Thursday, April 9, 2015

Day 3 - Berlin

After another sumptuous buffet breakfast, we boarded our bus for visits to three very different memorials:  the Bavarian Quarter memorial, the Grunewald train station memorial, and the Wannsee House.  As we drove to our first stop, Mr. Barmore had us revisit some information from yesterday:  the fact that modernization had come late to Germany, she had experienced an accelerated pace of development, she had had a fast and disastrous downfall with her loss in World War I, and was a society in crisis.  He told us that Nazism was an offshoot of World War I as the people were so disgusted with their fall from power.  And we learned that Communists had also tried to foment a revolution in Germany.  The crisis in Germany society lent itself to extremist ideologies as the people tried to cope with their situation.  Mr. Barmore said that in the American system, things were explained by ‘the American way’: using the Constitution and American values, if you do things the right way you will succeed.   The Nazis, he said, insisted that it was not a process, but the blood, that will provide success.  The difference between the American system and Nazism was the freedom to choose.  With the United States, one could choose how to act, but in Nazism, there was no choice as one could not change one’s blood.  Democracy depends on choice, he said, which is one of its strengths and one of its weaknesses. 

Mr. Barmore told us the Nazis were faced with a paradox:  they came to power in 1933 and wanted to solve the “Jewish Question”, but did not know how.  The Nazi ideology was racist and about the survival of the fittest [the Aryan race], but in the beginning they were more about expulsion of Jews from society rather than their annihilation.  On the one hand, they wanted to eliminate Jews from society, but on the other, they didn’t have a clue as to how they were going to accomplish their goal.  Yet in nine years, there would be 5 factories of death operating in Poland, with precisely that function.  So how did they arrive at 1941, doing exactly what they could not conceive of doing in 1933?

We learned that it was a process which consisted of three phases. Historians had long struggled to understand the process and they fell into two schools of thought. Intentionalists believed that there was a straight line between Nazi ideology and the killings.  The other school of thought, the functionalists reasoned that if it was a straight line, there should be references to the killings in early Nazi documents. Yet, historians could not discern anything about anniliation in reports of early years. Today, most historicans accept the functionalist view which holds that Nazi policy evolved "a twisted road to Auschwitz"due to changing circumstances in three phases. This means, said Mr. Barmore, that if the functionalist view is correct at each phase of the Holocaust things could have been done to avert it, making individual and national inactions more troubling.

At one sign which showed a loaf of bread, the ordinance read ‘Jews are only allowed to buy food between 4 and 5 in the afternoon’  and was dated April 1940.   Mr. Barmore spoke of milestones for Germany’s Jews in the Holocaust.  This rule, he noted, for Berlin’s Jewish community, was just such a milestone.  He told us of how Inge Deutchkron who had survived the Holocaust and created the Otto Weidt Museum of the Workshop of the Blind we had visited yesterday, would mention this law and say that when her neighbors saw them standing in line for bread, they would not acknowledge them but would cross to the other side of the street.  They were embarrassed,  and chose to not notice her so they would have to acknowledge the law; they preferred avoidance to having to deal with the injustice of the rule.  He noted that the people that really hurt you are closer people, friends who don’t notice you, more than the law itself.  And all this was occurring in a society in which Jews sought so much to assimilate.

We also stopped by a local elementary school which has been engaging in a special project.  The letter explaining the project states that “because of the relationship to the history of local Jewish life, this project is embedded in the teaching unit ‘National Socialism’ for our 6th grade class.”  Students choose a name of a Jewish citizen from the community and do research on the individual, then memorializing that person by preparing a brick to add to their growing wall in the schoolyard during a ceremony each spring that now receives considerable attention from the Berlin community.  Since the project’s initiation in 1994, more than 1,000 students have participated in this activity.

Our next visit was to the train station of Grunewald, a wealthy residential area of Berlin.  From this train station, beginning on October 18, 1941, that most of Berlin’s Jewish residents were to be deported.  Olaf showed us three memorials to the deportation.  The first was some railroad ties in front of the entrance to the train station, established by a local group of Lutheran women in 1986, with a plaque commemorating the beginning of the deportations and a group of trees which had been brought from Auschwitz and planted there.  The second memorial was a wall which depicted figures as they walked up the hill to the train platform.  The third memorial, established by the German railroad, was two platforms lined by plaques which represented each deportation train listing the date, number of Jews and the destination. 

Mr. Barmore also spoke to our group about how the Holocaust represented modern murder.  First, because of the technology, and second, because of the bureaucracy.  The technology allowed the Nazis to bring people from as far away as Norway quickly and efficiently, and the vast system of bureaucrats, with their organization and exacting, meticulous methods, made it possible for the Holocaust to be so total.  This presented a problem after the war, he said, in that how do you answer an individual who says, “I didn’t do anything wrong, I just drove a train” or “I just typed a letter, I’m not responsible.”  How can you do the most terrible things, without really thinking you are taking part in it, we were asked.


After lunch at a nearby German restaurant we arrived at our final memorial destination for the day, the Wannsee House.  It was in this house, located on the beautiful waterfront lake, Wannsee, that representatives of the bureaucratic agencies would meet on January 20, 1942 for a luncheon over which they would discuss how to carry out the plan known as the Final Solution.   Olaf told us how after the war, though the city owned the Wannsee House, it was a property that was ignored until 1992 when they opened the exhibition about what had occurred here fifty years earlier.  “Initially they wanted to forget,” he said.  “Now they want to use it to educate.”

Inside the Wannsee House, which in 1942 was a house used by Nazi leaders for meetings and social gatherings, Mr. Barmore reiterated what he had told us about Nazi racial ideology; namely that the Nazis did not view their desire to eliminate the Jews from German society as emanating from any hatred of them, but from their ‘reasoned’ conclusion that Jews were essentially a destructive virus in the body of Germany and for its survival, they needed to be eliminated.  “The Jews are our misfortune” was a common phrase used by the Nazis.  To the Nazis, ‘misfortune’ represented ‘evil’ from a profound point of view.”

Phase  I [1933-1939] focused on legislation and emigration of Jews.   Early in the Nazi years, April 1, 1933, a one day boycott of Jewish businesses occurred.  This was not orchestrated from above, by the government, but was an action of the S.A. and was unsuccessful and unsettling for the German people because it represented chaos at a time when they had elected a new government on the promise of law and order.  Nazis therefore decided they must not allow mob activity to take over and decided to go about the process differently.  They would have the legal state first define who was Jewish, then take away the rights of those individuals and proceed against them in a legal, orderly way to “squeeze them out of Germany”.   But when no nations were willing to accept  Germany’s 500,000 Jews [less than 1% of the population] and many Jews were unwilling to leave their home, the Nazis realized they would have to go about their goal a different way, and Reinhard Heydrich was placed in charge of a special office to find solutions for the Jewish quarter.

Phase II [1939-1941] focused on the period of concentration or ghettoization.  The Nazis had been unsuccessful in dealing with their own Jews, and now with the invasion of Poland, there were an additional 2.5 million Jews that Germany needed to deal with.  Possible solutions discussed were the concentration of the Jews near Lublin, or shipping them to Madagascar, neither of which was possible.  The Jews of Poland were concentrated in the larger cities into ghettos during this period.  Mr. Barmore noted that this was a phase of the process which is unfortunately often overlooked in a discussion of the Holocaust, while the death camps are the major focus.  He told us that the average length of time a Jew spent in a death camp was 2 hours.  This is where they were brought to die, while the ghettos were the place that they lived --- for one, two, maybe three years.  So a study of the ghettos, he reasoned, and their life in the ghettos, was a crucial part of Holocaust history.

Phase III began June 1941 with the German attack on the Soviet Union.  The Nazis understood that it would be a special war; one of competing ideologies and they prepared for that special war by establishing special units, called Einsatzgruppen [mobile killing units], prepared for a harsh war with Russian communists, partisans, and Jews who might be aiding the Soviet army.   These units from June through December would be responsible for killing more and more Jews outside big cities, often with the help of local citizens, especially in the Ukraine and Lithuania who viewed themselves not as being conquered by the Nazis but as being liberated from the Soviets.

After this happens in the Soviet Union, but only in the Soviet Union, the Nazis needed to decide what to do with the rest of the Jews and they started analyzing their options in October and November of 1941.   They reasoned that the mobile killing units were inefficient, and they were especially concerned that 20-30% of the members of the units doing the shootings had suffered mental breakdowns.  They needed to design an indirect, impersonal way of killing by industrializing it, so they developed the factories of death in Poland.   They had already experimented with carbon monoxide at Belzec and zyklon B gas at Auschwitz [then a concentration camp], and so they were ready to proceed, but they needed a process of how to proceed. Hitler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich was given that task.


Therefore three phases in the Twisted Road to Auschwitz, I-Emigration and Legislation, II-Ghettoization, and III-Annihilation were complete.   However the Nazis came to be what they could not conceive of when they initially came to power, Heydrich and representatives of the bureaucratic agencies which would be used in the  murder of  Europe’s Jewish population delineated the process for it here,  over lunch, in this house where we now stood.

Mr. Barmore's final comment to us, before we boarded the bus, was that for himself and many Holocaust educators, the study of this event remains so relevent because the Holocaust poses questions that no one is beyond.



  1. We had the opportunity to see the student reflections on the Youtube channel - you are all learning so much from this experience. Safe travels to Prague

  2. I always learn so much through reading about your experiences, but not nearly as much as you all are learning. I look forward to continuing on your journey with you. (Rose - I can't wait to see all your photos when you get back!)

    Mrs. Devereaux

  3. It was nice to pay respect to pavel after such hard time he had when he was in the nazis camp he been to two camps of nazis and it was nice to leave stone

  4. This is such an amazing and harrowing experience. I can’t imagine the feeling of sitting on the ledge of the railroad track that so many lives and stories walked over and to their deaths. So many lives were torn apart. I feel that the students are so blessed to have had so many intelligent people, such as Mr. Barmore, who understood life in Germany before, Nazi Germany, Jewish life and culture, how Jewish life and culture were affected by the actions of Nazi Germany, and the immortal effect that the Holocaust has on everyone. I find it amazing that over a 1,000 students are so involved in memorializing the lives of those lost in the Holocaust through the bricks and learning the stories that they are not left to tell. I also appreciate the way that Mr. Barmore explained how Nazi Germany came to be through the three phases. Most importantly, Mr. Barmore explained how The Holocaust has an effect on everyone when he said, “the study of this event [The Holocaust] remains so relevant because the Holocaust poses questions that no one is beyond.”