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Holocaust Study Tour

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WHAT WE NOW KNOW FOR SURE


New Milford Donors Marcia and Joseph Bograd Judith and Robert Cook Doherty Enterprises - Applebees Restaurants Susan and Julius Eisen Ronnie and Marty Eisen Fogarty and Hara Joan and Egon Fromm Graphic Builders, Inc. Anne and Burton Greenblatt Inserra Supermarkets, Inc. Murray Kushner Barbara and Fred Lafer Lester M. and Sally Entin Foundation Jonathan Mann The New Milford Jewish Center The New Milford PBA The New Milford Education Association Martin Perlman and Jo-Ann Hassan Ellen and Harold Schiff In Memory of Howard G. Schneider The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation Shirley and Solomon Weiss Oded Aboodi Arthur Abrams Harriet Abramson Abraham Altman Jeffrey Bart Judy Bounan Lillian and Isaac Braude Ethel and Clifford Broser Olivia Burten Dana Buzzelli Paula and William Cantor

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Robert Chester Lawrence Cohen Susan Cohn Diane and Daniel Conner Leanne and Ray Cottiers John Coviello Curtis Circulation, Inc. Laura and David Eisen David Elliot Joanne and Michael Falk Irene Frank Paula Gellis Ellen and Ralph Gerber Charlotte Gluck Bruce Greenwald Susan and David Haas Bernice and Leon Jaffe Susan and Dickran Kaprielian Sandra Kaufman Linda Keesing Edith and Robert Levine Sylvia Livingston Pat and Tom Maggi Claire Mann Judith and Leonard Margolis Joan and Brian McCann Estelle and Herbert Meislich Joyce Mekelburg Gertrude and Martin Merzbach Gilda and Leonard Messer Sarah and David Nanus Rosalyn and Bruce Nussman Paramus Bat Sheva Hadassah Lotte and Larry Pick Charline and Eugene Resnick Martin Ross Elizabeth and Dana Rubin Phyliss Rubin


Holocaust Study Tour Donors 2010

We gratefully acknowledge the following individuals for their gracious support. Without their continued generosity, this program would not realize its full potential.

Barnett Rukin Peggy Saslow Steven Saslow Susan Saslow Rochelle and Charles Schreiber Elynore and Jack Shapiro Debra and David Silver Lynn Smith Steven Some Temple Avodat Sholom - Rabbi Borovitz Bella Viezel Barron Wall Sylvia Waller Maria and Cliff Weber Harriet and Bernard Weinberg Mimi Weis Dave Wilson Eileen and Donald Wolmer

Jersey City Donors Violet Zall Hordes FoundationTemple Beth El

Saint Thomas Aquinas Donors Eddie and Gloria Baker Feinstein

Bishop O’Dowd Donors Kristofer Anderson Stacey Anderson Marty and Karen Anderson Rabbi Mark Bloom, Congregation Beth Abraham Betty J. Buettner Ray and Carol Craun Rabbi Judah Dardik, Beth Jacob Congregation Charles and Debra Haegel Norma Heath Geoffrey and Barbara Kotin Zahra Sefidan George and Susan Troy Matthew Whalen Vivien Williamson

A special thanks to the following institutions for their continued support and guidance: The New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel Funding for this publication was made possible by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) Pride in Education Grants program. The generous and continued support by NJEA has allowed the educational outreach of this program to flourish.

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CONTENTS Holocaust Study Tour 2010


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Erin Novak Our Voices, Our Words

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Nicholas Robalino Six Million

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Rebecca McCarten Courage

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Matthew Bachmann Images of Auschwitz

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Victoria Bell Inquiry

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Timothy Gilmour Power

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Personal Experiences

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James Dunham Diversity and Common Ground

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Natalie Arias The Missing Link

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Matthew Berner Pride and Prejudice

The students who participated in the Holocaust Study Tour 2010 remember and honor the victims of Nazi persecution by reflecting upon their experiences visiting historical sites in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. New Milford High School students in partnership with Jersey City Public Schools, Jersey City, New Jersey; Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, Overland Park, Kansas and Bishop O’Dowd High School, Oakland, California, present the following student reflections that convey the hearts and minds of this year’s participants.

Kayla Grueneich Why?

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Libby Reichmuth

Project Coordinators: Colleen Tambuscio, New Milford, New Jersey June Chang, Jersey City, New Jersey Lisa Bauman, Overland Park, Kansas Bonnie Sussman, Oakland, California

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Looking Back...

As a teacher, something inside of me has always known that there was more to learning than just listening and reading—that learning was seeing for one’s self. It might have been my background in teaching the deaf, where everything we do requires real-life experiences to create real internalized knowledge, or perhaps it was my knowledge that intolerance continues to plague our world. I didn’t grow up with Holocaust history as part of my family heritage; neither did I have a Jewish consciousness. I didn’t meet a Holocaust survivor until I began teaching Holocaust history in 1994. In 1997 I had my very first experience studying the Holocaust abroad with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education and it was that trip that infused me with the passion, knowledge and vision to bring this type of program to students back in the United States.  What I now know for sure is that studying Holocaust history at authentic learning sites in Europe forever changes students.  Since the first Holocaust Study Tour in 1998, this program has educated 114 students. Most students are from New Jersey high schools, including New Milford, Midland Park, Bergen County Special Services and Jersey City. Since 2007, the program has expanded to Holocaust Study Tour

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include St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas and in 2009, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Thanks to the latest technology in video-conferencing, students meet in advance, via computer, email and texting, to get to know each other and the expectations of the program. Each year the program shapes itself through the insight and dedication of the students. In 2009, students chose to take action on the disintegrating condition of the former Plaszow Concentration Camp and spent an entire day filling trash bags with debris, rather than simply touring the castle district of Krakow. During our 2007 trip, how were we to know how indelibly our lives and the agenda of the trip itself would be forever changed when we stopped for a brief lunch in the town of Olomouc—a town I connected to Otto Wolf, a diarist from Alexandra Zapruder’s Salvaged Pages. In consultation with our scholar-inresidence, Shalmi Barmore, we researched the Jewish community of Olomouc and discovered survivor Milos Dobry who knew of the diary of Otto Wolf and who then contacted the mayor of the small village of Trsice, where Otto, his sister Lici, and their parents had been hidden. In 2008, the mayor and some of the


...Looking Forward

living witnesses and rescuers of the Wolf family met our group at the town hall, and took us to the Wolf’s hiding place in the forest. In 2009, not only were we welcomed again by the mayor and rescuers, but we also discussed a future memorial that we will dedicate to the rescuers and the Wolf family on the Holocaust Study Tour of 2011. In 2010, our relationship with the Jewish community of Olomouc deepened when our students interviewed Holocaust survivors living in Olomouc. Students researched their stories, wrote appropriate questions, and then recorded the survivors’ stories. Students worked together to document the transcripts and record this important history. Our students became the historians, documenting the incredibly inspirational stories of the people who lived through the Holocaust. The lessons of the history, and the importance of the history are evident through the essays that the students have written showing the true and significant impact the trip has had on their lives as both learners and as people. How do I quantify the worth of the program? How do I state what the students have learned? Because of this program, 114 young adults from all across the United States, now on college campuses, in the corporate

world, in cities both in the United States and abroad, are living reminders of this history. Each of them can tell their children, grandchildren and everyone they meet that the Holocaust was real. They can say “This isn’t something I just read about in a textbook: I went to Theresienstadt with Pavel Stransky, who survived that camp and Auschwitz; I heard Milos Dobry tell about his experiences; I saw the Wolf’s hiding place in the forest and met the people who hid them; I walked into the women’s barracks at Birkenau; I heard the birds singing paradoxically outside the crematorium at Theresienstadt; I walked up the stairs of Schindler’s factory…” and on and on. The students who have been through this program are walking, talking, living, breathing legacies of the lessons of the Holocaust. I have made it my life’s work to take as many students as possible on this journey with me. This program forever changes students and more importantly, these students will change the world.

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Erin Novak New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“And what I now know for sure is that their voices become our words and our words must become action.�

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Our Voices, Our Words Shortly before World War II, Petr Beck was growing up in a normal neighborhood like many other Jews. His father was a doctor and his mother helped Petr’s father as a nurse. Petr and his brother, who was four years older than him, attended school and lived rather normal lives until one day the Nazis forced the family to move from their hometown of Horní Benesov, Czechoslovakia to Bruntál, Czechoslovakia. Eventually they were moved again to two other unfamiliar places as the Nazi regime became more widespread. When Petr was only fifteen years old, he and his family were deported to Theresienstadt Czechoslovakia in 1942 but unlike so many other survivors, Petr shockingly describes his time in Theresienstadt as “easy.” He had been “fortunate” enough to have been hired as an electrician in Theresienstadt and, as such, he was safe from transports to infamous Auschwitz and was afforded fewer restrictions. He was allowed to walk outside at night and during the day, and he was even allowed to cross streets in the middle of the camp that no other Jews were allowed to cross. His was a Holocaust experience unlike any I had heard thus far. Months went by and on October 28th 1944 Petr and his family were deported to Auschwitz. Petr himself was not supposed to be on their same transport, but he asked to be so that he could remain with his family. He was eighteen years old at the time. When it came time for selection, Petr and his father were put in one line, and Petr’s mother and brother were put into another line that would eventually go to the gas chambers. When asked about being separated from his mother and brother, Petr responds simply, but heartbreakingly: “It was a confusing time; I just did what I was told.” As a prisoner in Auschwitz, Petr again worked as an electrician but this time he was treated like any other Jew and there he witnessed daily occurrences of beatings, shootings, and the deaths of those Jews around him. One of the most unique parts of Petr Beck’s story is how he escaped Auschwitz. Petr and his father participated in the death marches of millions of Jews in 1945 when Petr was nineteen. One day, when people were being shot dead right in front of him, he lay down and pretended to

be one of the dead as his father marched on without him. He remained among the dead until it got dark. This risky and courageous act allowed Petr to find himself suddenly free from Auschwitz and then joining the Russian Army where he eventually transferred into the Czechoslovakian Army. Unbelievably in 1945, Petr visited a Czechoslovakian Red Cross and was reunited with his father, who after being liberated from Auschwitz, had been working at the Red Cross as a doctor. B-13785 is the number tattooed on Petr Beck’s arm while he was in Auschwitz, and, unbelievably, he told me that “sometimes he forgets” it is even there. But we can never forget that it is there nor the thousands of other numbers just like Petr’s on thousands of other victims of the Holocaust. Mine is probably the last generation to hear from survivors like Petr Beck. His story, however, as well as the stories of other survivors, should be heard and repeated as much as possible. Interviewing Petr reaffirmed the reason I went on this trip: it is my job to be the voice of the survivor, to make sure that no other atrocities are disregarded and to take action— to no longer be a bystander. I will continue the goal that many survivors like Petr Beck are attempting in telling their stories: to educate my generation about the Holocaust because by educating my generation, the final generation of eye witness testimony speaks through us. And what I now know for sure is that their voices become our words and our words must become action.

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Six Million “Every attempt to put the Holocaust into words is an attempt to describe the impossible. Words contain logical thoughts. The Holocaust, on the other hand, viewed from the perspective of a person who was created in the image of God, is completely illogical. Although the atrocities and murders were planned in the greatest detail and carried out according to plan, no human being of flesh and blood can understand this logic.”

This quote, by Yoel Sher, began the testimony to our group from Holocaust survivor Pavel Stransky. It is an accurate description of the difficulty in writing about the Holocaust. When I begin to look back, I, too, find it hard to put my experience into words. There is so much to say, but it seems as if there are no words that can fully do the job. Pavel saw his love story as an allegory—a symbol of hope throughout the years he suffered under Nazi rule while being placed in several different camps. This idea, and his dreams as he imagined meeting up with his wife Vera, once again gave him the hope and the strength to survive his own horrific ordeal. As he spoke to us, his story revolved around the theme of his individual life and experiences. And then he described the genocide as “Not just one Holocaust, rather six million individual ones.” In other words each death was just as impactful as the final result; each life was just as significant as the other and each one had its own story.

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When he finished with his story, I tried to imagine the idea of so many lives lost—so many more stories that had never been finished. The victims of the Holocaust were considered to be inferior and unworthy of life. It did not matter what their “story” was. Father, mother, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, cousin… As our group traveled from site to site and camp to camp, I could not help but imagine myself back in time and being taken away. What if my life had been different? What if my story had had a different ending? What if my story had had no ending? Pavel Stransky, a Holocaust survivor, shared his words with our group and left us without our own. He had reminded us: “Not just one Holocaust, rather six million individual ones.” What I now know for sure is, to borrow from Pavel Stransky, “Not just one life, not just one love, not just one story, rather six million more.”


Nicholas Robalino New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“What I now know for sure is, to borrow from Pavel Stransky, ‘Not just one life, not just one love, not just one story, rather six million more’.”

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Rebecca McCarten New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“Charles Wolf taught me that what I now know for sure is that courage takes many forms.�

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Courage After one particularly long day of walking, touring and listening to emotional and moving survivor stories, one of the questions I asked myself, was: “How is it possible for someone to survive such madness and then retell his horrific experiences? How could anyone want to relive it in words?” Pavel Stransky was one of the survivors we met while on our trip. He told us of how on December 17, 1943 he, his family and his girlfriend had all been removed from their homes in Prague, Czech Republic on the orders of the Nazi party. Pavel had not known where they were being taken or if he would ever see his girlfriend Vera again. They quickly decided to get married and sadly spent their honeymoon on a cattle train transport to labor camps. Pavel survived those harsh few years which followed, telling us that they had felt like a lifetime to him. He continued by telling us that after liberation and returning to Prague, the first thing he did was search for his wife. He had been informed that she was in a nearby hospital and the only thing Pavel could do was pray for her recovery. A few weeks later, Vera miraculously arrived at his door. Even after her suffering the horrendous conditions of the Holocaust, Pavel told us: “The moment I first saw her, she had never looked so lovely”. Pavel feels it is necessary to spread his story and to try his best to explain to others how powerful true love can be in helping someone keep faith in order to survive tragedy. What I admire most about Pavel is how he continues to tell his story without anger, fear, or any regret. Shortly after meeting with Pavel, our group arrived in Olomouc, Czech Republic, where the first-time event of interviewing Holocaust survivors was taking place. I was nervous, but very eager to meet another Holocaust survivor. After hearing and admiring Pavel Stransky’s heart-felt story it only made sense to me to have a positive mindset for my interview. Unfortunately, something that bewilders me and still haunts me today is my interview with Holocaust survivor Charles Wolf. The first thoughts that came to my mind when I saw Mr. Wolf were that he appeared to be a very unhappy and seemingly angry man. During the interview it was very difficult to really get into a deep conversation with him. He responded in oneword answers and I felt as if he was almost being stubborn.

Mr. Wolf only expanded on one out of about eighty of my questions. I asked him, “As a survivor of the Holocaust, what is your opinion on people who deny the Holocaust ever existed?” This is when a sense of frustration came over Mr. Wolf’s face. He looked right at me and said: “It was a real event; I know this because I was a part of it, and I have proof.” He held up his forearm and showed me the numbers tattooed there. Thinking back to my experience with Mr. Wolf, I was very confused and could not stop trying to make sense of what he had said to me. If Mr. Wolf thought it was wrong for a human to deny the Holocaust, then why didn’t he think there was a need to retell his testimony and fill the world with his words rather than his silence? It was not until that night during our tour group’s debriefing session that I began to understand the complexity of a survivor’s world. I wrote in my journal, April 14, 2010: “From

interviewing Mr. Wolf I got the impression that if you act like everything is okay, it’s easier to cover up the real pain inside.”

I believe that the only way to prevent something so terrible from happening again is to educate as many people as possible, most importantly young adults like myself and even the younger generation. By going on trips such as this, we see, we learn and then we must educate those not armed with our experiences. So for one survivor who had strength enough to survive the Holocaust but may not have wanted to go back there in words, I will find within myself the words, and the courage, to go forward for him. Charles Wolf taught me that what I now know for sure is that courage takes many forms.

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Images of Auschwitz The one experience from the Holocaust Study Tour that I will never forget was what I experienced at Block 5 in Auschwitz concentration camp near Krakow, Poland. I can only use the word death to describe this camp. Block 5 had been used as a barracks when Auschwitz was opened in the 1940s. Now it is one of the few barracks open to tourists and those who come to study and learn about its history. When my classmates and I stepped inside the barracks, a cold shiver started to run through my whole body. As we walked through the hallway and up the stairs, I heard the cries of people inside a room to the left of me. I couldn’t see what these people were looking at and I wondered what still today, and in a “museum”, moved people to such despair. We continued through a hallway to a room where we saw hundreds of canisters of Zyklon-B, the gas the Nazis had used to kill the prisoners in the gas chambers. It was at that moment when I understood the enormous number of dead that had come from this camp during that reign of terror. After we left the room with the Zyklon-B canisters on display, we walked through a hallway back to the room where I had heard the cries of the other people visiting. Just after I entered the room I looked to the left and saw the most terrifying and sickening sight I had ever laid eyes on: two tons of human hair lay in a monstrous pile. One of my classmates immediately cried out and I recognized that very sound to be just like the ones from a few minutes earlier. I myself couldn’t bare the sight for longer than a minute. I eventually had to walk out of the room. Just by seeing that the Nazis had “stolen” human hair showed me how intent they had been on dehumanizing their victims. It was then when I fully realized that the phrase “number of dead” really never

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means just a “number”. “Number” always means people—human lives—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins… When my group was finished inside the room that displayed the human hair, I rejoined them and we went upstairs to yet another horrific sight. At the top of a staircase we turned and walked into a room that contained hundreds of items all of which had once belonged to prisoners: shoe polish tins, children’s toys, umbrellas, boots, baby carriages, prosthetic legs and arms, and so many other items. Then we walked down another hallway filled with something so sad and so telling that, as we entered it, I actually felt death. Throughout the entire corridor I saw thousands of shoes of the fallen displayed on both sides of me. For a moment, I could not comprehend all that I had seen while here at Auschwitz, but then I knew that there in Block 5 I had come to fully understand, realize, and feel death. After my group exited Block 5, I turned around and took it all in with a final lesson. I knew right then and there that the images of Auschwitz would never escape my mind. I knew that old words had new definitions for me and I now know for sure that shoes, boots, and baby carriages will probably never look the same to me again.


Matthew Bachmann New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“I knew that old words had new definitions for me and I now know for sure that shoes, boots, and baby carriages will probably never look the same to me again.�

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Victoria Bell McNair Academic High School Jersey City, New Jersey

“It is unnerving to see the evil truth in the face of humanity, but what I now know for sure is that with inquiry I can imagine a world where there are no victims, no perpetrators, no complacency. Inquiry…imagine that.”

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Inquiry As I walked under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate into Auschwitz an internal voice spoke to me:

“Imagine. Imagine that your fate, your existence in this world, is predetermined; predetermined not necessarily by some divine, higher, holy being, but by fellow man. And imagine that because of these people, your identity is drained by the pipe-work of the institution, the establishment, and the government to which they belong. You are labeled, viewed as inferior, and deemed the problem. The loss of your hair, your clothes, your personality, your family and friends, psychologically takes a toll on your mental state; you suddenly feel a sense of deprivation and lost pride. Now, you are left only with what they haven’t taken from you yet: your life.” Actually, this is unimaginable. As the internal voice continues to echo that I “haven’t ever experienced this before,” I am standing on the grounds of millions of those who have and they had never imagined it for themselves either. Auschwitz is composed of three different parts: Auschwitz I, a concentration camp; Auschwitz II, Auschwitz-Birkenau, a death camp; and Auschwitz III , Monowitz, an industrial complex of factories for the war effort. All three confirm the systematic nature of the Nazi regime and the Final Solution. I was never fully aware of the huge role that deception had played during this awful time in history, however, Auschwitz now made it very clear. The phrase, “Arbeit Macht Frei” above its gate displays a deception that no one could imagine—“Work Will Set You Free”. Now a museum, Auschwitz I is composed of prison blocks that contain the suitcases, clothes, toothbrushes, pots, pans, combs, brushes, shoes and many other belongings of the victims who were forced to stay there more than sixty years ago. Based on the quality and the characteristics of the items that the victims had brought with them, it was quite evident that they had never imagined where they were going or what their fates would be. Our group left Auschwitz I and took a bus to Birkenau, a few miles away. I shivered as I imagined what I would be faced with. Running straight up the middle of this camp was “the Ramp.” This is the division factor composed of railroad tracks along which the train dropped off Jews for “selection.” It was here that thousands of fates were decided by the Nazi officers. Were they to be sent off to work for the war effort or sent to the gas chambers? It was here that so many families were torn apart. I tried hard to imagine it happening to my own family. Straight through the center of the camp alongside the ramp are a few canals that were dug out

by the Jews for drainage purposes. The barracks, where some of the victims had slept, looked like barns or stables meant for farm animals. With cold, wet feet, I trudged on top of the jagged, potholed concrete beneath me. Bunks composed of wooden planks were as uneven as the surface beneath them whether it was another bunk or the ground itself. Imagine, the victims themselves had contributed to the construction of this monstrous place where millions of them would die! While walking on the path toward the far end of the camp, the vastness of loss was painful to deal with. With every step I took into this next camp, I wondered how the truth behind something so huge could go unnoticed by so many. There was an eerie sensation lingering around the barbed wire fences, through the barracks, alongside the ramp and inside the gas chambers. I felt suffocated by the guilt that saturated the atmosphere within; I imagined the souls of those who were kept in Auschwitz years ago might still be there. So I asked myself: who was responsible? It is easy to point fingers, but understanding can not come without questioning and inquiry. Undoubtedly, the Nazi regime was horrific, but there were so many other factors. What about the simple everyday people who were just doing their jobs like running the trains, building the gas chambers, supplying the airborne poison, or opening a gate? This is what scared me the most about Auschwitz. Imagine what would have happened if more people had questioned themselves and wondered why they were doing what they were doing? It is unnerving to see the evil truth in the face of humanity, but what I now know for sure is that with inquiry I can imagine a world where there are no victims, no perpetrators, no complacency. Inquiry…imagine that.

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Power On the eleventh day of our Holocaust trip the group and I took a tour of Birkenau Death camp. We started at the train tower and then headed over to a restored Jewish barracks where Mr. Barmore told our group about how the Nazis had used “power” to pit the Jews in the concentration camps against one another. In the camps, select Jews were purposely chosen to be Kapos, prisoners who acted in the role of “policemen,” who were to maintain order and to supervise fellow prisoners of the barrack to which they were assigned. Mr. Barmore then described to us a common situation. He told us about Kapos who would often become so bored that they would create “games” to entertain themselves as they passed the time from hour to hour and day to day; these games, inhumane and cruel, would further put down and demean the Jewish prisoners. One game in particular took the form of two prisoners fighting each other for food—most likely a scrap of bread. Sometimes family members were up against each other with one ultimately causing the death of the other. This story impacted me greatly and I found myself pondering how the Nazis had used the concept of power so effectively. Did they arrogantly assume that human nature’s instinct for survival would allow them to be successful in pitting Kapo against Jew, Jew against Jew?

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I had heard it with my own ears from Mr. Barmore: Jews in the concentration camps one against the other. It seemed impossible—but I had learned it had been true. I then humbly questioned myself, “What could I be capable of in a position of power? Could I, too, be corrupted by that power?” I will always remember this trip and the education it gave me about myself and the world. What I now know for sure is that power may corrupt, but education will not allow it to do so for long. It is now my job to educate my immediate community and the world. And that for sure is one powerful step.


Timothy Gilmour New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“What I now know for sure is that power may corrupt, but education will not allow it to do so for long. It is now my job to educate my immediate community and the world. And that for sure is one powerful step.�

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Kayla Grueneich Bishop O’Dowd High School Oakland, California

“It has also influenced me to continue to educate myself and others because what I now know for sure is that to truly become educated you must never stop asking ‘Why?’ ”

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Why? As I entered the barricades and walls of Terezin, I found it hard to believe that this tiny, now almost deserted city, had once, under Nazi occupation, held thousands of Jews from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark. Thousands of people, once with busy lives, were now prisoners whose only choice in life became waiting—waiting to be shipped off to extermination camps in the east. Walking through the museum honoring those who had suffered in Terezin, I saw how people had been removed from their homes and placed in this town as if being punished for a crime. Terezin, located outside Prague, in the Czech Republic, was originally built in the 18th century as a military fortress and garrison town, for about 5,000 soldiers. During World War II, under Nazi occupation, it became known as Theresienstadt, and served as the model concentration camp for the world. But the 150,000 Jews who lived in the Terezin ghetto were portrayed by the Nazis as healthy and content. We walked through this “model” concentration camp and as we did Pavel Stransky, one of our guides on our trip, asked us to look for differences between a wash room we now stood in and other rooms we had seen throughout the camp. At first, I didn’t recognize anything significant. It looked like a standard washroom. Then I asked myself: “Why would the Nazis provide a normal washroom, complete with mirrors, to a group of people who they were trying to dehumanize?” Our group was then told that the sinks had never been intended to be used and that there had never even been a plumbing system installed. Rooms like this had been built so that when the Red Cross would visit, it would seem as if the people in the camp were being treated well and were being cared for. As I walked through the deserted camp, a haunting feeling overcame me. I listened to gruesome stories like the one of a boy being forced to fight and kill his father for food; I imagined myself locked in a dark enclosed space for twentythree hours each day; it sent chills down my spine. I asked myself why? Why would anyone treat fellow human beings in this horrific way? It is easy to blame another person for one’s problems—in fact there are still modern-day examples of scapegoats in our daily lives, but to concoct a systematic plan in which to destroy other people? Why? Why did this happen? While walking, I wondered how many prisoners had walked in the same places I was

walking at that very moment. I wondered, How? How did this genocide happen and how was it able to reach such a state of massive proportion? How is it possible that these horrible crimes were able to continue without people even knowing they were happening? While on this trip, I learned that WWII used revolutionary modern warfare. This modern warfare had not involved soldiers meeting and battling until one side ceded to the other; in fact WWII had been a bureaucratic approach to war. Educated bureaucrats had passed laws defining who was Jewish and therefore who should be punished; bureaucrats had produced the limitless propaganda about the dangers presented by Jews; bureaucrats had built the camps, had issued train tickets, had operated the deportation transports; had ordered the Zyklon B gas or prison clothing; bureaucrats had carried out the dehumanization and the murders. I felt revolted when I saw the end results of the efforts of the thousands of “educated” bureaucrats: the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the barracks, and the graves. Instead, however, of just feeling hatred for the Nazis and pity for the persecuted, I learned that it is important that people should not just blindly carry out orders. Instead of simply asking “How do I do this?” one must constantly also address the question of “Why should I do this?” Governments rely on citizens to carry out its laws, and “educated” citizens must always question government policies. Ignorance can have catastrophic results. Visiting the Terezin ghetto among others, and talking to those who survived the Holocaust taught me this. It has also influenced me to continue to educate myself and others because what I now know for sure is that to truly become educated you must never stop asking “Why?”

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Denial and Education Holocaust denial has haunted the minds of survivors and following generations since the first troops walked into Auschwitz, Theresienstadt or any of the other death and concentration camps the Nazi Regime operated. Because I have been studying Holocaust literature for several years, the term Holocaust denial is common to me. This denial is often the result of the fear of humanity. In Poland, I experienced a similar type of denial: Katyn denial. In April and May of 1940 in Katyn, Russia, members of the Polish Officer Corps were targeted by the Soviet Secret Police to be killed and subsequently buried in mass graves in the Katyn Forest, Russia. Russia has been denying the Katyn massacre of Polish political prisoners since the day it happened. The Soviet Union denied the massacre because they were embarrassed by their actions and did not want to suffer the consequences brought upon them by the United Nations. Still, some 70 years later, Russia has only taken responsibility for a small portion of those lives lost in Katyn so many years ago. Ewa, our tour guide in Poland brought us to her home, where our group watched a documentary called Katyn. I found myself sharing much of the denial that such a horrible event could have taken place. Watching the documentary and seeing what humans were capable of, I became utterly shocked that, along with my peers, I had had no idea that Katyn even existed. Before I arrived in Poland this past April I had never even heard of the Katyn massacre. Throughout the film I had to look away and I was constantly wishing that what I was seeing was a fictional movie. However, once it ended, both students and our teachers alike stared blankly around Ewa’s living room as we attempted to grasp what malicious characteristics had encouraged such aggressive behavior towards innocent Holocaust Study Tour

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men. Although nothing in my life amounts to the Katyn massacre, I have witnessed the powerful attacking the meek and the helpless. I have seen and even experienced how easy it is to attack a defenseless person. Everything begins small, even the Holocaust started in a tiny beer hall which became known as the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 in which Adolf Hitler began attempts to convince the masses of his anti-semtic propaganda. When visiting St. Mary’s Cathedral in the castle district of Krakow, our group saw the candles and flowers left at the tomb of President Lech Kaczynski, who had just died in a plane crash days earlier. Kaczynski had been working tirelessly to bring the Katyn past to peace. His mission was to end Katyn denial. I asked myself: when you do not know about something, are you contributing to its denial? Do I, and the many others like me who are completely uneducated about Katyn, play some kind of unknowing part in its ability to continue to be denied? Do we all, as uneducated people, allow aggressors to be successful against the meek and helpless? I am not quite certain as to the answer of this but what I now know for sure is that denial and education are contradictions: you can deny what you don’t know, but you can not deny what you do know.


Libby Reichmuth Saint Thomas Aquinas High School

Overland Park, Kansas

“I am not quite certain as to the answer of this but what I now know for sure is that denial and education are contradictions: you can deny what you don’t know, but you can not deny what you do know.”

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James Dunham Saint Thomas Aquinas High School

Overland Park, Kansas

“What I now know for sure is that the diversity we encounter in life shows us who we are as people and enriches our experiences together as we take this journey called life.�

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Diversity and Common Ground “Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” These words, from

Nigerian-born author, Ola Joseph, ring true throughout history. Human beings are all different. Before I even began my journey of the Holocaust Study Tour, I wondered about the “diversity” of our own group: we would be coming together from the east coast, the Midwest and the west coast—each a very different part of the United States. I thought about how those differences might come into play as we journeyed through Europe. Would we simply travel together and then return home? Would we find common ground and bond with each other? I was intrigued by the Holocaust and all it had to teach me, but I was just as intrigued by what I might learn from my fellow travelers. On our first day in Berlin, our group went together to the Holocaust Memorial in the heart of the city. We approached the monument and immediately noticed that it was made up of multiple steel rectangles—each of different sizes—and there were also uneven walkways snaking in between these steel structures. As our group looked around, up above and below us, we did not know what to make of this architecture. After our historian and guide, Mr. Barmore, talked to us about the Memorial and explained the intentions of the architect, it became clear to us that the individual pieces of the monument represented the fact that each person who suffered during the Holocaust—no matter who they were or where they were from—was unique and special. It was quite a powerful motive behind the design and I looked around me fully understanding

its significance. It was then that I also noticed that each of my fellow travelers, three teachers I barely knew and nine other students close to my age whose names I had practically just learned, were all sharing the same moment and learning the same lesson. Yes, as different as we were and with each of us from different places back home, we were all identical in that moment: touched, moved and impacted by this memorial as it honored the diverse victims of the Holocaust. We were all human beings. The rest of the trip proved to be similar for me and my fellow travelers: we found common ground. We walked together, we listened together, we asked questions together, we learned together, we cried together…we stayed together. And we bonded as human beings studying a horrific time in history. “Diversity is not about how we

differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” What I now

know for sure is that the diversity we encounter in life shows us who we are as people and enriches our experiences together as we take this journey called life.

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The Missing Link Many students learn about the Holocaust during their middle school and/or early high school years. But all the history textbooks that I’ve devoured have only amplified my itch for more knowledge. There always seemed to be a missing link that stood between a text and real understanding. The missing link, I have now come to understand, is the survivors. With the passage of time, the survivors grow older and some die with their stories untold. Others, however, like Petr Beck, make a valiant decision—they decide to talk. But why talk about it? Why relive it? My own personal journey on the Holocaust Study Tour was to find out just that. I had already read and been moved by famous Holocaust stories such as Anne Frank, Otto Wolf, and Elie Wiesel. Now, while walking up the stairs of the community center here in the Czech Republic, I ached to hear the stories firsthand, to help write them and to help save them. When the survivors we had been scheduled to meet arrived at the community center, my group met with a man named Petr Beck. He introduced himself and proudly included that this year would mark his 60th wedding anniversary to his beautiful wife whom he had brought with him. Petr sat very still as he began to reveal to us a large part of what he had witnessed during the time of his imprisonment. As we moved on to even more difficult subjects, Petr began to shift in his chair. He seemed to work out each answer with extreme care and caution in a manner that was unrehearsed yet incredibly powerful. He answered every question we asked him and some had more details than we even expected. As we progressed, I learned how Petr had been saved from gas chambers because he had had a degree as an electrician and the Nazis needed him as a skilled worker. I learned that the first loved ones he lost were his mother and older brother—instantly becoming an only child once he entered the Theresienstadt work camp. As he finished his story about his mother and brother, I recall glancing at Petr’s wife and seeing the shock on her face. I went on to learn how, while imprisoned, Petr had grown accustomed to seeing people beaten, some to death, while on his way to and from work every day in the camps. I learned that after being transported to two separate camps, Petr survived a death march through great risk and sheer luck when he pretended to be dead after Nazi officers randomly shot rounds of ammunition while on the march. I learned how after being separated from his father, Petr had concluded that his father was dead. I learned that, miraculously, Petr Beck did see his father again. He, too, had survived his own ordeals as a prisoner of the Nazis. I remember glancing at Petr’s wife again and seeing her shake and

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attempt to cover her face. Watching Petr move uncomfortably as he spoke, and hearing his wife’s soft sobs, I learned perhaps most shockingly of all, that Petr’s wife had not heard much of his story. Shortly after our interview, I turned to Petr and asked him if over the years he had shared this information with his wife. He paused, and after a few seconds said, “Yes…but she’d never heard it in [this] many words.” After that afternoon, as our group made our way back to our hotel, I wondered to myself: Why, when Petr Beck suddenly decided to tell his full story, had he decided to tell it to strangers, and why had he included so much more details to those strangers than he had ever included to his own wife? I thought about this for quite a while. I kept thinking back to how real the information was that Petr had just shared with me—with all of us on the trip. I thought back to my middle school and high school textbooks. There was no real sign of Petr in any of those pages—in any of those lessons. It was at that point that I realized that if more survivors were to continue telling their stories, the world would not have just more knowledge, but a clear understanding of what was real inside its history. Perhaps Petr Beck had finally realized this too and meeting us was his opportunity to begin real teaching. Petr Beck and the other survivors are the missing link in spreading a more thorough reason to fight against hate and genocide. Lessons from a textbook often can not do enough to move us. Pictures are a good source, but nothing stirs a soul to action like hearing the words of personal experience. As human beings, we are all linked to each other—not to numbers, statistics or words on a page. Perhaps that is why survivors such as Petr Beck are going out and telling their stories. What I now know for sure is that they are the real pictures and words of genocide and it is now our job to teach their lessons.


Natalie Arias McNair Academic High School Jersey City, New Jersey

“What I now know for sure is that they are the real pictures and words of genocide and it is now our job to teach their lessons.�

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Matthew Berner New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

“People may not like to be different and may yearn to ‘fit in,’ however what I now know for sure is that when you are different, you have to have pride, you have to be willing to raise awareness and you have to honor the responsibility that being different brings.”

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Pride and Prejudice While visiting the Jewish Museum in Berlin, Germany, I was quite moved by and interested in the sight of a Christmas tree that had at one time been owned by a Jewish family. As I stood there staring at the tree, it occurred to me that no matter where or when one lives, we all want to “fit in.” The tree showed me the extent to which many Jews in Germany resorted in order to do just that. Dictionary.com defines different as: not identical; separate

or distinct.

After a long day of touring and visiting various sites, our group would return to our rooms each night and I would reflect on the day and what I had encountered and learned. On one particular night I was thinking about this Christmas tree and I started to think about my own life and childhood as a young Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey. I remembered that while I was attending Hebrew School every Tuesday and Thursday, friends would often ask me where I was going. I would usually respond by saying I had CCD classes. Instead of properly explaining what Hebrew School actually was, I had plainly disregarded the difference. Looking back now I had to be honest with myself and admit that, as that young boy, I had often tried to avoid talking about Judaism and any potential problems that might arise out of my being the only Jewish boy among my friends. I see now that during those years when I did not speak about the differences between Judaism and Christianity and those times when I did not talk about my religion, I had actually made the situation more confusing and may

have even caused people to believe false information. Being so young, I only saw myself as a Jew in a greatly populated Christian general public; I did not see the responsibility I carried. Now, thousands of miles away and many years later, how odd it seemed that a Christmas tree would allow me to see my Jewish self so clearly. Knowing that I may be one of just a handful of Jews a person might possibly know or meet, I will now be upfront and clearly express the differences in my religion and others. I will do it in the proper way without hiding behind false information or half-truths. While Judaism does have a degree to which it is different from Christianity, Islam or many other religions, the differences are both interesting and intriguing, to be celebrated and discussed—not ignored, challenged or seen as wrong. People may not like to be different and may yearn to “fit in,” however what I now know for sure is that when you are different, you have to have pride, you have to be willing to raise awareness and you have to honor the responsibility that being different brings.

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Trsice-Olomouc Trsice and Olomouc, Czech Republic—a small village and a larger town close to the CzechPolish border—were the settings during our tour for a rare and unique encounter with the rescuers involved in hiding the Wolf family for three years during the years of Nazi oppression. Since 2008, this opportunity has continued to be arranged for our group by the head of the Jewish community in Olomouc, Petr Papousek and his grandfather, Milos Dobry a survivor of the Holocaust. Like last year, before embarking upon this year’s trip, students were assigned the reading of the diary of Otto Wolf. In his pages, in chilling detail, Otto describes the three year odyssey of living in underground hideouts with his family in the forest of Trsice and in the homes of nearby neighbors. In additional preparation for this year’s Holocaust trip, students participated in a two day seminar at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Through the efforts of Dr. Jane Klinger, the Director of Collections and Conservation, our student participants were once again able to enter the archives and see Otto’s actual diary and to learn firsthand the history behind the diary’s acquisition. Tangible proof of Otto’s diary—its appearance, its length, his handwriting and his words—represented a rarity in Holocaust education: the opportunity to see actual testimony in the form of an authentic diary, over 60 years old. It became, for these students, a connection to the past and present while becoming future testimony for the world. Our relationship with the mayor of Trsice, Leona Stejsksalova, continues to develop as we work collaboratively to complete the memorial project at the site of the underground hideouts that hid the Wolf family for those three unimaginable years. Our friends, Dr. Karel Brezina (a child during the war who witnessed the Wolf family entering and exiting the hideouts) and Mrs. Zdenka Ohera (the daughter of Marie and Oldrich Ohera who helped hide the Wolf family) greeted us again and gave us an extensive tour of the village visiting the sites that commemorate the events of the Holocaust in this community. During our 2009 trip, we discovered through Petr Papousak, that the Jewish community of Olomouc had, still living among them, Holocaust survivors who had never told their stories formally.

We realized the educational potential of this untapped archive and, this year, the Holocaust Study Tour participants met with three of these survivors and recorded their testimonies. The efforts of these students and the survivors to recount such tragic personal memories became a profound historical learning experience that will resonate for years to come. It will further become the mission of the Holocaust Study Tour to continue to record annually additional survivors of this community. Our work in Olomouc and Trsice will continue as we realize the building of the memorials and the finalizing of the recorded testimonies for archival submission. A formal dedication is planned for the 2011 visit and will involve both the Holocaust Study Tour participants and the communities abroad. The experience for our past students and our future students has been educational work and memorable work, but it has also been life changing work to say the least. And this, after all, is perhaps one of the main goals of the program—for a changed life will most often work to change the world.

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Coming Home

Natalie Arias

McNair Academic High School When our group began Holocaust Study Tour 2010, prepared to see the world, we never would have thought that the world would be watching us. Our trip had ended; we had listened, seen and learned so much and then it was over and we were packing up our things to begin our trip back to the United States—or so we thought. Suddenly, the top stories on the world news were talking about a volcanic cloud of ash, the cancelled flights all through Europe and the state funeral of President Lech Kaczynski in Krakow, Poland. Some of them even covered a group of stranded American students and teachers who desperately wanted to go home—or so they thought. One day on the bus, as we drove to the infamous site of Auschwitz, our tour guide and friend, Ewa, began to tell us about the life of President Lech Kaczynski who had been killed in a plane crash during the time of our trip. As she spoke, she alluded to John Donne’s famous “Meditation 17” in which Donne states: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” The death of the President of Poland affected everyone in our group emotionally and physically, and due to the volcanic ash, we found ourselves still in Krakow on the day of this respected leader’s funeral. News media from all over the world converged in the Krakow square. St. Mary’s Cathedral flew the Polish flag, in preparation for President Kaczynski’s funeral mass. And there we were, this group of Americans who had “finished” their study tour—in the middle of it all with new lessons being learned every second we continued to remain there. Thanks to our guide, Ewa, we were never bored, lonely or without a new experience in this foreign city. She did not abandon us simply because our contracted time with her agency had ended. Fully aware the majority of our group were teenagers, she took us bowling in a suburban mall; she took us to ride a funicular and alpine slide in Zakopane and she arranged for us to visit two English classes at a university preparatory high school. Most touching of all, Ewa invited us into her home to watch a DVD about Katyn, Russia, and while she schooled us in this history, she also happened to provide chips, pop and snacks…just as if we were home.

Jersey City, New Jersey On what would turn out to be our actual last day in Krakow, we spent the afternoon with Ewa, touring Wawel Castle. Ewa took us into Wawel Cathedral where we heard the bell ring for Kaczynski’s funeral and where we passed wreaths of flowers foreign countries had sent for his funeral. Inside the Cathedral, we saw the sarcophagi of many Polish kings, queens, and important Polish leaders. Most surreal, however, was walking through the crypt with the sarcophagus of the newly deceased President and Mrs. Kaczynski. We—who according to the news media should have been back in America— instead were able to view the cold marble, the golden inscription, and the etched cross on the top of the Kaczynski crypt. Ewa and others had tears running down their cheeks as they touched the crypt of their president. And there we were: four American teachers and eleven American teenagers amidst Ewa and these Polish citizens, mourning the death of their president. We should have been back home, yet we felt at home among these compassionate, intelligent, kind and generous people whose souls were hurting. We stood respectfully beside them and took it all in. We were there fatefully, and were learning things we never would have learned just days ago. How appropriate for us, teachers and students seeking history, seeking the truth about the Holocaust and the past to be part of the present history of Poland and Europe. On this trip more than any other we learned how our humanity connects us. John Donne knew, Ewa knew and now, firsthand, we knew, too. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

“Not in a million years did I think I would discover such feelings within myself.”

- Natalie Arias -

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Shalmi Barmore Holocaust Study Tour

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Our lead historian, Mr. Shalmi Barmore, brings to this program his many years of historical research in the field of Holocaust education. He founded the Department of Education at Israel’s Yad Vashem. Over the years, he has reshaped the face of Holocaust education in Israel and abroad. He served as the historical consultant for Claude Lansmann’s ground breaking film, SHOAH. He has been the Director of the Jewish Museum in Prague and currently overseas the work of Echo-Melitz, an Israeli based study abroad initiative focusing on Jewish identity and its relevance to the Holocaust. Mr. Barmore’s knowledge and expertise shape our thinking as we engage in the complexity of human behavior which surrounds the Holocaust. As we contend with the essential questions he presents before, during and after the experience, we realize that Mr. Barmore’s formal input becomes the lens through which we learn to articulate this history to our families, peers and community. His historical guidance and insight deepens the meaning of this experience and offers an approach unique to our learning framework. We are grateful for Mr. Barmore’s ledership and commitment to educating the participants involved in this year’s Holocaust Study Tour.


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Pavel Stransky

Our time in Prague each year is enhanced by a special day with Holocaust survivor, Pavel Stransky. Pavel was deported to the Terezin Ghetto from Prague where he worked actively as a teacher. Pavel was imprisoned in Terezin with his fiancee Vera. Pavel and Vera married in Terezin just before being deported to Auschwitz. In Auschwitz-Birkenau Pavel was assigned to work in the children’s block, which ultimately saved his life. After liberation, Pavel was reunited with his wife Vera, and they returned together to Prague. Through lectures and tours of the former Terezin Ghetto, Pavel seeks to educate students throughout the world. He shares his experiences in the hope of eradicating indifference in our world today. At the age of 89, Pavel is determined to bring his message to all who will listen. His remarkable courage during the Holocaust and his willingness to educate others on such a difficult and tragic part of his own life, remains a testament to his life and his survival. We are grateful for Pavel’s dedication to teach others and for his strength in recounting such a complex Holocaust story. His presence, poise and compassion have inspired each participant to become a spokesperson for future generations.

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Our Guides Holocaust Study Tour

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A special thanks to our local guides, Olaf Kolbatz of Berlin, Germany; Kamilla Keren Geussova and Ilona Zahradnikova of Prague, Czech Republic; and Ewa Czuchaj of Krakow, Poland. These guides provided insight into local history as well as how this history played a role in the Holocaust. Each of these individuals took great care in opening our eyes to the richness of culture offered by every country. Through these individuals we learned to understand and appreciate the efforts put forth by each country to preserve the integrity of their heritage while struggling with their nation’s particpation in the Holocaust. Over the years, these guides have become our trusted friends in an important journey of Holocaust study. We are grateful for their open mindedness and willingness to further our knowledge. A special thanks to Paul Stilling of Frosch Travel and Marjorie Brandon of Five Star Touring for arranging every detail of our trip with great care and consideration for our needs. Their commitment to our program and their providing us with an exemplary itinerary allowed us an educational, memorable and seamless experience.


WHAT WE NOW SEE FOR SURE


New Milford High School, Jersey City Public Schools, Saint Thomas Aquinas High School and Bishop O’Dowd High School recognize and appreciate the support of the Board of Education and the administration of each school.

Barbara Collentine, Editor Walter Pevny, Graphic Designer Sarah Schrenzel, Layout Editor Kate Jelaska and Meredith McCann, Contributing Editors Karen Vicari, Proofreader

Contact Information: Colleen Tambuscio, Project Coordinator New Milford High School One Snyder Circle New Milford, New Jersey 07646 Phone: 201-262-0172 ext. 2235 Email: ctambuscio@newmilfordschools.org

Funding for this book was provided by a New Jersey Education Association Pride Grant

Holocaust Study Tour 2010  

New Milford High School, New Milford New Jersey takes a historical trip to study the Holocaust in Europe.

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