Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 3 - Berlin

Today began with Steve Conner (HST Alum from '08) meeting us at our hotel. Steve is studying abroad in the Netherlands and took a train in yesterday to join us for a few days. Our first stop was Grunewald Train Station, the site where many Jews of Berlin were deported to concentration camps that included Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. This memorial shows the dates of deportation, the number of Jews deported and the camp to which they were sent.

This memorial was commissioned by the German Railway to address their role in the Holocaust. Students viewed this memorial in the drizzling rain.

From here, we went to the New Synagogue, which was opened in 1866. The architecture resembles the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain, with its Moorish architecture.

Outside, Olaf pointed out to students the memorial stones that are embedded in the sidewalks throughout Berlin which they had not noticed.

These stones commemorate the Jews who lived in Berlin, and tell what date and where they were deported, and their fate.

These four stones commemorate the Schneebaum family, and are located outside the apartment building where they lived before they were deported. They all died at Auschwitz.

After lunch, we walked to the Rosenstrasse Memorial.

This site recognizes the brave Christian women, whose Jewish husbands and children were arrested during the Factory Action, in February of 1943, when the Nazis swept through Berlin in their efforts to make it "Jew Free". These women, whose husbands and children were being kept in the former Jewish Community Center on Rosenstrasse street, stood outside in an unarmed, quiet protest, demanding the release of their families. Despite Nazi efforts to make them go away, they did not give up, and Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda decided to release them to prevent a public relations nightmare and prevent additional protests.

We spent the next two hours in the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind. In this factory, the blind and deaf employees made brooms and brushes out of horse hair and pig hair. Otto Weidt also employed Jews here. Otto used the Berlin Work Act to legally keep employing his Jewish workers during the war.

Otto protected his Jewish employees by hiding four members of the Horn family in a secret room built behind a wardrobe closet. Inside the false back wall of the wardrobe, behind clothing, was an opening into the room where the Horns would sleep at night and hide during Gestapo inspections. After eight months of hiding, the Horn family was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered.

Our guide explained to us how Otto Weidt helped hide Inge Deutschkron, who is the survivor who preserved and documented the rescue efforts as a tribute to the memory of this heroic man.

We ended our day at a new exhibition and memorial for the Berlin Wall which came down in 1989, leading to the reunification of the city of Berlin. Shalmi spoke to us about how many of the students' parents would remember this history very well, and also explained the Cold War and how East Germany had decided to build the wall in 1961 after 2.8 million residents of East Berlin had fled to the democratic West, to prevent further emigration which was an embarrassment to the East German government.

Student reflections...

Deanne says...

Grunewald train station had a big impact on me. While I was standing there, I was thinking how a train is an everyday transport to work or a vacation. It is supposed to be something happy. Well, that’s also what the Jews had in mind. Before the Holocaust, they went on with their everyday lives, traveling on trains. They didn’t know, however, where this train was taking them. This trip had not been planned by them and had an uncertain destination. It makes me think about my travels and where my transportation takes me and for what purpose.

Ashley says . . . .

We just left Grunewald train station from where many of Berlin’s Jews had been deported. The train cars were not cattle cars so the Jews were not crammed together; they were almost filled with a false hope, I feel, because conditions were not as bad as they could have been. Standing on the platform and reading the numbers of people who were just like me, made me think really deeply. I just keep picturing and imagining myself standing on that platform where a mother stood with her daughter. I keep seeing my mom next to me, holding my hand, checking to see if my sisters, brother and I were okay; holding my hand waiting to board the train that will take us to an unknown destination, with a smile hiding her own fear so we would not freak out. I can’t even begin to fathom how the Jews really felt because even just trying to imagine the experience of standing there with my family filled me with fear and brought me to tears.

Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind really hit home for me. My best friend is blind and seeing how Otto Weidt had the heart, as a non-Jew, to save Jews who were not only hated for being Jewish but also because of a disability they could not have prevented. Throughout the workshop tour I pictured Shafeka walking around back and forth between the rooms and the expression of security on her face, knowing that Otto Weidt was there to take care of her and protect her. I tried to imagine her sitting at the desk, making brushes with the machines, that were simple enough to figure out without Braille.


  1. The dreary weather accentuates the fact that what should be a normal place -- a train station, is so much more eerie given its history. Watching the faces of all the students and listening to the video is so touching. To know that you are all at a place where thousands of Jews were deported to concentration and death camps is surreal to me. To listen to Olaf speak on the video is enlightening and at the same time bittersweet. I am beyond myself thrilled to be following along on this amazing daily journey. Someone make sure Frankie is taking tons of photos, and send my regards to Steve – still forwarding his resume around my office.
    Xoxoxoxoxo, Celeste

  2. What a truly amazing day, with more to come I'm sure.

    Can any of us really imagine what it must have been like to have been a Jew in Berlin, in the belly of the beast, so to speak, during WWII? The sheer terror of daily life knowing that at any second could bring betrayal or death.

    We've all forgotten how truly lucky we are, which makes your experience all the more poignant and important.

  3. Again another day of real emotions are transparent on the student's faces. Each word, memory and lesson is embedded in minds and souls. Remember and Never forget. Enjoy this experience..

    Stay warm, Delia :o)

  4. How unbelievable that an alumni from an earlier New Milford HST was able to join rewarding for all. It will be interesting to see how Steve feels being there a second time. What things he notices this time; what does not fail to haunt him and touch him a second time. This blog never ceases to amaze me; all that you do and discuss. I am learning so much. So proud to be a part of it.

  5. Such incredible sites you're seeing...When I think of a place similar to the Alhambra I smile because it is one of my favorite places that I have visited....but then the thought of those poor people on those trains bound to an unknown place...the propaganda they were all told is just inhumane. Keep absorbing all the information Shami teaches you! You need to pass it on to others when you return.

  6. Oh...and Steve...glad you got there safely :o)

  7. what another wonderful day you had. I am sure the workshop for the blind was very eye opening. Brenton, please make sure you take a ton of pictures for us to see and for Danielle's report on Germany. You pictures and words to her will surely give her an A. Enjoy seeing and remembering this experience.

  8. As Ashley states here the Otto Weidt workshop is only another reminder of the unimaginable atrocities that were propagated by the nazi regime with the goal of creating "the master race." It is always important to remember that anyone and everyone who was considered inferior was part of the final solution. Note to Sarah if you are not aware, that your grandfather was there for the liberation of Berlin. Love you, bring back lots of stories.

  9. What a magnificent, and emotional, experience for you all! Thank you for letting us share it, and more importantly, learn what you are learning, see some of what you are seeing, and feel the pain, suffering, and injustice that the Jews and so many others suffered. May we all NEVER forget!!! Travel Safe...Each of you....and ALL OF THEM.....are in our thoughts and prayers!

  10. I still have my two rocks that i took back from the trip, 1 from grunewald and the other from in between the tracks at Auschwitz. i still can't believe that what started in the innocent looking train station of Grunewald lead to the nightmare that is Auschwitz

  11. It's very exciting to see the pictures of the Rosenstrasse memorial after learning about their successful peaceful protest in my Peace and Justice class last fall. If I were on the trip I think that I would find that seeing the hiding spots that people lived in for weeks and months as one of the most interesting parts. As Ms. Sussman said, you cannot "simulate" the Holocaust because we will never truly experience the starvation and cramped conditions that people did for months on end but seeing their tiny hiding spots and beginning to understand their conditions is something I would like to do in the future.
    What Deanne had to say also gives us perspective as to how much mundane things changed for Jews in the Holocaust. Like she said, before the Holocaust, simple train rides could have been enjoyable or exciting, seeing where they were going. But during the Holocaust, the thought of a train ride was filled with fear and uncertainty as Jews were not sure whether they would survive or not.
    The trip looks amazing, I can't wait to read an entry after the tour goes to Auschwitz.

  12. I LOVE the picture of the library! I'm reading The Book Theif right now and it immediately made me think of the book!

    Mrs. Bauman, I got an invitation today in the mail about going to a luncheon for White Rose Essay Contest Finalist... does that mean I'm a finalist?

    Reese! We miss you! Hope you're having fun baby!

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  13. It was interesting to read about the Rosenstrasse Memorial where the Christian women protested that their Jewish husbands and were being held during the Factory Action. It must have been a terrible feeling to have your husband and children held while you are safe because you are a Christian. It's a good story that they protested and it worked. As many people as the Nazis were killing, you would think they would have killed the Christian women too. That is an amazing story and it is good they have a memorial for the brave women.

    -Dashawn Harden

  14. I think it's be so cool to see the workshop for the blind. It's amazing to think that people like Otto Weidt and Oscar Shindler employed so many Jewish people that would have otherwise been killed regardless of what could happen to them if they were found out.

    -Clare Drilling

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