Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Day 3 Berlin

We began our day on the bus to the Bavarian Quarter with Shalmi framing our day with the question: "Where do these people, the Nazi perpetrators, come from?" The Nazis came into power through a democratic election, and a consistent part of their ideology included racism based on faulty but, accepted scientific theory. The Nazi ideology included the belief that the Jews were not only inferior, but were also destructive to the German race. Pardoxically, inherent in this ideology, Nazis needed to eliminate the Jews but had no idea in 1933 what that meant. At that time in history, the entire world was "pre-Auschwitz," meaning that this milestone in Western civilization had not yet occurred. The Nazis were then part of the Judeo-Christian belief "Thou shalt not kill." The Nazis couldn't simply say "let's kill all the Jews" in 1933 because the population wouldn't accept it. However, the Nazi perpetrators could initiate decrees that were small actions against the Jews. These more subtle actions would be accepted by observers, or bystanders.

We get off the bus at the Bavarian Quarter to view the memorial there that consists of 80 signs with pictures on one side, and anti-Jewish decrees on the other. In this part of Berlin, lived around 6,000 Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. Here we discussed that some of these laws came from the top down--such as "Jews can't use public telephone booths"--and some came from the people of the community--such as "No Jews are allowed to sing in choirs." It is important to reliaze that the Nazis set some laws in place, but community members in Germany also made their own anti-Jewish rules. This memorial pulls us into a discussion, because unlike traditional memorials, this one interacts with the people of the community. For instance, Shalmi spoke of a man who works in the neighborhood who, even though he is a Turk, still feels guilty when groups are looking at the signs as he walks by.

Our next stop is the Grunewald Train Station, the site where many of the 55,000 Jews of Berlin were deported to camps that included Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where we will be going in a few days. This memorial shows the dates of deportation, the number of Jews deported, and the camp to which they were sent. Here Shalmi explained another part of the bureaucracy that made this happen. The memorial itself was commissioned by an important part of this bureacracy: the German railroad.

Another part of the Nazi bureaucracy established the definition of who was a Jew. Most Jews in Berlin were assimilated into society. People who didn't identify as Jews were suddenly defined by the Nazis as Jewish simply because one of their grandparents was Jewish. People might have converted, or their parents might have converted to Christianity, but by the Nazi definition, they were still considered Jews. Bureaucrats working in offices, who may or may not have been Nazis, made lists of Jewish people by looking at registration records of Jewish communities. Famous, prominent Jewish people were sent to Theresienstadt for awhile, and were not killed right away. In this way, Nazis prevented some of the possible public outcry.

After a stop for lunch, we continued our day at the Wannsee Villa, site of the luncheon meeting(January 1942) that assembled important leaders of the Nazi bureaucracy. At this meeting, known today as the Wannsee Conference, these leaders, who included Heydrich, Eichmann, doctors and a priest, planned the implementation of the horror that had already started: the industrialized killing of Jews. The bureaucratic terminology for the outcome of this meeting was "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question." A tactical strategy of the Nazis was to industrialize the killing of the Jews in order to spare the mental health of the killers. The Einsatzgruppen actions, and the mobile gas vans of Belzec caused nervous breakdowns in the Nazis who committed these atrocities. Therefore, they needed to create factories of death, where eventually the Nazis forced Jews to do the killing, as recorded in testimony of the Sonderkommando of Birkenau.

As we sit there in the room where the Nazi officials put their seal of approval on the process of killing that we would one day refer to as Auschwitz, it is impossible not to be emotional. Yes, we are all "post-Auschwitz" and realize the ramifications of the small steps, and the shifts in the thinking of the Nazi perpetrators, which led to the meeting in this room in January of 1942.

Aidan says:

What appears to be truly perplexing was the fact that an SS officer would leave his family in the morning and begin his job of extermination and violence against the Jews that very day. It does not seem possible that one can make sense of the Nazis´ decision to eliminate the Jewish population. At the Wannsee Villa I learned that despite the horrendous crime of the Nazis, what was extremely interesting was the fact that the Nazis were human: they had families, laughed, loved, cried, talked with their friends, and did everything else a human does.

Callie says:

Today at the Bavarian Quarter, Mr. Barmore talked about the gradual alienation that occured between Jews and their Christian friends. We learned about how people in Germany were upset and desperate which allowed Hitler to come to power, but as the decrees started to come out and it was obvious that the municipality was involved in their creation it showed local support for national policy.

Megan says:

While I was walking on the tracks of Grunewald I noticed a deportation date of January 1st. I could not help but think of the countless people who walked there clutching their belongings, comforting their crying children, all while being confused themselves on a day most people plan for the future year. Maybe they had hoped that this year would be the year that the persecution ended and would set them free.

Ben says:

Throughout the day listening to Mr. Barmore, I learned that new laws persecuting the Jews did not impact the average German citizen. Because people were not affected, they had no reason to try and resist these new laws. Nazism made non-Jews feel embarrased to be friends with German Jews which allowed the Nazi government to continue passing minor discrimanatory laws which led later to deportation to camps with no one questioning the goverment´s authority.

Hannah C. says:

At the Bavarian Quarter today we talked about the people who supported the Nazis and the people who were wavering, unwilling to speak up. Influence was a huge tactic during the Holocaust. I know when I was in middle school, if you supported gay marriage, you were automatically deemed to be gay, and because of this many people decided to be against gay marriage so they would not be made fun of.

To all the people who are following our journey and offering thoughtful comments we wanted you to know that each morning we read your comments and it sparks interesting discussions amongst us. We are grateful for your participation in our learning experience and hope you will continue to offer your insights. THANK YOU !!!


  1. Hannah C's comment is what "brings this all home." How can the lessons you are witnessing on your journey be translated back home to your classmates? Hannah put it into a context that any student can understand: the need to feel accepted and the need to belong. On your trip you are certainly witnessing the atrocities of the time; but you are also witnessing the strength of those (too) few people who refused to be part of the status quo and who were willing to stand up and be heard despite the consequences.

  2. I feel as though a sense of normality that was adapted during throughout this atrocious time in history. Like Aidan points out in his cogitation: the Nazis were HUMAN. The Nazis were a brilliant, intellectual, and manipulative collection. This is crucial in the analysis of the Holocaust. Just like Shalmi articulates, “The Nazis couldn’t simply say ‘lets kill all the Jews.’” And they did not do so. Instead, they did just that in a gradual, scheming fashion, which was not obvious to the public. For example, the restrictions on Jews, as we have seen in the Bovarian Quarter. Non-Jewish civilians were nonchalant about these decrees and simply stood by, accepting the new way of community.

    What if that had happened to them? How would they react?

    As I stated before, the public was not fully aware of this goal “kill all the Jews.” What I ponder is how did a huge red flag appear in their minds. Their fellow citizens were being oppressed right outside their door.

    What if something like this happened in our community today?

    The Wannsee Conferences poses an interesting and crucial point. This is where the “Final Solution” was enacted. The “final Solution” was erected by common, intellects with doctorates. The “solution” was discussed and finalized with flowery, manipulative words that did state what the actual prospect was: “lets kill all the Jews.”

  3. Guys, hope all is well and thanks for sharing everything with us back here in the states. This comment is addressed to Aidan, I can't tell you how many times I pondered the same questions? How does one laugh, play, read stories and have dinner with their family and then do all those horrible acts? I think you've really hit on something there. These were normal everyday people like you and I at one time, and if this can happen in Germany, it could happen anywhere. This really shows the importance of awareness to what has been done during the Holocaust. I see a lot of sad faces in the photos. I know some of the things you are learning are going to be upsetting, but I know you will all benefit and become better human beings because of this experience.

    "T", I hope you're holding up okay and June, great Job with the Blog, videos and photos.

    Best Wishes

    Mr. Pevny

  4. Wow that is very interesting what Shalmi is talking about saying how the Nazis wanted to eliminate the Jews but they didn't know what it meant to eliminate them. I feel it hold true to what I've heard him say abut how we are all born the same but given the conditions all of the potential to do dad things. Even Hitler's second in command said you can't mean to kill them. No one though about where the Nazis would bring the country but we all know it didn't end well.

    I was very interested by how the Turkish man said he feels guilty when groups of people look at the memorials in the Bavarian Quarter. The memorial is so explicit and controversial I often wonder how Germans who have grown up with this memorial feel about it and I wonder what a parent would say to their child if they were to ask about it.

    The Grunewald Train Station is such a powerful memorial. It must have been so scary to be one of those thousands of people loaded onto the trains that left from Grunewald to a future unknown. Megan makes a good point about how on the day that should have been one to plan for the future they had no clue what was to come but were all most likely hoping for the best.

    The comment Aidan makes about how the SS officers leave the families in the morning kill people all day and then return home at night like nothing happened has been something that has always bothered me. I can not understand how someone can do so much harm so a certain group of people and carry on their life as if nothing was happening.

    Don't forget to ask Shalmi everything and anything he is a brilliant man and you can only learn to most if you ask him questions. I look forward to reading the blog everyday too see what everyone has learned.

  5. It's interesting how the Turkish man feels guilty when he walks by the signs in the Bavarian Quarter.. Imagine how the Germans feel? (the educated ones at least!)

    Seeing the tracks at Grunewald makes everything a little more real. I remember looking to my right and not being able to see the end, or where the tracks ended. Jews were taken there and had the same questions..Where am I going? When will I return? Will I ever see my family or my home again?

    I remember walking up to the Wannsee Villa just like it was yesterday. You probably noticed how beautiful the house, the lake, and the garden were... I know how hard it must be for each of you to try and take in the thought of being in the same room where a decision was made on who lived and who died. But that's what I think the whole trip is about, you must go through the emotional pain and see the evidence of what the Nazis did, to learn how to ever be able to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

    Love you T! And miss you Junebug, Mrs. Bauman, and Mrs. Sussman! Have a great trip! :)

  6. Looks as though many of the messages you are hearing are resonating with you. The way you gain benefit from understanding history is by choosing what you will do and not do as a result of it. It is important that all people do not allow the bad from our histories to repeat itself, and that the good that happens is celebrated and repeated.
    On a side note, you all look tired in the pictures which we assume is a combination of physical and emotional drain; we hope you get enough rest at night to keep this going for 11 more days! Your rested minds will learn and retain!

  7. Hey you guys!! I am learning so much from this blog and I love the videos and pictures.I feel like I am there with you guys everytime I log on!! To the students I say "congratulations" for making the very mature decision in going on this trip. To the adults "Thank you from the bottom of my heart"!!!! you are helping shape these young minds into such wonderful,educated, sensitive human beings(more so than they already are)Have a safe trip to Prague!!!!

  8. Your three days in Berlin were amazing. I can't believe how much you saw and learned. Looking forward to hearing about Prague! Have a safe trip. I agree with the Flores family. I feel like I am there with you. Thank you for the pictures and your thoughts. I am having a great experience through all of you.

  9. Reading today's blog, I couldn't help but think, my God they really are walking through history. To walk the tracks the Jews walked to their deportation and deaths, to stand in the train station where they awaited their terrible fate, how can it not affect you? Of course it does. And to stand in the same room where the top Nazis planned the Final Solution ... My God, from thousands of miles away my mind reels. You stood in the room where powerfully misguided people conducted one of the most inhumane planning sessions in the history of the human race! You know in your bones how real it was, and still is. And this makes you powerful witnesses to the truth. People try to deny the Holocaust, try to justify prejudice, not just against the Jews, but in all sorts of communities, among all people, in so many different circumstances. You now have crucial proof that evil can arise, and it does linger, and it is so palpable it can shame a pedestrian passing a sign some 70 years later. As witnesses to the truth, you become sacred torchbearers to that truth, and will pass it on, in your blogs, to your classmates, friends, relatives, and, eventually, your own children.
    That is a very beautiful legacy you are building, and it offers perspective as to what you are doing on this trip.

  10. Hello from the Lieberman family.You are in
    our thoughts. Baruch ata adonai, chonen hada-at. baruch ata adonai matzmiyach keren yeshua

  11. Reading Megan's comment really got to me. As I began to read the sentence, I saw "Janurary 1st" and all I could think was "why?" Those poor people were probably looking foward to making the best of their new year, they probably hoped that the darkness they had been experiencing would finally break way to allow some light to shine through. But yet, they were deported the first day of the new year. Their memories deserve to be remembered, and I'm so happy that you guys are able to experience the history first hand and continue to write these blogs in order to keep their legacy alive.

  12. I really find what Ben stated as interesting. That is a great way to look at how the Nazis laws singled out Jews. The Nazis planned each step they made and Ben captured that idea very well. Well stated Ben! Hope all of you are having a great trip. Miss T, I'm really missin ya :)


  13. The tracks at Grunewald left me thinking about my own family. The tons of Jews waiting on that platform were just like all of our families. I had an image of my mother and father comforting my brother, sisters, and I knowing that those tracks may lead to destruction and tragedy. I just pictured my little sister's face, holding my mom's hand, staring off into the distance and down the tracks, without a care in the world while my mom holds an expression of hope and fear at the same time upon her face, using everything inside her to remain calm and comforting. Tears come to my eyes just imagining a moment like this, its mind-blowing how mothers and families were actually there and subjected to this in a sense, challenge as a reality.

    Its heart-rendering to think about the fact that the Nazi's were regular people who had families of their own that they supported by working at a job dedicated to killing people exactly like them. Like Aidan said, these men and women were regular people, human, brainwashed by a sick, twisted man. They were ALL human. The same exact species, the one and only difference between them were beliefs.

  14. P.S. Hi T! I miss you! Can't wait for you to come back so I can visit the school and hear all about this year's journey. The blog looks great as always, I feel like I am there all over again. Hi Chang, Mrs. Bauman, and Mrs. Sussman too! Miss you guys :)

  15. Hello World Travellers!
    Mrs. Aufiero and I are reading your blog right now 8th period. We are so impressed with your entries about the places you have been and the things that you are learning. I hope to share your blog tomorrow with my 9th grade English class. They just finished reading Night. Your trip will make a modern day connection and hopefully inspire them to learn more. Continue to be safe and enjoy this journey.
    Mrs. Montecuollo & Mrs. Aufiero

  16. Hi Everyone,
    Your visit to Berlin was amazing!
    I can't imagine your emotions while standing at the train station reading about the Jews who were deported.
    I'm sure it is something you'll never forget.
    Take care,
    Mrs. Mayer

  17. You all are educating me so much on the Holcaust through the videos, descriptions, and pictures it is all so great. I am learning day by day something new. Hannah C's comment stood out to me the most. I never truly could comprehend why people didn't stand up and do something, the bystanders. Reading your comment made it easier for me to understand when you put it in terms that is easy for someone like me to understand, in middle school I do remember if you were a supporter of gays then people would automatically assume you were gay also, therefore it was easier to just not say anything and if you did then go with the crowd so you wouldn't be judged or made fun of, like you said.
    Love hearing everything, can't wait for what's to come.

  18. Hello all
    I am following your amazing trip through history every day. What a wonderful and enlightening experience you must be having. Too bad everyone can't learn history this way. Take it all in and enjoy every single minute- you can catch up on your sleep when you get home. I know you will fall in love with Prague- I know I did. Hope you get to see and hear the clock in the square. Wishing you a safe trip

  19. I have always wanted to visit Berlin. I am envious of you all. What is different about this monument is that it is a living reminder what what happened. You guys actually walked in the steps of where some of the deportations happened. Amazing. Simply amazing.

  20. Knowledge of those small steps that were taken by the Nazi party to separate the Jews from the rest of society are vital to understanding the Holocaust. If Hitler had just come out of nowhere and declared that all the Jews must be killed, most people would not have listened. He was only able to reach that point of mass murder through all those small steps, which eventually amounted to unconceivable hatred and violence.

  21. Your comments on the effects the Nazis felt from killing the Jews, thus forcing them to do the killing themselves really struck me. It shows that some of these killers had enough morals to feel guilt, but it couldn't stop them from continuing to commit mass murder.

  22. Did any of you ask locals about the signs? I remember when we previewed them it seemed that someone commented that some of the locals didnt know the meaning or them or had never paid them any attention. Was this true in your experience.-Harlan Ouellette