Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 12 - Krakow

Today we spent the day with our guide, Ewa, walking and learning the history of Krakow and the Wawel Castle district. After walking through the square, we walked up the hill to Wawel. The flowers are in full bloom everywhere, on this sunny, beautiful day.

We enter the Wawel Cathedral, and silently walk through, since many people are inside praying today, Good Friday. Here is the burial place of Polish kings and rulers. We visit downstairs, underneath the cathedral, where the sarcophogus of Jan Kazynski and his wife, who were killled in the plane crash last year at this time.

From here, we walk down the hill toward Jagellonian University, the oldest university in Poland. We enter into a guided tour of this place, where students once included Copernicus and John Paul II.

From here, we go back to the square, and enjoy and afternoon that includes lunch and shopping for souvenirs from beautiful, hospitable Krakow.

Final Reflections Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Sarah S. says ... The Holocaust Study Tour was definately an experience I will never forget. I laughed, I cried, and discovered my identity. I have gained more knowledge of my heritage, more common sense, and more friends. Celebrating a Jewish holiday in a Jewish community in the Czech Republic was the highlight of my trip that will stay with me forever. Thank you to all of the teachers and my family members for making this possible, but most of all, my grandfather.

Sarah P. says ... This trip provided experiences that I would have never imagined being in. Although the places and locations were distinct on their own, the emotions they provided varied from anything I have ever felt before. Willingness from survivors and the exposure of Holocaust sites unfolded a tragic history that was new to me.

Saidie says ... Given the oppotunity to actually come to Europe is incredible by itself. Adding the information learned and places seen makes it even better. Knowledge was obtained and emotions were everywhere. This made me comprehend the Holocaust history much more than I could imagine. This was an experience of a lifetime and opened my eyes much more and taught me things that a textbook and the internet cannot.

Brenton says ... This trip has been absolutely extraordinary. The things you see and discuss as a group on this tour cannot be experienced in a classroom. This trip has given me the ability to view my own life and the lives of others from a whole new perspective.

Ashley says ... I have learned so much these past two weeks. I have a new view on life. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget.

Theresa says ... This trip definitely taught me a lot about the history of the Holocaust, the importance of life, and who I am. I thought I was so prepared, but it turned out I wasn't emotionally prepared for all we saw. I am so grateful I got to go on this life changing trip because not only did I learn a lot, but I gained 21 new friends.

Francesca says ... Coming on this trip I really had no idea what to expect. After spending two weeks here I can honestly say it changed my outlook on life. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime that I would do again.

Deanne says ... These past two weeks were a learning experience of a lifetime. As our trip comes to an end, I reflect on everything I was taught, my new friendships and a whole new perspective on history.

Michelle says ... As cliche as it might sound, I have really seen the beauty of freedom and life itself. But most importantly, I have learned the importance of forgiveness and the strength to move on from the past.

Jessica says ... Of all the things I have done in my life, this trip has been the most significant. There wasn't a moment where I wasn't learning something. I can honestly say I look at the Holocaust in a completely different way and I will use my knowledge to make sure it never happens again.

Celina says... This trip has really opened my eyes to the acceptance of one's past. Countries affected by the Holocaust have utilized their past histories to teach others tolerance. I am now firmly committed to my goal of working with global development because I have seen what indifference really is and how one indvidual can change the world for better or for worse.

Nick says ... Condensing the lessons that I have learned from this trip into one succinct paragraph is nearly impossible -- there have been so many noteworthy things this trip has granted me. Not only have I gained a much deeper understanding of the Holocaust I have been exposed to cultures of Europe. This experiential learning opportunity has allowed our group to learn about humanity and its potential. It is clear to me that it is our responsibility to pass on the knowledge of the Holocaust.

Reagan says ... The most fascinating and important thing I learned on this trip is what warning signs lead to such a tragedy. However small the action, all acts of dehumaization and intolerance can lead to catastrophic conclusions. By dissecting the choices made during this complex and heartbreaking event, we can understand what roads to avoid as a society.

Cherilyn says ... This trip has opened my mind to so much new knowledge and has inspired me to learn even more. I have learned so much about the Holocaust and European history that I was unaware of before. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this once-in-a-lifetime learning experience.

Sammy says ... Going on this trip and learning as much as we did was truly a life changing experience. We haven't even gotten home yet, but I know I am going to be an entirely different person. I will never forget all that I saw, everything that Shalmi taught us and all that I have learned about myself.

DaiQuan says ... The Holocaust Study Tour trip gives an opportunity to students to learn the history of Europe. It gives students an opportunity to change minds for the better. This trip gives knowledge and emotions to empathize with people who were persecuted during the Holocaust.

Casey says ... This once-in-a-lifetime experience is one I will never soon forget. I have learned so much about the Holocaust, myself, and others. I have made amazing friends and had so much fun learning about things you would never find in a textbook. I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity to go on this trip.

Lilibeth says ... This trip is a milestone in my life. It gave me the power and inspiration to change myself and the world around me. It has given me the knowledge and power to give hope to our new generation and keep our history alive and well-known.

Kasandra says ... Just like what I had intended it to be, this trip has opened my eyes to a whole new world of so much history. It taught me about not only the Holocaust, but the history of visited cities, and how much we take for granted. These past two weeks brought me to the conclusion that this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and I am so grateful to have been a part of it!

Greg says ... This trip has been a unique learning experience. I have learned so much history about the Holocaust and Europe and I have experienced a great deal of European culture. Now that the this trip is almost over, I have so much knowledge about myself and the Holocaust that I can apply to my own life.

Mackenzie says ... Unforgettable -- that is the best way to describe my experience. The Holocaust Study Tour taught me more than I ever hope to know about not only the Holocaust, but also the European countries involved at the time. During two intense educational and exciting weeks, 22 students, 4 teachers and Shalmi came together to form a tight-knit family of which I am so grateful to be a member.

Jordan says ... I have been so lucky to have the opportunity to go on such an amazing trip. I have learned so much more about the Holocaust than ever before. This trip has changed my outlook on life and inspired me to continue my learning about the Holocaust.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 11 - Krakow

As we began our scheduled day this morning, we could not have forseen the special and rare encounters that our group would, by chance, experience today!

Our day began in the Jewish Quarter, Kazmierz. Shalmi gave us the history of why large numbers of Jews came to Poland in the 16th century when they were invited by the aristrocracy. Jews came here and formed communities called shtetls in the rural, mostly unpopulated areas. Jews provided capital for the seeds that needed to be planted, and also had a monopoly on the sale of vodka. According to Shalmi, Poles really like alcohol, so this became very lucrative. Because Jews were protected property of the sovereign, and they collected taxes from the local peasants, and they controlled the sale of alcohol, the local peasants became resentful. Fueled by their simple education, mainly by the Church, they viewed Jews as Christ killers and periodally acted out their resentment in antisemitic acts.

Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, we learned about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. From here we visited the Remu Synagogue, where Shalmi explained the first hyperlinks, contained inside religious texts. Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetary, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.

As we walked down the sidewalk, Shalmi ran into a friend, Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Krakow, who invited us inside his center. He explained that the primary function of his center is to promote a thriving Jewish community, only 40 minutes from Auschwitz, where the doors are wide open to anyone who wants to come in. This center, dedicated in 2008 by Prince Charles of Great Britain, shows an optimism, and even though some of the members lived through the Holocaust, and are Holocaust survivors, the label isn't all that they are. They are people who overcame, and went on to have families, professions, and most importantly, they live.

After a quick lunch at McDonalds, we went to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow. The Nazis forced the Jews to move away from their Kazmierz neighborhood, to a section of Krakow across the river. This ghetto was a sleeping ghetto--Jews left during the day to work in factories. From the museum that once was the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, we looked out over the open memorial, with chairs, that represent the furniture that the Jews carried over the bridge into these cramped quarters, where 17,000 people crowded into 320 houses.

From here we drove by Oscar Schindler's factory, a recently painted and newly opened part of the Jewish Museum of Krakow. We stopped to look at part of the original ghetto wall, which was built by Jews, and shows an ornate style.

We ended the day at the Plaszow Camp, which was built by the people from the Krakow Ghetto who believed they would survive the war because they are building a labor camp. They even built a barrack for children there, so they believed that their families would remain intact. However, on March 13, 1943, all Jews from the ghetto were supposed to report to the square at 7:00 a.m. Once there, all children under age 14 were told to line up separately. Their parents were told that they would come to Plaszow the next day. Those who didn't believe them rushed to the pharmacy and purchases one of two drugs: 1. Valerium--a drug that put their babies to sleep, so that a few parents could smuggle their babies into the Plaszow camp. 2. Cyanide, for suicide. At 1:00 p.m., the Nazis ordered those not in the children's line to start marching from the ghetto to Plaszow. They left behind what they were unable to carry. Their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents were forced to sort the children's clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.

Who would have thought, even for a moment, that our day in Krakow would end with us inside the villa of Amon Goeth, commandant of Plaszow Concentration Camp, where Spielberg filmed parts of Schindler's List? After visiting the area of the camp where today lay the ruins of the Jewish Burial Hall and a memorial to Sarah Schenirer (this is the area of the camp that the HST 2009 participants cleaned up), we walked to the villa of Amon Goeth. While looking at the house from the street, we saw a gentleman come out of the doorway and wave us up the walkway. We, of course, approached the house with Shalmi and Ewa, our Polish guide, and immediately took him up on his offer to come inside. This man is the current owner and resident of the villa who is hoping to sell the house to the museum community of Krakow. This was an incredible chance meeting that demonstrates the importance of experiential learning and its possibility for rare opportunities that become profound teachable moments. Shalmi, Ewa and our group have never been inside the villa because it is privately owned. How fortuitous that we were walking down the street and the owner happened to see us standing outside his house and welcomed us inside.

After this completely surreal experience inside Amon Goeth's villa, we returned to the hotel to say goodbye to our historian, our guide and our friend, Shalmi.

Student Reflections:

Reagan says... Today I was really inspired by Jonathan and his work at the JCC in Krakow. I can't imagine how challenging a task it must be to rebuild a community that faced so much horror in recent history. It is incredible what he and his team have accomplished there. Through promoting an atmosphere of positivity, optimism and tolerance they have made much progress in rejuvinating a Jewish-Polish identity that its members can be proud of.

Casey says... Tonight we discussed whether Goeth's house near the Plaszow site should become a museum or not. Personally, I felt that making it a museum would make it seem too sanitized. I would much rather it have some sort of small commemoration plaque to recognize its historic value.

Jordan says... Today when we visited Goeth's villa, we were unexpectedly invited in by the owner. There was a for sale sign on the front of the house. The owner expressed his goal to have the villa turned into a museum. However, I disagree with the owner's intent because I am not clear on what the museum would represent.

DaiQuan says... The JCC is a community center that serves the city of Krakow in Poland. Its purpose is to bring change to the community of Krakow. It gives the community hope that Jewish life in Poland can be revived. Also, it brings life to people who need it and who are looking for a new beginning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 10 - Auschwitz

After breakfast, we load our luggage on the bus, and drive the short distance to Auschwitz I, which prior to the Holocaust, was used as a military base by the Poles. Our guide tells us that the only thing the Nazis had to do to turn it into a concentration camp was to put up the fence. We pause at the gate, again reading the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" and learn that here, prisoners played music as their fellow inmates marched to and from work sites. This made it easier for the guards to count them as they exited and returned.

We experience more of the surreal, as the sun shines brightly, the birds sing, and butterflies alight on the dandelions and purple flowers in full bloom. All of us feel heavy with emotion. Here in this museum, we learn about the killing machine, and how, when keeping the Jews of Poland in ghettos was not enough for the Nazis, they needed to expand the camp, and added Auschwitz II, Birkenau.

After lunch, we go to Birkenau. As we pass through the gate, Shalmi, again guiding us through our Holocaust journey, points out The Ramp. Memories of those who survived Auschwitz/Birkenau were divided in two: life before The Ramp, and life after The Ramp. The Ramp is as much a part of Jewish history as Mount Sinai--which is where according to one rabbi, Jews should have taken God to account. Here Jews can echo the words that were written in the hidden synagogue in Theresienstadt: "God, we remembered you. Don't forget us." The rabbi felt that because of the Holocaust, the original covenant between God and the Jewish people should be renegotiated.

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Birkenau reflects a modern way of killing. No one person is the actual killer. People do their own little part and feel disconnected from the process. Each person plays a part, from the train conductor to the person who opens the railcars, to the SS officer doing the selection. People do their own little part and feel disconnected from the process. They don't see themselves as killers, so who should take responsibility?

Student Reflections:

Reagan says. . .Imagination. That’s it. It’s the only thing that I could manage at Auschwitz today. It wasn’t the fact that I was afraid of feeling pain or fear, but it was the only thing my brain could do. Today, I didn’t smell the burning flesh, the whips cracking, or the people screaming from starvation. My emotions were just frozen, for what I was seeing went beyond my own comprehension. Understanding Auschwitz completely is an impossibility for anyone who didn’t experience its malice at the hands of another soul. What I do understand about Auschwitz, however, is the fact that there is nothing natural, or normal, or righteous about it. Auschwitz, for that reason and many more, is a milestone for humanity.

Michelle says. . ..One of the most striking moments I had today was learning the process of the Jewish people who arrived at Auschwitz. Within the first couple minutes upon arrival, their fate was decided. If they were lucky enough to live, they were taken to a sauna, to “disinfect” them, and strip them of their identity. From their very first moments, to their severe living conditions, to their extermination, the Jews were treated as an infection, rather than people. Walking through the most awful conditions of the Jews' everyday lives, I found it extremely difficult to comprehend where the Jews found the unimaginable hope and strength to survive.

Jordan says. . .Today when visiting Auschwitz and walking through the camp I noticed two children running in the tall grass and picking flowers. Then I noticed that the flowers they were picking were growing in the drainage systems that the prisoners were forced to dig. Whenever I thought of a concentration camp I imagined loud trains, screaming and terror. Although at that moment I realized that people cannot go to a place like Auschwitz expecting to see what you see in movies or what people have told you because if you do, your expectations will not compare to the feeling you get when you walk through a surreal place like Auschwitz.

Saidie says. . .Auschwitz: So much to say, not enough space. Building, funding, and supplying their own death is the irony of it all. To be on the same ground that millions of Jews once walked upon to their death is completely mindboggling to me. In Auschwitz, tears rolled down my face when I witnessed the attire, the valuables and the two tons of human hair shaved off women's heads before and after their death. Entering Birkenau, once we all stepped into the camp and stood behind the barbed wire. I felt like a prisoner myself. The sensation of fear running through me was intense.

Mackenzie says. . .Entering the gates of Auschwitz, everything felt incredibly surreal. After years of reading books, looking at pictures, visiting musuems, and watching movies, passing through the gates of Auschwitz was truly the defning moment in my study of the Holocaust. From touching the original rusty barbed wire to seeing the seemingly endless pile of human hair, I have never felt such an overwhelming stream of emotion overcome me. However, the single-most unexpected thing that genuinely stuck out to me the most was a simple cheesegrater. While in the room filled with kitchen utensils, I came across a cabinet that contained an average household cheesegrater. I found myself staring at the item for several minutes--completely entranced by its strange familiarity. You see, it was at this very moment that I realized this was the exact same cheesegrater we have in my very own home. Though silly and trivial, this simple item was a physical representation of how innocent and truly humane the Jews and other victims were. Though I am not Jewish, I connected to the Jews, for that cheesegrater exemplified the idea that no matter what, the Jews were normal humans just like me. Seeing such artifcats, observing the gas chamber remains, and passing under the infamous "Abriet Macht Frei" sign all epitomized the overall notion that the Holocaust was undoubtedly a question of humanity in the world.

Casey says. . .One thing that impacted me today was the two tons of human hair, all placed behind a wall of glass in Auschwitz. I knew what was coming when we headed towards the area, but once I crossed the threshold of the room I felt as though someone had punched me in the stomach; I'll never forget how I felt walking in there. The sight of the hair-- two whole tons of hair--knocked the breath out of me. The feelings I had today in that space are not ones I'll forget anytime soon.

Kasandra says. . .Today at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Shalmi was telling us a story of a little boy and his mother, which really got to me. He was telling us that when this family was on the train on the way to this camp, this little boy's sister was annoying him, and therefore, he pushed her. After doing so, his mother slapped him and told him to stay away from them. As they got off the train car, the little boy's mother took his sister's hand and the two of them walked away. The little boy was so furious with his mother and sister for not talking to him and walking away, that he screamed out to them, "I HOPE YOU DIE!" After hearing this, I could feel tears just pouring from my eyes and down onto the floor. Noticing this, I realized how many tears may have fell on that ground and after the story was over I was just so overwhelmed. I was questioning myself about that little boy and how he felt after finding out where he was and what happened there. I can't even imagine wishing death on my family, and I came to the conclusion that if I were that little boy, I could never forgive myself.

Francesca says. . .Trying to put everything I've seen today into words seems almost impossible. Driving up to the camp was extremely overwhelming when I saw how big Auschwitz-Birkenau really was. Sitting on the bus after leaving the camp I had tried to picture the people who, to this day, believe the Holocaust had never happened. There was so much evidence surrounding me today that I cannot comprehend how these people have the nerve to say it never happened. Seeing the human hair, the prosthetic legs, and the cans of Zyklon B in Auschwitz I is enough to prove this. You need to be there to feel it. You must walk along the tracks, look into the barracks, and see the ruins of the crematorium to feel the fear that the people taken there had to go through. There will never be an adjective, picture, or textbook that could ever even begin to explain what I saw today.

Jessica says. . .Today was a very revealing day, reading about Auschwitz and actually being there are two very completely different things. Those textbook pages that I've read came to life, emotion was added and it became so real to me. I felt shivers in Birkenau as I realized that I was walking in the same place that so many Jews lost their lives and I was looking at the same places that they once did. What impacted me the most was seeing all their belongings that the Nazis kept, it was like their possessions meant more to them than actual human beings did. Jews were killed but their hair was shaven and sold, their clothing, shoes, kitchen supplies, and so many other things were given to Germans or sold. It was incredible to me that human life wasn't as valuable as simple material things.

Sammy says. . .I knew that even before we visited the museum in Auschwitz it would hit me hard, but it turned out to be much worse than I had expected. After seeing the endless piles of victim’s hair through the glass display, I felt sick to my stomach. After visiting Auschwitz and seeing the victim’s many belongings, barracks, and the gas chambers, it really all jumped out at me and came to life.

Celina says. . .There was one photo on the wall of the women’s barrack, where the woman looked defiantly into the camera with an expression that said “You will not break me." Amidst hundreds of broken faces, her name was Wanda and she only survived a few short weeks in Auschwitz. The only Wanda I could think of was the movie A Fish Called Wanda, which is my mother’s favorite movie. It made me think of how my mother would be equally defiant behind that camera, and if I could stare down my oppressors with just as much spirit as my mother and Wanda.

Sarah S. says. . .The fact that my grandfather and his family could have been working in the concentration camps or sent to Birkenau, the death camp, really hit me hard. These were real people with real stories with the vast are that our group witnessed today. There were approximately ten members of my family that perish in camps, but their stories are unknown. If my late grandfather hadn't escaped and survived I would not be here today. In a way the journey through Auschwitz made me feel a sense of relief that I am alive; however, it left me with sorrow for those in my family who did not. The importance of continuing this history is a life long journey.

Greg says. . .I was amazed at the story of the Sinti and Roma both before and during the war. I learned that Sinti are from Northeast Europe and that the Roma are from Southwest Europe, but that both are guessed to be from India. The exhibit had detailed information on the treatment of the Sinti and Roma before the war and how that treatment lend to the concentration camps. While some people cared about what happened to the Jews no one cared about what happened to the Sinti and Roma.

Theresa says. . .Right when I walked into Auschwitz II - Birkenau, my jaw dropped...I could not believe what I was seeing. I have seen so many pictures of this camp and studied about it a lot, but nothing can prepare someone for what you see there. I couldn't help but imagine the camp full of the victims, and that killed me emotionally. The day was so emotionally draining; however, one of the most life-changing days of my life.

Lilibeth says. . .As I entered Auschwitz II known as Birkenau, I saw this beautiful place that held many terrible , horrible stories. Seeing the flowers all over the camp, I saw it as a way nature gives its condolences to all the deaths that happen in these camps. I see it in this way because their deaths were never given the respect they needed or should have been given.

Deanne says. . .Auschwitz had to be the most uncomfortable place I have ever been in. Walking through this huge camp I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of the victims in the Holocaust. Seeing real shoes, hair, train tracks, barracks, train cars, and crematoriums I started to get queasy. Words can’t even explain the sickening feeling I had knowing that I was in a camp where such horrible terror took place.

Cherilyn says. . .As I was sitting in the area called “Canada,” looking out at Auschwitz II, I began to think about my birthday, and I started to think about the birthdays of the prisoners. I began to wonder how the prisoners would have felt on their birthdays. Would they be happy to survive another year, would they wish they were dead and no longer suffering, would their wish have been for freedom, or would they have been too numb to feel anything? I thought of how many people would never celebrate their birthday and how many children would never reach their seventeenth birthday. I almost felt guilty that I could recognize my birthday and they never would again.

Nick says. . .While in one of the tattered women’s barracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Shalmi told us the story of Sila, a barrack Elder that allowed power to corrupt her previously kind, pious self. Sila was originally a fragile, gorgeous young sixteen year old Jewish girl when she first entered Auschwitz, but like for many other Elders and Kapos, the traumatizing camp life transformed her genial persona into a cold-blooded one – one focused only on self-conversation and survival. She had managed to undergo a monumental transformation within two years, changing from a kind young girl to a ruthless, callous woman.

In the story lies a lesson of human nature. When exhaustion becomes overwhelming, fear of death constant, and hunger ravenous, people change from benevolent humans to selfish animals. Deep down, all of humanity holds basic animalistic instincts – instincts that care only for self-conservation, even if the preservation of one’s self entails killing for bed space, killing because an SS officer said so, or killing for a small piece of bread. We can all “degenerate” into real animals if our lives truly depend on it, clear in the camp life of Auschwitz.

Ashley says. . .When I saw the two tons of human hair, tears filled my eyes right away. Looking closely and seeing the different types and colors completely blew me away. I became so overwhelmed looking at the full braids that had been cut off girls’ heads and used to make rugs. I wore a braid today and I was so disgusted knowing that the hair in that glass case was exactly like mine.

Sarah P. says. . .Each pair of little feet came to Auschwitz in a small pair of shoes. These shoes weren’t ready for a long train ride or toe tapping with suspense as an officer chose the fate of family members. In a crowded room, many got ready for a shower and the little pairs of shoes were taken off and hung on an offered hook. Walking forward, 10 little toes had no rubber soles to cushion the walk through the tall crowd. As they believed the small pairs would be dangling from hooks when they got back, many pairs were left without their original owner.

DaiQuan says. . .As I began to walk into a camp named Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, I began to feel alone without my freedom to live. When I was walking in both camps I was trying to picture these actions taking place as we were told the story. Some of the people were told lies about where they were going. Also when the Jewish people were told to take off everything it made me think how bad they were treated, like animals and not humans.

Brenton says. . .On this very day, we ventured into the vast area where the former death camp existed during the Third Reich, known as Auschwitz-Birkenau. As I approached the intimidating entrance gate to the camp, a feeling of fear overrode my body. No matter where I was walking in Birkenau, watch towers stared me in the face, each spaced evenly 100 meters around the perimeter of the camp. As our group started to walk away from Crematorium III, I looked to my right, and observed a long chamber where victims took off their clothes, and at the end of it sat the ruins of the crematorium. Just to know how many people lost their lives right where I was looking is almost unimaginable because one would not want to believe that these atrocities occurred.

We ended the day with a celebration for Cherilyn's 17th birthday ! Happy Birthday Cherilyn !!

Day 9 - Part II - Auschwitz

Our time in Auschwitz actually began last night, when we entered the town, passing by Auschwitz I, which is now a museum, and also passing through Auschwitz III, the industrial complexes of Monowitz and Buna. The hotel is just down the street. The town center is just down the street. It is impossible to believe that anyone who lived here during World War II can say they didn't know what was happening in these camps.

Also staying at our hotel is Stuart Abrams, a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow colleague of Bonnie Sussman, Colleen Tambuscio and Lisa Bauman, traveling here with 18 students from Avon High School in Connecticut. After dinner in the lovely Bavarian feeling hotel restaurant, our historian, Shalmi Barmore, gave an introduction to Auschwitz to both groups of students. How surreal, to be seated in a beautiful restaurant at Osweicim (Auschwitz), listening to Shalmi connect the rise of the Nazi party in Berlin and the Wannssee Conference to the killing factories in Poland. The Nazi party, who from the moment they gained power in Germany, included an anti-Jewish platform, never dreamed of the barbarian conclusion of their antisemitism.

The night sky is clear as we walk back to our hotel rooms after dinner, to try to sleep before our long day tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 9 - Trsice

Our day began with a short drive to Trsice. We were greeted in a traditional welcoming ceremony at the city hall which consisted of tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into a bowl of salt before eating, followed by a sip of plum brandy [not a student option]. We were ushered into the meeting room and introductions were made. Mrs. Leona Stejsksalova was recovering from surgery and unable to be with us today, but we were well taken care of by her Deputy Mayor Antonin Glier. Our relationship with the mayor of Trsice, Mrs. Stejsksalova, continues to develop as we work collaboratively to complete the memorial project at the site of the underground hideouts that hid the Wolf family for those three unimaginable years. Our friends, Dr. Karel Brezina [a child during the war who witnessed the Wolf family entering and exiting the hideouts] and Mrs. Zdenka Calabkova [the young daughter of Marie and Oldrich Ohera who helped hide the Wolf family in their home and who we call Mrs. Ohera] also greeted us and told us their stories. A new facet to our relationship with the community of Trsice was the presentation of a special pin by Colonel Zuffa-Kunci of the Czechoslovak Legions in Olomouc, to our group’s leader Mrs. Tambuscio, in recognition of the special relationship which has developed between the Czech people in the Olomouc region and American students through the Holocaust Study Tour program.

After the presentations we stopped briefly in the town’s museum and met with its curator, Mr. Sehmalek. In a large book, students were asked to sign their names under their school name so that the town could add pictures and a story about our visit. In this small museum is also a display about the Wolf family and as we studied the photograph of Lici Wolf, we noted the striking resemblance between Lici and her grand-daughter, Helen, who we had met in Prague a few days earlier.

We next walked to the restaurant where the town hosted a lunch for the entire group which consisted of Czech meatball noodle soup followed by steak with gravy and an egg on top, fries, ham, and purple and white cabbage. During the lunch they gave every one of us a present: a light blue T-shirt sporting the Trsice frog, the town symbol, which is derived from the name of the landlord of the area whose name in Czech translates to “frog”.

Our next stop was the house where the Wolf family lived before the war. Mr. Wolf had done accounting work in Trsice and he decided to move his family there in 1939. Crossing the bridge over the stream where the Wolf family washed their clothes while hiding in the forest, we climbed the steep path into the woods. Although some timber has been cleared in the last four years since our group first saw the hiding place, we still get a sense of how dense the trees once were and how this frequently became a dark and secluded hideout for the Wolf family. We had the sense of how scary it must have been for the Wolf family at night to hike out to get food and water and wash their clothes; how physically close it is to the village but how, when you are in the forest, you feel totally isolated.

Our final stop in the area was the small town just next to Trsice, Zakrov, where the Wolf family was hidden by several families during the war, including Mrs. Ohera’s family. As we stood before one of the windows of her childhood home, Mrs. Ohera explained that as a child even she had not known that her parents were hiding the Wolf family. She also described the night of April 18, 1945, when soldiers raided the town and rounded up nineteen men, including Otto Wolf, her father, and her future father-in-law, as a response to increased partisan activity in the area. These men were tortured over the next two days and then were driven into a nearby forest on April 20th and executed. Zakrov does not have its own cemetery so the victims are buried in the cemetery of Trsice, but the town erected a memorial to these victims. Each of the names is listed on the memorial with a photograph, and we noticed the resemblance between Otto Wolf and his niece, Eva, who had spoken to us in Prague earlier, about her mother, Lici.

Throughout the entire day, our Czech guide Ilona Zahradnikova from Prague, was indispensable. As the sole interpreter for the group, she did yeoman’s duty as she translated stories and questions from Czech into English and English into Czech.

We bid farewell to our hosts, promising to return next year to establish the memorial to the town of Trsice for its rescue efforts, and climbed on the bus for a three hour ride to our next destination: Oswiecim, where tomorrow we will visit Auschwitz.

Student reflections in response to the following question: Of all the people we met today, and all the places we saw, describe one person or one place that stands out the most to you and explain why.

Ashley: Mrs. Ohera - because even though there was a language barrier, it didn’t matter because through her emotion and her voice you could hear. It was a tragic time for her and she remembers specific details to the point that it didn’t matter …you got the gist of it.

Sadie: The hideout in the woods – because my perception was that we weren’t going to really see anything, but when we got there we saw the two giant gaping holes where the Wolf family hid. And the fact that they hid here for three years was so strange and hard to believe for me.

Lily: The pathway to the hideout - because I compared it to a pretty girl who has been through hardships; within is dark terror, but people still say she’s pretty. You have to look within – for example with people, you don’t know what’s going on in their minds or their homes; people go through many obstacles in life. The same is true with the woods; it’s a regular forest but within there’s a history and past terror

Cherilyn: The woods around the hideout – because I kind of picture myself in the Wolfs’ place, walking where they once walked, and it’s remarkable to me.

Reagan: When Mrs. Ohera took us back to the spot where she had lived, and went through every detail of this traumatic event in her life. It’s really rare; takes strength to go to the place where her father was captured and tortured and recount every detail so we could understand what it was like. It was so moving, chilling, listening to those details.

Kassandra: Mrs. Ohera – because she went through such terror and fear. I tried to put myself in her shoes but couldn’t – to be able to tell such a story. When at the house where she lived, I saw tears on her face, and couldn’t stop listening. It was so overwhelming at such a young age to go through that.

Brenton: The Colonel from the Czechoslovak Legion – So many things go through your mind like the Nazis being in uniform and though the Czech uniform was different I thought of the role of the military.

DaiQuan: Lunchtime – because I felt like we were all part of the Wolf family. We all came together to eat a meal after they told us the story; it was like a family.

Jordan: The hideout - because being there and knowing what they went through in the tunnels and the luck with meeting all the right people who could help them – that was amazing!

Nick: When Mrs. Ohera took us to her childhood house – because the image of how the soldiers were sticking guns in her mom’s face and her mom holding their hands hit me. I thought of my mom and me and my brother holding her hand – I wouldn’t know what to do in a similar situation.

Sarah S: Mrs. Ohera at the memorial in Zakrov - I saw her remembering her father and the look in her eyes as she was looking at her father – so upset – and after, she shook our hands and was smiling like she was really happy. I couldn’t comprehend how she could go from seeing her father’s grave, basically, to being all happy. I felt the connection she had with her father - and practically on the anniversary of his death.

Celina: Hiking through the forest - because I saw a guy in a WW2 outfit on the hill against the background of the forest and I thought, “that’s how it would look when the Wolf family was there”. I know the guy was actually wearing a Czech uniform, but they were similar. It was kind of surreal – I almost felt like I was there watching a soldier looking for the Wolfs.

Sarah P: A series of moments resonated for me. In the beginning Mrs. T greeted Mrs. Ohera and I saw her face when she was doing that; I hadn’t understood how important it was for her [Mrs. Ohera] to bring students to hear her story, and later, by her house, when she was telling us things that had happened to her family. A museum or textbook can’t tell that raw story or fact and cause that emotion. You could really see and feel it with her.

Michelle - Mrs. Ohera - she was such a young girl and it was such a horrible story and she was sharing it with us. I felt as if I was in her place. You can't find that in a textbook. I felt the same I did when I was near the hideout walking through the narrow woods and finding the two holes. I couldn't imagine hiding at all, no less three years.

Frankie: The Holes in the side of the hill - because I couldn’t imagine being in there at all, and they got locked in there. And I thought of Dr. Brezina because in a way he also saved them; because he saw them going in and out and didn’t say anything. God forbid he did because he could have turned them in.

Sammy: Getting off the bus and seeing how happy they were to see us even though they didn’t know any of us [students]. I pictured it every other place we had been - - welcoming but I didn’t really feel warm like here. Here I felt like she was my grandma. When she was shaking our hands - she shook my hand and she was really holding on to it. Also seeing how eager she was and wanting to tell her story to get it out there. What really amazes me was how excited she was and when she was telling her story, I was listening to Ilona but looking at her to see how she was reacting to it – the look in her eyes when she would jog her memory; going far back in her mind. I couldn’t do that because nothing like that has happened to me – yet she remembers it perfectly.

Casey: The Hideout – because of the walk through the woods – it was so pretty and then you got there and saw two holes caving in and there used to be people living there; they had to hide there. It put into perspective how hard it was.

Greg: Walk through the woods – because it felt almost like a weight on me because I knew what was in there. As we went further in the forest it gets darker and darker just like when you look at something pretty but inside it’s not so pretty. Like when I fell into a thornbush - I still see the marks on my hands and I almost hope they scar a little because I want to have a physical memory – pictures don’t do it justice – for it to be my memory of when the Wolfs lost people and the town lost people

Deanne: I looked back to my past - and with her she didn’t know where he father was going. I thought about my family and how this would have affected me.

Mackenzie: The hideout - because I felt I connected with the Wolf family. No book, test or movie can prepare you, and I related it the Anne Frank’s house – you can’t understand until you have been to her house. And also as other people were talking of Mrs. Ohera, I thought of my own grandparents who were kidnapped and held hostage during the Iran-Iraq war for 6 months. And I thought about how her father had been taken and felt connected. Luckily my grandparents survived their captivity but I kind of knew what it was like to have family locked up and tortured.

Theresa: Mrs. Ohera’s description of the night of the raid - I thought of Mrs. Ohera’s mother with a gun pointed to her head and I thought of my own mother, and even if we fight, thinking about her like that – if that were to happen to her, kills me. I can see it in her face and can’t wait to see my mom and give her a big hug.

Jessica: Mrs. Ohera’s smile - I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. And then she came up running to us and hugging you guys and I thought, “This is nice”. And later at her house she wanted us to know so badly - pointing to the memorial “That’s my father” . She didn’t have the same language as us but she wanted us to know so much and she opened up to us and invited us to share her story.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 8 - Prague to Olomouc

We ended our stay in Prague and enjoyed a restful and educational bus ride to Olomouc. After a two hour nap and a rest stop, Shalmi explained the Jewish celebration of Passover, since the Jewish community of Olomouc has invited us to their community seder this evening. Because there are only four Jewish students on this trip, many of us have never been to a Passover Seder.

After lunch in Olomouc, our Czech guide, Ilona, gave us a walking tour, the fifth largest in the Czech Republic.

We walked to the Jewish Community building, and were greeted by Petr Papousek, the head of the Jewish Community of Olomouc. He told us his life story, and how he grew up not even knowing he was Jewish until after the Velvet Revolution in 1988. His grandfather, Milos Dobry, first told Petr his stories of surviving the Holocaust, even though he had never told his children. Milos, who is 88 years old and frequently speaks to student groups, then told us his story of surviving both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. It is thanks to Milos Dobry that the Jewish Community in Olomouc is thriving today, and it is also thanks to Milos that we know about the rescuers of the Wolf family in Trsice.

Following the inspirational testimony by Milos, we entered the dining hall of the Jewish Community and had a wonderful Seder experience.