Monday, March 26, 2012

Day 2 Berlin

We began the day at the hotel with a lecture by Shalmi that began with the questions: "What is a nation?" and "What is a tribe?" We discussed how a shared language and common values contribute to the idea of nationalism, a new concept in the 18th century that developed as a reaction to the conquest of Napoleon. As Napoleon conquered all of Europe, shedding blood in the name of democracy and such universal values as equality, he aroused local and regional feelings of nationalism history is important because it gives us heritage and identify. Shalmi then raised the essential question: "Is democracy contradictory to nationalism?" and answered, not necessarily, but possibly. In the 1800's, with the Industrial Revolution, cities began to grow and new groups tried to assimilate into the local population. With the growth of cities comes the need for a new way to govern the people.

Part of the reason we begin in Berlin is to try to somehow make sense of and contextualize the history. In order to understand the complexity of the history of the Holocaust, we need to learn about what led up to the combination of nationalism with socialism, which became the National Socialist German Workers' Party--otherwise known as the Nazi party.

Shalmi continued to teach us the history as we began our day at the German Historical Museum. Today we were joined by German friends, Sarah Lautenbach who was a German exchange student at New Milford High School last year. As we went through the museum, Shalmi pointed out the importance of Versailles for the Germans. Following their victory in the Franco Prussian War of 1871 the emperor of Prussia (Germany) was crowned. However, after the fall of the empire, immediately after World War I, Versailles has a new meaning for the German people. This became the place where they received the official recognition of their defeat, and were punished by the Versailles Treaty. Before World War I, the military consisted of officers who were from the upper classes. After the trench warfare of World War I, the soldiers who emerged from the trenches entered a new society in which all were equal, war equalized them under the flag and for the first time you have a combination of socialism and nationalism.

From the museum, we continued to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind. In this factory, students heard about the blind and deaf employees who made brooms and brushes from horse hair and pig hair. Otto Weidt also employed Jews, and used the Berlin Work Act to legally keep employing his Jewish workers during the war. Otto protected his Jewish employees by a Jewish family in a secret room built behind a secret wardrobe closet. Inside the false back wall of the wardrobe, behind clothing was an opening into the room where the Jews would sleep at night and hide during Gestapo inspections.

After eight months of hiding, the family was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered. Our guide explained to us how Otto Weidt helped hide Inge Deutchkorn, who is the survivor who preserved and documented the rescue efforts as a tribute to the memory of this heroic man. Inge still lives in Berlin, and at 90 years old, still teaches about this important history at the museum that she single-handedly established, memorializing the rescue efforts of Otto Weidt.

After a time out for a lovely lunch in the square, we continued learning as we walked to the Jewish Cemetery. On the way, Olaf pointed out the Stumbling Stones memorials scattered throughout Berlin, which are brass squares placed in the sidewalk near buildings in which Berlin Jews lived prior to being deported and killed during the Holocaust. Each stone has engraved information about with the name, birthday and fate of the individual.

At the Jewish Cemetery, we saw a tombstone that marks the grave of Moses Mendelssohn, who lived from 1729 until 1786. He firmly believed that Jews needed to come into the modern world in order to be part of society instead of outsiders. One way to become part of the nation of Germany was to translate the Bible into German instead of Hebrew. Mendelssohn's grandson, Felix Mendelssohn, the famous composer, was baptised a Lutheran Christian, and was one of the greatest German composers of all time. Despite this, another German composer, Richard Wagner, said that Mendelssohn could never be German, only a Jew. To be German came from the soul, Jews can only imitate. At the cemetery, there were approximately 3000 Jews buried. At the end of World War II, about the same number of Germans who died during World War II were also buried in mass graves at this same spot, illustrating again the complex history of this place.

From there, we walked to the Old-New Synagogue, which was inaugurated in 1867. In 1938, during Kristallnacht, the synagogue was burned and vandalized by the SA. However, the chief of police of the neighborhood,Wilhelm Krutzfeld, prevented more destruction by chasing away the arsonists and calling the fire department. The synagogue was ready for use again by April of 1939, but in 1940 it was confiscated by the Wehrmacht and used as a warehouse for the remainder of the war. The last service was held in March of 1940.

Students also learned at the Old-New Synagogue that the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, was associated with this synagogue. During the war she was deported to Theresienstadt and died at the age of 42 in Auschwitz.

Alyssa L. says:

Today, our Berlin tour guide, Olaf, casually said something that really stood out to me: "We just walked by another memorial." This happened really simply as if it was a normal thing. The memorial Olaf was talking about was "The lost house" - a building that once was a home but no longer stands today. The names and professions of eight families were on the wall of a neighboring building. The names were just there - just put on the wall to be remembered by anyone willing to look. This is also similar to a memorial that was cemented into the street - the names of individuals who used to live there. But our group would never have noticed it if it wasn't for Olaf; in fact someone from our group was actually standing on the memorial before Olaf pointed it out. These memorials are everywhere and seem to come up out of nowhere. They're hidden - and that really symbolizes who the victims of the Holocaust were.

Tyler says:

What stood out the most to me was the Jewish cemetery. This intrigued me because I've never seen a cemetery without tombstones before. As we were walking through it I kept waiting for us to get to the tombstones, but we never did, and that's when I found out the cemetery had been destroyed and their graves remain unmarked.

Allison says:

What really surprised me today was how Germany's downfall after World War I led to the rise of Nazi power. The important statement to understand is that Germany was looking for a solution and Hitler was their way out. He was their only solution because nothing else was proposed. Hitler used people's fears to win over the German civilization because they were so desperate and humiliated. Mr. Barmore phrased this clearly by stating "The positive can also bring out the negative."

Gabrielle V. says:

Berlin in its entirety is like many European cities, but the history of Berlin is in the details. Throughout the city people involved in the Holocaust are recognized, but not always in obvious ways. Small gold plaques placed at the end of the street in the sidewalk, can so easily be missed. The Nazis dehumanized the Jews, but these memorials rehumanized them by giving them back their identities. If noticed, these memorials make the person pay respect by bowing down as they read them. Although there are many memorials throughout Berlin, dedicated to these people, the smallest ones make you the most involved in the remembering the Holocaust.

Kristina says:

As we stood in the restored Jewish synagogue, our tour guide, Olaf, shared a story with us that was significant to this synagogue. Some people believe that this synagogue was destroyed on Kristallnacht, however, as the S.S were tearing apart and burning down the synagogue, Wilheim Krutzfeld, approached them and put a gun to their heads, telling them to leave the area immediately. By doing this, he managed to save a small part of the Jewish synagogue. The act that he pulled was an incredible act of personal courage. This man was well aware of the consequences that came along with challenging the S. S., but he did it anyway.

Amanda says:

What really stood out to me today was hearing about the first female Rabbi. She converted to Judiasm and studied to be what she wanted to be. Later on, after hundreds of rabbis fled as the Nazis came to power, she stayed and was sent to Auschwitz. Her determination and bravery really got to me as we stood in the same synagogue with which she was associated. It's amazing the way she was able to become the first female rabbi.

Megan says:

Being able to learn about Kristallnacht in one of the places where it actually happened was incredible. After learning about it, we went out into the street which has so much history. Unless you take time to stop and think about it, you will never truly begin to realize not only the impact the Holocaust had on the city of Berlin, its Jews, but ultimately, the rest of Europe.

Samantha says:

Today we visited Otto Weidt's workshop for the blind. These blind workers made brushes in the workshop and this fascinated me. Over the years Otto gave jobs to one hundred people and he also supplied people with food. Otto's workshop had a secret room in the back of the workshop that was hidden behind an armoire. Here a Jewish family hid for eight months. During these difficult times in Germany, Mr. Weidt chose to be an upstander instead of a bystander. He was an extremely courageous person.

Saying HELLO to all from dinner!


  1. Well so far it seems like you all have had two exciting days. Having had a chance to hear Shalmi speak at our school, I can only imagine how informative and passionate he is over in Germany. I love the photos and video and I'm very impressed with all your insight. "T" you've done a great job! Hope you all get some rest, oh and by the way, the first day of Holocaust Classes without you at NMHS offered a projector and smart board that didn't work along with a computer that had no "known" password! Don't worry, Mrs. Aufiero came to the rescue! Enjoy and keep up the good work!

    Mr. Pevny

  2. Many memorials are indeed subtle throughout Germany. I feel this happens more often in Germany than any other country because they know what has happened and recognize the atrocity their ancestors are responsible for. It seems as if the Holocaust is recognized fully and sincerely throughout Germany but I feel more should be done to enhance the learning experience by making the memorials more obvious and straight-forward. Olaf and Shalmi are key to understanding the German side of the Holocaust so take advantage and ask questions! There is no such thing as a stupid question!

  3. Alyssa makes a very good point about how the memorials are almost hidden in the modern society I highly believe that this was done on purpose. I feel it is very significant how many memorials do not stand out but blend into the crowd, the Jews who were persecuted where often normal citizens who blended into the every day society. I also believe that although Germany is a nation that will never forget their past, they must also move on I feel some of these memorials help them to do just that by building towards the future while making sure the past is still present. Gabrielle also makes a good point in touching upon this subject about how these plaques help to give the Jews who perished their identity back. She also stated how the smallest memorials are also the most involved I feel they also make us reflect on how small the Jews must have felt.

    Allison's comment reflects on how often when things are not going well we often chose the fist solution to come along with out thinking about consequences that may follow. We must all begin to realize what every choice we make will mean to others and make sure that negativity can not come to it. Shalmi's point is so true the positive can bring about the negative if we are not careful with our choices.

    The story of the Jewish Synagogue is incredible. There is so much history with in the structure. The courage Wilheim Krutzfeld had to stop the Nazis still amazes me. Did you guys notice walking through how the original design of the synagogue is on the wall and windows but it all breaks off all over the place? I was so interested by this when I saw it. After a while I realized this was representing the destruction Kristallnacht had on the synagogue.

    I love the story of Otto Weidt he was so strong to take that family and all the blind worker into his shop to save them. I can't imagine living in the back room but I can imagine how grateful that Jewish family must have been. I remember learning that the Nazis wanted Otto to employ normal Germans but Otto convinced them that because the workers had no sight they could make the brushes better.

    I can't wait to read tomorrow's post, I hope you are all having fun and learning a lot.

  4. Day 2 seems to be as fulfilling as day 1. There is so much history for you to take in; it's great that you have such knowledgable and experienced guides to help you along the way. We hope you are all adjusting to the time difference, climate and most importantly the culture... Enjoy your journey!

    PS- Hi Amanda!

  5. I am enjoying following your journey!

    Kristina's point about personal courage is an important one and it brings to mind Martin Niemöller's famous quote:

    "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

    Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

    Kristina is right when she talks about courage and consequences. If you believe in something strongly, then you must fight for it.

    Thanks for putting together this blog and for letting us live vicariously through you! Looking forward to reading more!

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  7. As it is stated in context, the stay in Berlin is, in due course, where we “try to SOMEHOW make sense and contextualize the history.” The keyword in this statement is somehow: in some means attempt, and fail, to understand the root of this lengthy oppression that was the Holocaust. I understand that there are political aspects to this history, yet what about the moral feature? Throughout my whole journey on the HST the one thought that never left my head was HOW in the world did this happen? How, as a society, could we let this happen?

    The students saw that were particular exceptions, like Otto Weidt. In Samantha’s comment, she talks about the blind factory and how truly bold and courageous the actual factory was. Otto Weidt could have died for keeping this unit. Yet, that did not stop him. I love how Sam points out that “Mr. Weidt chose to be an upstander instead of a bystander.”

    What if more people were as determined and gutsy like Otto? How many more Jews could have been saved?

    The Weidt factory should show us all, as a community, the importance of audacity. We should not let fear interfere from achieving a common goal. We must all UPSTAND instead of BYSTAND.

    Hope you are all keeping T sane and someone is annoying Mr. Chang half as much as I did last year! MISS YOU CHANG!!

    -Michelle Khimishman

  8. It is intriguing to see a developing understanding of the modern German perspective of the Holocaust, to honor and remember is important, blending in the tribute with the city is understandable. The immensity of the horror could easily engulf the city and make it impossible for Germans to live with the guilt. That kind of crushing of the soul happened with the Treaty of Versaille and look where that took Germany. To crush the country's spirit again would be daring history to repeat itself. Here we have an honest attempt to reach a balance; honoring the fallen with dignity by weaving their memory into the tapestry of the ongoing community. These bleak losses are part of the national identity, not to be forgotten, which helps shape the whole. In a way, these memorials embrace what the Nazis would not; that Jews were, are, and continue to be members of the essence of Germany. And therein lies a hope for healing to continue. And if it can happen in Germany, there's hope for the world...

  9. I got chills when Tyler talked about the group walking through the Jewish cemetery looking for the tombstones, and then discovering the tombstones were all destroyed. Imagine standing mid-cemetery looking for graves and suddenly realizing it was ALL graves, and they were surrounded by the dead.
    Kind of a metaphor for the day...

  10. I am following your very educational trip. Learning about this very unfortunate part of world history first hand must be an incredible experience. Unfortunately, evil people still exist in this world who publicly speak about their hatred of others. We must never forget our history or we are bound to repeat it. I cannot wait to read tomorrows posts. Keep learning, you are the leaders of tomorrow!

    Hello Samantha, love dad!

  11. wow! you guys are really experiencing some surreal things. Continue to learn and have an open mind. love mom, dad and jacob

  12. I am enjoying reading about your experiences each day. I am learning so much right along with all of you. I am so proud that my son, Tyler, is a part of this special group. I look forward to learning more each day.

  13. We anxiously wait each day to read this blog!! We are living vicariously through you as you learn and discover--to experience these things first hand is such an amazing blessing for each of you. While reading your comments from your second day, we got chills as we read Gabrielle's account of having to bow down in order to read the memorials and it being an act of respect. Also Kristina's account of Wilheim Krutzfeld being very brave in the face of extreme danger reminded us of someone we know very well :) It is always right to stand up for what's right, no matter the cost. Many people you will learn about did just that and are, and will continue, to inspire and motivate others to do the same. Looking forward to hearing all about day 3. Hope you are all getting rest!! Love you Sina!

  14. You guys are only on day 2 of the best two weeks of your lives, and it is great to see everyone is taking it all in! Could you imagine, everyday walking to work or school with the subtle constant reminders of man's darkest hour? Since the trip in 2009 I have not gone a day without thinking of the Holocaust. I can't imagine what it is like in a city like Berlin, where even if you didn't have an experience like HST, you are constantly reminded of it.

    Have a great day 3! Learn all you can, and most of all, be as polite and thankful as possible to your teachers and tour guides. They do not have to do any of this for you.

  15. So wonderful to hear about all of your learning experiences! The history you are learning could never come from textbooks only. You are very fortunate to be where all of this amazing story happened. Ask a million questions- that's the only way to learn.
    Enjoy the day! Miss you all! Mrs. DePoto

  16. During the early days of your HST, you have already observed a lot firsthand. As you know, that is a totally different experience and so valuable! What you are seeing and learning about now will hopefully add depth to your HST days ahead of you. You are each embarking on a journey that will be life-changing. It is an important mission to help educate the world about the Holocaust and other genocides. As the years pass and there are fewer actual survivors, it will be up to you to share with the world what you have learned and hopefully make the world a better place.

    I am proud of all of you, and I'm sure this trip will be extraordinary! I look forward to following you and reading each of your comments throughout your journey.

    Mrs. Keesing

  17. You are witnessing examples of the best and worst of humanity!

  18. Hi to all. It is Tuesday a little before noon here. I am following your story as it unfolds and impressed with every new insight that you have and every new idea that you express. The layers of thought and experience are rich and provocative, and I have no doubt that you are representing New Milford High School well. I will make it a point to highlight your trip tonight when I present the State-of-the-District Address to members of the community and the Board of Education. Talk soon. Have a good night.

    Mr. Polizzi

  19. This is an incredible education for us to follow your journey! Your experience of visiting the memorial sites and having these first-hand discussions as you stand or walk by is an invaluable privilege for all of you. Your thoughts are inspiring!

  20. It is about 4pm here, so you are probably winding down the day and writing your next submission for the blog. I was just reading your itinerary, always impressed by Mrs. T's meticulous planning. It is wonderful to be able to anticipate what you might write about next.

    I am reading your blog every day, so proud of the level of maturity you are demonstrating as you reveal your experiences and inner thoughts in rich language. One of the recurring threads I am reading is one of courage and how difficult it can be to remain courageous in the face of tremendous danger. Eleanor Roosevelt once challenged us all to, "Do something everyday that frightens us." That is what you are doing!

    The other theme so many of you have addressed is one of respect for history and for the stories of real people. As you studied history throughout your schooling, how much of it felt so real, felt so human?

    I am drawn to your compelling comments each day. Looking forward to today's entries.