is a rippling fountain that does not spout water it only quietly flows in a circular fashion and around the perimeter are words both in German and English like 'Silence' and 'NO WORDS' There is also a quiet spot where a block of gray granite sits off kilter with a small indented cut out that shows a film of two men or two women who are obviously in love.  The block is a bit unsettling as it is kind of 'out of the box' and allows one to peer into the hole if you want to,.. this is the memorial to the many homosexuals who who murdered by the Nazis

Streets that did not hold much meaning before, now do as I saw Rozenstrasse the place where many women who were not Jewish and were married to Jewish men, protested for days on end demanding the release of their husbands from being arrested.  Their pleas were answered and their husbands, some who had already been sent to the camps - were returned to them.  Certainly give us pause to women who were upstanders.

I also saw small brass placques that peppered the streets and bear the names of Jewish familes.  The significance is that those people lived in the homes that still stand adjacent to the plaques and were murdered during the Holocaust.

We also visited the workshop of Otto Weidt someone who has been recognized as a Righteous Chrisitan. He had a small workshop  that is now a museum  that gave work to many blind and deaf people.  In addition there is a false door that behind it many Jews were hidden by Weidt.

Our day ended with a 2 hour walk through the city, once again visiting the Reischtag, Topography of Terror

(former SS headquarters) the place where the underground Hitler bunker is, the Old and New Jewish synagogue locations, Brandengerg Gate, The Russian memorial which ironically is set in what was EAST Germany, Checkpoint charlie, and finally dinner with my group and my friend Dr. Walter Domke who I have worked with using SKYPE.

The most significant part of my day however was our guide Swen from Berlin, I spoke one on one with him. He is a young man maybe in his 30 or 40 so I asked about his feelings being German and having parents and grandparents who may remember the war.  He said his grandparents never spoke about it, and that his father expressed, even today, his dislike for Jews. 
The reason.... he said to me his father did not like the fact that many Jews 'throw out food' or do not eat everything because of their religion.  Swen asked me about anti Semitic in USA and unfortunately I had to say it is still with us , maybe not always be blatant but still with us as recently as the man in Conn flying a Nazi flag.

Swen told me he identifies with the victims of the Holocaust even as a German non Jew, simply because he is gay.

I will try to post photos when I have internet. so please excuse any typos as I am using computer in hotel and keyboard is not the same

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

July 23- ready to go!

Humid and wet on East Coast.  Packed and ready!
I am sure this will be an amazing trip and I get to see my international friends!

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 9

 This blog is really the first one of this conference- I cant figure out how to move it be in date order :(

ADL/ Echoes and Reflections Seminar is into its second day.  Thirty five participants from many states.
Day one was based on the use of the Echoes Guide followed by a Skyping session with Shulamit Imber from Yad Vashem Israel.  I am fortunate to have heard Shulamit last year at Yad Vashem, and she always amazing in her teachings about How to teach students "How to Think not what to think."  This was followed by an intense yet condensed version of the history of Antisemitism by renowned author, Ken Jacobson ADL National Diector.

Overview of Conference/ July 15. 2013

It has been a few days since I returned from NYC and the Echoes/Reflections seminar.  Firstly, I apologize for typos ans much of the blogging is done late at night, after long days of intense learning.  But the gist of my postings are easy to perceive.

The group attended a reception at the Jewish Heritage Museum, where we met the benefactors, Jacques and Charlotte Wolf, along with their family.  They were warm, charming people who were so humble in thanking US for the work we do!  They are survivors who have dedicated their lives and monetary funds in keeping this conference alive for the last six years.

I was also able to take a walk with two participants, Juan and Mario along with my friend Mitch to the 911 Memorial.  I had never been there and it was very emotional standing at the site where I once took the subway when I worked downtown.

There were moments of levity and fun as I helped the inexperienced participants to navigate the subway, and to walk them through Mid town Manhattan.

We heard from Dr. Myrna Goldenberg  who lectured on the role of women , specifically in the camps. A subject that is not often broached about rape was also a topic she discussed. She is the author of Different Horrors- Same Hell:Gender and the Holocaust.

The final day of the conference focused on Hidden Children and those who helped. We heard from the Executive Director of the ADL, Abe Foxman, who was himself a hidden child. A planned lunch with survivors included a wonderful surprise as two of the survivors wee people I have had a long relationship with through Metro West Holocaust Council: Ed Bindel, ( who was saved by his Christian nanny) and Gina Lanceter who was thrown off a moving transport train, by her parents, at the age of 14.  I have known both these wonderful people for several years, and am proud to call them my friends. If anyone is interested in their individual stories they can google the names.

The conference ended with a sharing with the group of resources, other programs, and our gratitude to the ADL and the Echoes and Reflections staff and presenters.
Heading home was easy for me on NJ Transit but on a hot rainy day, carrying more home than I began with I had to ( a long with two others) walk to Penn station since no cab would stop!  Thank goodness for the gym.

I am now preparing for my trip July 23rd. I hope you will continue to follow me and comment once in awhile.

Shalom for now....

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ADL- Echoes Day 3

Day three was a packed day held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Battery Park. We worked with the lesson of the Final Solution fro Echoes and had some wonderful,debatable discussions.  The afternoon began with a tour of the museum, that I personally felt should have been a self guided tour.  The afternoon and evening events were the highlight of the day. We heard the testimony of Auschwitz survivor Bronia Brandmen who survived 5 and a half years of torture until her liberation. The evening was capped with a reception at the Museum where we met our benefactors Charlotte and Jacques Wolf who sponsor the program year after year causing the ripple to continue outward. I recently had a mini reunion from the 2012 Yad Vashem trip with Eva and Russel. Russel, a Franciscan priest turned me on to a rather wonderful tradition that of giving a folded dollar to someone going on travels to do good deeds. The concept is to carry the bill with you everywhere and upon a safe return to donate it to  charity. The funny thing is that I had never heard of this, yet within one week I now have three dollars! Last evening Etzion Neuer- lawyer for the ADL who I had never met before- handed me the dollar once I told him of my upcoming journey!  I have also passed one to my friend Mitch who will be going to Russia this summer.
I will post my notes on Bronia's Testimony if anyone wants to read it.  She also gave us a book about her experiences ( geared yo young readers)  The evening ended with a walk through midtown with a few of my new friends- where we talked about education, our own lives and just got to know each other.

Bronia Brandman (Mandelbaum)- Holocaust survivor
Auschwitz survivor who stands about 4ft 10 with numbers on her left arm. I can see 52643 clearly tattooed on her left forearm
She had rare pre- war photos of her family.  She showed photo of her original home in the Market Square. She was a family of 8 and describes a pleasant childhood filled with many kids playing in the yard. Children’s normal games of: ball, jumping rope, soccer, riding bikes. Coming from a middle class Orthodox family they children attended public school during the day and Religious school in the afternoon.
School was difficult as anti-semantic slurs were the norm. Her father Israel was a Talmudic scholar. Her father , although he did not show it did care about the children. Her mother Ida had 11 siblings who sought out advice from her. She was Orthodox as well. Her passion was dancing she Bronia also inherited this passion. She had an older sister Mila whom Bronia loved, and adored. Bronia showed many pictures of Mila with friends and cousins, followed by photos of her shy older brother Mendek.
Mendek is the only survivor besides Bronia. He was very intelligent man who is an inventor, painter, and poet. Tulek another older brother who tormented her as a youngster, he cut school, always in trouble. He had a perpetual fire in his eyes. He was a leader to his friends. He also could fix anything.
Bronia was smiling, and animated while talking about her pre war life. Her demeanor changed as the story turned to the German invasion. Her mother and 5 children left to go to an uncle that lived further from the German/Poland border.  The remainder stayed however she heard the Germans enter and yell “Jewish Swine” Men were gathered and burnt alive. She was 8 years old and heard people being butchered. She grew up fast. She returned home only to learn that her father was ordered by the Nazi soldiers to go into basement while his  son( Bronia's brother) watched his father be beaten as the soldiers  laughed. The Nazi’s let him go but her father was traumatized never entering the store again. New laws were in place. They had to wear the Jewish star - anyone over 6 yrs old.  To be without it meant death. All valuables were taken and sent to Germany. At 9 she became the bread winner hiding her star and selling textiles to Christians on the black market. She felt that she would be caught and did not reveal to her mother how scared she was. Daily life was terror. They came for Mila: and her brother Mendek at 15 volunteered to go in his sister’s place. At 11 the Nazis made the final raid and took her mother, father and two brothers. Her sister and brother were able to hide. Her mother whispered to her to run- how far could she get? The soldiers, the dogs, etc. Someone would denounce her for a bag of sugar. Her mother knew what would happen. She did run and never saw her parents or brother again. She went to a farmer's house for the night. She asked to say with them, but if she stayed she would have to renounce her Judaism, and she could not do that and did not ask for asylum. She was smuggling live chickens and at  age11because she  was head of the household. For one year they survived. She and her sister hid in a basement and there was a raid. She hid with neighbors who had a baby. The baby began to cry. The mother suffocated her child. But to no avail they were found out anyway and sent to a Auschwitz.
She was in front of Dr Mengle with her sister Mila. He moved his index finger only. He pointed Mila to right and the three of them to left. As an ‘experienced” smuggler she made spilt second decision- she darted to the right to her sister. She realized it meant her two baby sisters would be gassed-  alone. She also put her sister in danger. A Sonderkommando who wrote about the transport told how people were given ‘pep’ talks to  get undressed quickly and they would be showered faster. The last person entering would be shot in order to push forward. Babies were thrown on top .  After the gas when the doors opened, there was a pyramid of people with babies on the bottom. All were dead, hair was shaved, gold taken from teeth. Ashes used for fertilizer and insulation. All parts of the human were used.
She was seen on the line with her sister and was spotted but allowed to stay with her sister. She was made to strip naked for hours in front of men. She was sheared and branded. They no longer had names. Humanity was gone.  They were given a pair of wooden clogs, one dress, no underwear, and one possession: a tin bowel.
In Birkeneau it was mud all the time. Feet became swollen and infected. She did not have any idea of time, not seeing a clock for two years. One blanket was for 10 people. 16 inches per person. Everyday they had to be counted and stood outside in all weather for many hours. Dead and alive had to be accounted for. Breakfast consisted of bowel of hot green water. Work was not productive it was meant to weaken and kill. Food for one day was a slice of bread made with sawdust, and watery soup. “Pain of hunger was never ever still” Covered with lice, Mila came down with typhus.  Being sent to the hospital was a one way trip. Should she go with her? She decided to go with her sister. Lying naked covered with filth, she had to help her sister getting the chamber pot. A Jewish nurse who was in charge came to tell her that all Jewish sick were being liquidated. She singled her out to save her and saying that Bronia was her sister. “how do you say goodbye to your sister?” She said to us describing her leaving her sister Mila in the hospital knowing what would befall her.
 The infamous Dr.Mengele came by for selection and Bronia's number was on the list. Her nurse friend said never has  a name been removed from the list. Bronia followed Mengele and asked him to remove her number. “Call it luck, call it a miracle.”  The Allies were circling overhead .Mengele was paranoid of bombs. When he heard the planes, he turned ashen and shook with fear, as he ran to his car, he told his assistant to remove her name from the list, she was told this was the ONLY time a name was removed from the selection list.
A second bout with Typhus put her in a coma, the Russians were close to liberating Auschwitz. So the Death Marchs began. She survived 5 and half years of the Holocaust at this point. When She slowed down- which was a reason to be shot-  her friend saw a gun pointed to Bronia,  so she carried her so Bronia would not fall and avoid being killed.
Liberation was the ‘worst’ time of her life having to come to grips with the fact that her mother and 11 siblings did not survive. At 14 she was alone in the world . It took her 50 years to talk about her experiences. Her family did not know she had brothers and sisters. 

 She was empowered to laugh once again after visiting Israel and facing her past.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 9,2013

I am in the second day of the ADL/Echoes and Reflections conference.  I have the luxury of staying at a hotel in mid town Manhattan and enjoying being the tour guide for those people who have never been in the Big Apple. 
The conference , once again, has afforded me the opportunity to meet fellow dedicated and passionate educators from all backgrounds and from many cities in the USA.
Day one was dedicated to approaches in teaching the Holocaust , so we SKYPED with Shulamit Imber from yad Vashem.  I have been fortunate to have worked with Shulamit before while I was at Yad Vashem last summer.  She reiterated the focus on Not teaching kids what to think but teaching them HOW to think. The lecture was followed by an intense and concise history of antisemitism beginning with the era before Christ.  Kenneth Jacobson, ADL deputy National Director and author of several books,  painted a picture that explored the seeds of prejudice , the use of propaganda, and the political climates that propagated the antisemitism that exists even today.

Today we used the ECHOES curriculum to use several lessons in the unit of The Lodz Ghetto. The highlight of the day was the lecture and presentation of Scott Miller author of Refuge Denied:The Saint Louis Passengers and the Holocaust . Miller spent eight years researching, often knocking on doors, putting ads in newpapers, giving lectures all in pursuit of finding out what happened to each and every passenger on that ship which carried 936 German Jews out of Germany and whom were denied entry into the USA or any port.  What was extraordinary was that I have always ( as well as many others) thought that when the shipped returned to Hamburg, most if not all of the passengers perished in the camps.  After Miller's extensive research he accounted for each and every person on board the ship. He started with the original manifest of passengers, and found out that about 350 people , did lose their lives, but the majority of passengers survived.  He recalled several individual stories of how he came to learn the fate of people who actually resided in Washington Heights NY that survived the St Louis, many WERE deported to Auschwitz, and survived - each surviving in different ways: luck, being hidden, sent to labor camps etc. We were all given a copy of is book.
The afternoon was spent doing hands on activities using both Echoes and I WITNESS; a site created by the USC Shoah foundation. We worked on the Moral choices segment of the resource.

The evening was on our own and I was able meet with several people who are attending the Memorial Library conference, and whom I had traveled to Europe with in 2010. We walked around the city, taking in the sights of 42nd street, Times Sq, Broadway, and all the streets between.   We stopped for a bite to eat and went our way.... Ironically we will be meeting tomorrow as both seminars will be at the Jewish Heritage Museum.