Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 5 Prague - Terezin - Lidice



Today after breakfast we bundled up and prepared to head out for the day’s sites: Terezin and Lidice. Mr. Barmore (who, at his request, shall hereinafter be referred to as Shalmi) spoke to us on the bus about what we were going to see. He asked us to remember what we had seen a few days earlier, on Track #17 at Grunewald: the deportation dates and numbers and destinations for the Jews of Berlin. Many of those destination plaques named Theresienstadt.
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Theresienstadt was one of those sites which was part of both Phase 2 ‘Concentration’ and Phase 3 ‘Annihilation’ about which Shalmi had spoken to us at the Wannsee House. Germany had been given the Sudetenland section of Czechoslovakia at the Munich Conference in September 1939 in what would later be called the Allies’ ‘appeasement policy’. The Nazis had plans to annex and Germanize Czechoslovakia. The National Socialists in Slovakia led by Josef Tiso were told they would be supported by the Nazis if they separated Slovakia from Czechoslovakia which they did in March of 1939, becoming an Axis Power ally. The German army then marched into and occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia which they renamed Bohemia and Moravia. There were 120,000 Jews in Bohemia and Moravia and the Nazis needed a place to concentrate them until they decided what to do with them.
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Terezin was an existing walled in city outside of Prague which had been a garrison town established under Emperor Joseph II and named after his mother, Maria Theresa, to house the families of the soldiers who would be stationed at the Small Fortress nearby. Terezin would be renamed Theresienstadt, the town would become the ghetto and the small fortress would become the concentration camp. Theresienstadt would last from its establishment in October 1941 until its liberation at the end of the war, making it one of the longest lasting places established by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Our bus stopped to pick up our dear friend, Pavel Stransky, who was going to spend the day with us in Terezin and Lidice. Before getting off the bus in Terezin, Shalmi reminded us all that this day was going to be incredibly special and would greatly impact each of us. “Many, many years in the future”, he said, “You will tell your grandchildren that you visited the Czech Republic and went to Terezin with a survivor of Terezin. This will be one of the more unique things about you.”

We went into the Magdeburg Barracks which had housed the Jewish Council, leaders of the ghetto administration, where Pavel told us of his story, which, he said, was not just a story of the Holocaust but also a love story. Pavel, an only child, lived in Prague with his parents. He met and fell in love with Vera, also an only child. In 1940, Pavel’s father committed suicide because he could no longer cope with the humiliation and degradation he experienced under Nazi occupation. In May of 1942, following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis would start reprisal actions, including punishment transports to the East. On one of those trains, Pavel’s mother was sent.

In November 1941, about 300 young Jewish men were sent to Theresienstadt. The next month another 1,000 Jewish men followed. Pavel was in the second group. Their task was to prepare the former garrison town which had been built for about 7,000 residents, into a ghetto town for Jews from around Bohemia and Moravia and later from cities in the west and from Berlin. At its height, the ghetto population of Theresienstadt was almost 70,000. In 1942 families started arriving, including the family of his fiancée, Vera. In December 1943, Pavel was assigned to a transport leaving for Auschwitz. At that time, Jews could request to be placed on a transport with a loved one, but only close family members. Pavel and Vera did not want to be separated and so the day before the scheduled deportation, they got married in the ghetto. “Our wedding night”, he said, “ was sitting among 2,500 other people, and our honeymoon trip was on a deportation train to the largest extermination camp in the world…..Auschwitz.” In Auschwitz Pavel worked in the Czech family camp as a teacher. “I could not change their fate, but I tried to make their last days a little easier.”

There were many twists and turns over the next year in what happened to both Pavel and Vera, including death marches, transfers to labor camps, and other concentration camps. Pavel finally ended back in Theresienstadt which he why, he told us, he called his memoir “From Theresienstadt to Theresienstadt.” After the war he was reunited with his wife and they got married a second time, saying “This is why my story is also a love story.”

Pavel and Shalmi showed us through the exhibition in the Magdeburg barracks, including a music section where we listened to the victory song from the children’s opera Brundibar, written and performed by children in the ghetto, viewed pictures by ghetto artists, and read some of the poetry and literature written in the ghetto.
We next stopped at the prayer room which had been constructed by the Danish Jews who had been sent to Theresienstadt in October 1943. Known as the Danish synagogue, it was discovered about 8 years ago. Shalmi told us that the prayers on the walls reflected the heartbreaking dialogue of the Jews with their God. Verses such as “We beg you, turn back from Your anger and have mercy on the treasured nation that you have chosen” and “But despite all this, we have not forgotten your name. We beg You not to forget us” were written on the walls.


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At the ghetto museum we watched a film which included video clips of the propaganda film created by the Nazis called “A Gift of a Town” in which they had tried to dispel rumors of deplorable conditions in the ghettos which had been created by the Nazis. The International Red Cross had been scheduled for a visit, largely due to the efforts of the Danish Foreign Minister who wanted to visit the Danish Jews interned there, and the Nazis proceeded to deport thousands of ghetto residents to Auschwitz to lessen the overcrowding, as well as begin a ‘beautification’ project to prepare the town for important visitors. It was the Nazis’ hope that the Red Cross would deliver a positive report of the ghetto conditions, which it did.

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When questioned by several students as to why the Red Cross would not have tried to see behind the façade, Shalmi recited a quote from the British playwright, George Bernard Shaw: “An anti-Semite is anyone who hates a Jew more than is naturally called for.” This engendered a lengthy discussion between members of our group.
After lunch we went to the Small Fortress where Shalmi spoke to us about concentration camps. These were established in Germany as early as 1933 to deal with individuals who would not conform to the Nazi rules. The purpose of concentration camps was to punish political opponents of the totalitarian society, to re-train and rehabilitate them, and then bring them back into society. This was a different issue that the Jewish question which was ideological and racial. Initially the concentration camps served a dual purpose: to give people what they wanted which was a society based on law and order, but they were also meant to intimidate members of society who might question Nazi beliefs.
Shalmi cited two groups of names: 1st: Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen; 2nd: Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzec. “Which group,” he asked, “do you most associate with the Holocaust?” Most of the group said the first. Shalmi then said, the first group names were concentration camp names while the second group names were extermination camps. “The reason you associate the first names more with the Holocaust, is because there were survivors who speak of these places. There were no (or few) survivors from Chelmno, Sobibor, or Belzec.” Three million people died in these factories of death.
The conditions in the concentration camps were not merely physical but psychological. Shalmi spoke to us about survivors who would talk about entering the world of the concentration camp and what that meant. Their clothes would be taken away and replaced by a uniform; their names would be taken away and replaced by a number (though not the tattoo number associated with Auschwitz), so that new inmates were in danger of losing their identity. Shalmi said that if you insisted on keeping your identity, you would not be able to survive, but if you lost your identity, you were unlikely to survive. To survive in the world of the concentration camp was a constant daily struggle in which one had to consciously fight to live when it was often so much easier to give up and die.

The ever presence of hunger was another theme of the visit to the small fortress.
Again emphasizing that many aspects of the Holocaust were not just physical but psychological, Shalmi told us that nothing was ‘more corrupting’ than hunger. We cannot know what we might do given extreme hunger. He said that there were many stories, for example, of a mother saving her own bread for a hungry child, but there were also stories in which mothers would steal bread from their children. Shalmi said that learning about the Holocaust is a study in human behavior: the depths to which people can sink and the heights to which they can rise. Many survivors have spoken in their memoirs of the actions that they and others took in the name of hunger. Primo Levi said in his memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, that much of the morality of the ‘free world’ could not exist on the other side of the barbed wire.

We visited the barracks section of the small fortress as well as the shower room and wash room, before getting back on the bus to head for Lidice. In June 1942, Heinrich Heydrich was assassinated in Prague and the Nazi leadership wanted someone to pay. Lidice was a small town outside of Prague with about 500 inhabitants. On June 10,, 1942 the Nazis descended upon this small town: all 173 men over the age of 16 years were executed that day and 203 women were deported to concentration camps. A week later another 19 men and 7 women who had not been in the village that day were arrested and all were shot. There were 105 children captured that day; most were sent to Chelmno; nine who were considered racially suited for ‘Germanization’ were given to SS families to raise. Of the 203 women, 143 returned after the war and of the 105 children, 17 survived.
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The Lidice memorial is to the memory of the 82 children who perished at the hands of the Nazis as part of a reprisal for the assassination of Heydrich. The memorial was designed by sculptor Marie Uchytilova. It is a bronze monument which depicts the 82 children in each of their images, from photographs. There are 42 girls and 40 boys who look out over what used to be their village. The last child sculptures were unveiled in 2000 so that the memorial is now complete. It is an extremely powerful memorial that made a significant impact on our group members. We then viewed a short film about the history of the town of Lidice in the museum before heading back to our hotel, where we said a fond farewell to Pavel and thanked him for accompanying us today and for sharing his story with us.
 
Day Five ended with dinner at the Hotel U Prince on the market square and a walk on the Charles Bridge before returning to the hotel for our nightly discussion and journaling.


Student Reflections

Bedros says...
Today was a much more emotional day then I had expected it to be. To hear a Holocaust survivor's story through media and to then hear it in person is drastically different and brought tears to my eyes. The fact that Pavel, at the age of 92, travels and continues to tell his story is to me one of the most incredible feats of mankind.

Chris says …
Today was such an emotional day. When we visited the Lidice memorial I was impacted so much. The emotions on the faces of the children who were brutally murdered made me very upset. Standing there, picturing myself in their shoes, was overwhelming.

Guage says...
Today was quite the experience. It moved me emotionally. Just seeing and hearing what the Nazis had done during the Holocaust through the voice of a survivor, Pavel, truly moved me and brought the Holocaust closer to my understanding.

John says...
What struck me the most today was walking through the history of Terezin and learning about the art and culture that existed during a time when the Nazis were trying to take away the individuality of Jews within the ghetto. Art and culture has always been important to me and to learn about how this identity was being restricted had an impact on my personal experience with art.

Kelly B. says …
I was overcome with emotion when we arrived at Lidice. The expressions on their faces were so realistic that I was brought to tears. I had seen these faces before in pictures, but when I saw it in person the reality of the loss of their lives really set in.

Shannon says...
Just seeing the children at Lidice made their story seem so real. Those faces of these real victims touched the hearts of all of us standing there. I could not stop looking at the boy in the front holding his sister's hand.  Knowing how young he was and that he did not survive was truly heartbreaking.


Kelly M. says...
Standing in front of the memorial in Lidice I was overwhelmed by the details in the faces of the 82 children who were murdered. Seeing this made me realize that these faces could have been the faces of any children because the Nazis did not stop their reign of terror, just because they were children. The fear in their faces broke my heart and I never realized that a memorial could be so moving.

Meredith says …
At the Lidice memorial, I was struck first by their faces. Unlike other statues, you could see the emotions in their faces and more importantly in their eyes. The artist had sculpted pupils in their eyes rather than leaving a blank space where their eyes were supposed to be. The second thing that struck me was the young children in the memorial were being cared for by the older children. It seemed as if the older children were comforting the younger children as Lidice was burning.

Juliana says...
Pavel's story was truly inspiring to me. He had so much courage for himself, his family and for the students he taught while he was in the camps. He kept faith even in such difficult times. He kept his optimism which to me is so difficult to understand when you are being oppressed.

Ashley says...
Overlooking the valley with the absence of Lidice truly revealed the personal aspects of the Nazi era. They eerie atmosphere as well as the landscape gave the memorial a depressing tone. Standing in front of the children and scanning over their faces was not an easy endeavor. Each look of pain and anguish will never be forgotten.

Kendall says...
I felt that today was the first time that everything I had learned about this time period felt real. What really hit home was the children's memorial at Lidice. There was this overwhelming sense of emotion and eeriness. One can't even imagine what these children went through. I stared at their innocent and scared faces desperately trying to grasp how it could have gotten this bad. I felt honored to be able to pay my respects at this memorial and to see the faces of these 82 children.

Allie says...
Though there are many things I could say about today, I mostly want to say that everywhere we went I felt an emptiness. The Terezin Ghetto where we had seen pictures of people crammed into the small town, now appeared empty. This place felt like a ghost town and the inhabitants absence felt larger than a presence would have felt.

Alyssia says...
The true severity of the Holocaust sank in when I witnessed the faces of the 82 children that were murdered by the Nazis at the Lidice memorial. The frightened look on their faces automatically made me break into tears. The fact that people had the power to take these innocent children's lives is heartbreaking, but I am so glad that I was able to pay my respects to the young children who lost their lives in Lidice.

Sarah says...
Today we were able to see firsthand the horrors that millions faced during the Holocaust. The Theresienstadt effected me the most today because I was given the opportunity to finally understand the location and atmosphere were so many men, women and children suffered. We were able to physically see the quarters where people were held for days on end and we were able to have an idea as to the suffering of the victims.

Alicia says...
There was a stark contrast between the beginning of the day and the end of the day. Going from the beauty of Prague to the emotion of statues memorializing the deaths of 82 children was difficult. Easily the most heart-wrenching memorial of the trip, the Lidice memorial was almost too realistic. The children depicted ranged in age from 1 – 15 and every single one of their eyes had pupils; there was definition- emotion. The detail and accuracy of the statue made it imaginable and almost probable to see movement and this it what made it such a moving memorial.

Kiley says...
Today has been the most emotional- filled day on our trip thus far. Being given the opportunity to meet Pavel, a Holocaust survivor, and his telling us his story, was an amazing experience. I very much enjoyed how Pavel chose to share his story as a love story. This approach made the horror of his personal Holocaust story seem more real. Pavel is a beautiful storyteller, a brave man and a wonderful person.

Miya says...
Theresienstadt was a concentration camp designed to depict a more comfortable life to the outside world than was true of any other camp. Talented Jewish artists were sent to this camp such as  Bedrich Fritta and Otto Ungar who had the talent to expose the Nazis lies in beautiful and sometimes disturbing ways. Seeing a painting that illustrated the unequal distribution of food reminded me of a book I read in Mrs. Sussman's Holocaust class which made my book learning seem more real. The art somehow conveyed how victims felt about their situation including the hypocrisy and horror that had taken place within the building where we were now standing.

Amanda says...
The most emotional moment for me today was seeing the Lidice memorial. I took great notice of the tiny toddler in the front of the memorial and I felt anger. In my head I could not understand what a 1 – 3 year old child could have done to have that fate brought upon him. I was left with a burning question:  how was it possible that these 82 children were murdered by the Nazis?

Andrew says...
It is truly amazing how a place today can seem so beautiful and peaceful, but in reality only 70 years earlier that same place experienced such devastation. From the children's memorial to the vast open hills, this memorial gave me a calm, yet uneasy feeling. The fields were so quiet and empty, but yet I knew that the Nazis had slaughtered and destroyed a whole town of innocent people right in these same fields. It is hard to fathom such atrocities.

Helen says...
At Lidice today I felt haunted. Each sculpture, an exact replica of a child who lived and eventually killed, collectively looking upon the town they had witnessed destroyed. Each individual cried out asking for justice with his eyes. Standing behind the statue I felt as if I could reach out and tap the children on their shoulders or whisper for them to run.  Essentially I wanted to save them.

Sam says...
Seeing all the faces on the Lidice memorial today made me realize how horrifying it was during the Nazi era. I found it hard to believe that they would kill innocent children who had not done anything wrong. The action in Lidice made me realize that humankind can be irrational based upon fanatic beliefs.

Max says...
At the Thereisenstadt camp one thing that stood out to me was the importance of chance. With many variables like lice, typhus and starvation, survival was not the usual outcome. Therefore, when a person is able to survive a dark time such as the Holocaust, their personal experience is amazing. Pavel's telling of his story was moving and powerful.

Emma says...
Lidice made the deepest impression upon me today. I was filled with anger and frustration when I thought of the families that were torn apart so brutally because I could not comprehend how any human could be so horrid to another human especially children. When Kamilla mentioned that the children were sent to Germany or killed based upon their looks, I was so frustrated and upset with humanity.

11 comments:

  1. I actually got chills reading this post.. I could go on forever about how Pavel has made an impact on my life.

    I found Lidice to be one of the most emotional moments of the trip, simply because you deal with the deaths of 82 children who never got to live up to their potential. They were murdered... and for what?

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  2. If we do not tell our story someone else will. I truly believe that Pavel feels this way as well, which is why he travels and makes every effort to continue telling his story. I am sure he greatly appreciates how much his time is valued by all of you. The Lidice Memorial might be one of, if not the most, emotionally powerful creations in the world. Each time I see it my heart is broken. It reminds me how each of us must be empowered to do what is right, no matter the circumstances.

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  3. I've read the overview of your day in Terezin & Lidice now for the second time:Last night, I walked away from my computer in tears & again today was overcome with emotion. I have no words to explain any of what was described to you-the things you've heard, the first-hand accounts of suvivors, the killing of innocent children,the brutality and senselessness of it all. Thank you to Shalmi & Pavel for sharing their stories with you and through you to us back home. I do believe that people are sent into our lives for a reason. As Shalmi said:"Many, many years in the future”,... “You will tell your grandchildren that you visited the Czech Republic and went to Terezin with a survivor of Terezin. This will be one of the more unique things about you.” Thank you Shalmi and Pavel & teachers like Mrs. T for coming into all of our lives & for sharing with us what is unimaginable, but what must not be forgotten. Be well all. Mary McElroy

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  4. “You will tell your grandchildren that you visited the Czech Republic and went to Terezin with a survivor of Terezin. This will be one of the more unique things about you.”
    I have never heard my feelings toward this unbelievable experience stated more eloquently. Each day of this study tour brings you to places and in contact with people that make it nothing short of a once in a lifetime experience. I will never forget how moved I was by Pavel. He is truly an extraordinary man. To continue to be able to join this group of very special students each year is a true testament to how great of a man he is.
    What Shalmi also said about Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, as well as Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec really struck me. There are so many stories we will never know and so many of them come from the second group. What Max said was so true, so much came down to chance. But that is why I find the experience so important for these students. They are getting the experience to learn all they possibly can to make sure we can preserve all we do know, and continue to fight against this injustice.
    Embrace each lasting moment of this experience. I cannot wait to hear all about your experiences at this years presentation and in the book's reflections.

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  5. How lucky you were to have Pavel tell you his story. This was one of the most amazing things I remember hearing when Matt went on the trip...and again when Jordan went. I say it every year...It HAS to be made into a Movie!!! The statues at Lidice always touch my heart. I cannot imagine what it's like to see those innocent faces in person...I hope some day I am as fortunate as you to go there and honor their short lives.

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  6. This is the part of the trip that I best remember even 6 years later. When I sat down in the hotel conference room that morning in 2007, I stared at Pavel across the table from me, and thought "how could such a sweet, lighthearted man have such a dark story to tell us?" Within minutes, we were enveloped in a story of love, sorrow, dedication, and the strength of the human spirit.

    The museums and memorials on the tour do an amazing job of doing justice to the series of events leading up to, and the atrocities performed during the Holocaust. However, for that day in Terezin, you were all blessed to have become part of Pavel's story. You all transcended the textbooks, photographs, and museums and became living memorials to Pavel's story of the power of the human spirit. Not everyone is so lucky to hear a survivor speak and even less are able to retrace his footsteps through a place of such hardship.

    Amidst all of the serious topics you'll come across in the final week of your trip, find comfort in the fact that your voices are a testament not only to Pavel Stransky, but also to the resilience of the human will.
    Enjoy your time spent in Europe with such intellectual peers and mentors. Some of the best times are those spent around the dinner table having life-defining conversations with those with whom you are on this journey. See you all soon

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  7. What unbelievable experiences you all have had, today in particular. What an amazing man Pavel is to have been through all that he has and continue to return there to educate and share his life experience with all of you. As others have commented, the Memorial at Lidice was so incredibly moving to read about and see the of pictures, I can't imagine what it must have been like to visit it in person. Remember these experiences as you go through life, as you are amazing people as well.

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  8. What an emotional day. The world needs to be thankful for people like Mr. Stransky who are willing to relive their own horrors so that we may be spared them. If each of us could take one ounce of the strength and will that he has shown in life, we would be better for it.

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  9. I'm sure traveling to the sites of where the horrific events of the Holocaust took place, studying with a scholar, historian of Mr. Barmore's caliber would have a profound effect on any student fortunate enough to make the journey.

    Visiting the Lidice memorial, asking the question, why did the Red Cross turn a blind eye? and learning why the names of the concentration camps are readily remembered but the death camps are not. All of these learning experiences probably pale in comparison of meeting, hearing and somehow trying to comprehend the stories told by and amazing man Mr. Pavel Stranksy. How he survived the Holocaust and how he continues at 92 years old to tell his love story.

    You are unique young men and women as Shalmi says. (HE TOLD ME I CAN CALL HIM SHALMI)but it is much more than that. You now have a perspective of the Holocaust that very few people in this world will ever have and along with that a responsibility to not let this experience fade away with the end of your studies. I say fade away and not die because as long as you are alive your experience will live and be a part of who you are.

    Unforunately the Holocaust survivors as well as our WWll veterans are and aging population and in just a few years will be no longer with us. Who will keep the world from forgetting the attrocities of the Holocaust? Yes there will be archives to preserve the history but who will know about them? One simple definition of archive is "To file away" We often place files in the archives of our computers and forget they are even there. The archives are the tool that will preseve and insure the accuracy of the history but people must keep the Holocaust relevant in society. Who will be better equipped to do that then the young men and women over the years who have taken this journey?

    I hope the rest of your tour is as great as this leg seems to be.

    PS> Tell Mrs. T it is ok to have a little fun just every once in a while.

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  10. Greetings from O'Dowd!
    The trip looks as if it has been such a success thus far. Thinking back on how heart wrenching it was to visit the Lidice memorial, yet how inspiring it was spending the day with Mr. Stransky, I think this day sums up the extreme variety of feelings felt on the trip well. Although, just as I did, I'm sure all of you are loving every minute of it whether it was spent laughing or crying.
    All of the amazing pictures and videos make me very jealous that I can't be out there again, but I am so happy for all of you and can't wait to hear more stories when you return.

    Helen Woodbury- Happy 18th Birthday my dear and beautiful friend! I am so happy you are on this trip and I wish you a wonderful day :)

    Alicia Krewer- Hi. :)

    Hope the rest of the trip goes just as well.
    With Love,
    Callie Prince-HST 2012

    P.S.
    B-Suss, I am in class now.

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  11. What an incredible story and I can only imagine how moving this is to you. My O'Dowd friends -- you will always hold this experience in your hearts and it will influence you at every stage of your life. I am so glad you are having this experience.

    Patricia Cross

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