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Holocaust Study Tour

April 2011


Perspectives Looking back...Thinking Forward


Holocaust Study Tour Donors 2011 New Milford High School Donors Oded Aboodi Marcia and Joseph Bograd Judith and Robert Cook Lawrence Cohen Doherty Enterprises, Inc. – Applebees Susan and Julie Eisen Ronnie and Marty Eisen Fogarty and Hara Joan and Egon Fromm Graphic Builders, Inc. Inserra Supermarkets, Inc. Murray Kushner Barbara and Fred Lafer Jonathan Mann The New Milford PBA The New Milford Education Association The New Milford Jewish Center Doris and Martin Payson Barnett Rukin Eileen and Harold Schiff In Memory of Howard G. Schneider The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation Barron S. Wall Shirley and Solomon Weiss Arthur Abrams Cele Bass Alice Bell Dave Birnbaum Ida and Gary Borer Lillian and Isaac Braude Olivia Burten Dana Buzzelli

Paul and William Cantor Elizabeth and Robert Chester Leanne and Ray Cottiers Curtis Circulation, Inc. Laura and David Eisen Michael Falk Irene Frank Jennie Freilich Cindy Gardner Paula Gellis Ellen and Ralph Gerber Charolotte Gluck Karen and Bruce Greenwald Barbara and Robert Grodsky Susan and Davis Haas Ilse Heller Bernice and Leon Jaffe Jewish War Veterans Sandra Kaufman Linda Keesing Edith and Robert Levine Susan and Peter Liebeskind Claire Mann Joan and Brian McCann Susan McCullagh Estelle and Herbert Meislich Hanns Merzbach Sarah and David Nanus Northern Valley Anesthesiology Rosalyn and Bruce Nussman Ida and Ivo Piasevoli Charline and Eugene Resnick Martin Ross Phyliss Rubin Dana and Frederic Rubin Peggy Saslow Steven Saslow Rochelle and Charles Schreiber Debra and David Silver Joan and Gerald Simmons Carolyn Smith Temple Avodat Shalom Bella Viezel Sylvia and June Waller Maria and Clifford Weber Harriet and Bernard Weinberg Mimi Weis Dave Wilson Eileen and Donald Wolmer


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

Jersey City Donors

Bishop O’Dowd High School Donors

Violet Zall Hordes Foundation – Temple Beth El Rabbi Keith Brickman United Synagogue of Hoboken Rabbi Robert Scheinberg Hudson Jewish Lowell Harwood David W. Radulich and Joanna M. Radulich Dante Alighieri Jeffrey Vock and Wendy Dunkel Adam S. Weiss David T. Dunkel and Raylie Dunkel Lee D. Levine and Ann I. Neumann Stuart M. Silverberg and Roberta R. Silverberg Alan Klugman

Marty and Karen Anderson Rabbi Mark Bloom, Congregation Beth Abraham Roselyn Caselli Sue and John Chavez Ray and Carol Craun Lydia Palmin and Tom Daley Rabbi Judah Dardik, Beth Jacob Congregation First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland, Temple Sinai Robert and Moira Ewert Charles and Debra Haegel James Hanson and Dianne Nicolini Arthur and Jody Hoffman Stephen and Susan Jaffe Ann Knox Geoffrey and Barbara Kotin Eric and Janet Litzky Peter and Helen Loewenstein Michelle Jordan and Janet Litzky Michael and Laury Mainini Sandra and John Montgomery Dorothea Nathan Nelson Family Trust Denis and Sheila Ring Second Generation, Temple Beth Abraham, Oakland George and Susan Troy Matthew Whalen Vivien Williamson

Fundraising efforts of: Magda Savino Thomas Macagnano The Jersey City Public Schools

Saint Thomas Aquinas High School Donors Eddie and Gloria Baker Feinstein Rabbi Scott White Russell and Jaunita Bailey

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.


C

ontents

8

Leading

Colleen Tambuscio June Chang Lisa Bauman Bonnie Sussman

Shielding

10 12

Nicholas Sexton

Walking

Kasandra Appice

Modeling

14 16 18

Celina Ensenat

Looking

Deanne Millo

Reflecting

Brenton Prisendorf

Terrifying

20

Casey Slank

Drawing

22

Sarah Petrick

Sacrificing

24

Samantha Bell

Inspiring

26

Theresa Powers

Imagining

28

DaiQuan Nelson

Hoping

30

Gregory Winkler

24


32

Honoring

Sarah Schrenzel

Having Courage

34

Ashley Lignos

Appreciating

36

Francesca Blazina

Escaping

38

Cherilyn Conner

Olomouc-Trsice

54

Pavel Stransky

56

Shalmi Barmore

58

Guides

60

Facing

40

Lilibeth Nova

Surprising

42

Jordan Kaprielian

Connecting

44

Mackenzie Daniel

Valuing

46

Jessica Genao Nunez

Forgiving

48

Michelle Khimishman

Compartmentalizing

50

Reagan Smail

Meaning

52

Sadie Ramos

The students who participated in the Holocaust Study Tour 2011 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 reflections that convey the hearts and minds of this year’s participants.

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


PERSPECTIVES

Looking Back...Thinking Forward he Holocaust Study Tour always provides new and exciting learning T opportunities because although there is an itinerary, the schedule flexes as new educational experiences arise. This year, however, our

group expanded to 22 students, the largest ever. While learning about the history of the Holocaust, we became more than just a group of students and teachers; we became a family. One of the many highlights of this year’s trip was the opportunity to meet Eva Vavrecka, the daughter of Felicitas (Lici) Wolf Garda. Lici was the sister of Otto Wolf who was mentioned in the Diary of Otto Wolf (required student reading prior to the trip). We are so grateful that Eva, who has never spoken in public about her family’s history, was willing to meet with us at our hotel in Prague. We discovered many new aspects of the story including that Otto’s diary was smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and brought to America in the 1970’s by Lici’s half brother, Thomas Mandl. Eva was able to give us insight into Lici’s postHolocaust life, and we are incredibly grateful to Eva for bringing to life this history from Salvaged Pages: a collection of young writers’ diaries from the Holocaust Pavel Stransky continues to inspire us each year by telling his story and guiding us to Theresienstadt, the camp where he and his wife, Vera, were interned before being sent to Auschwitz. As Pavel talked to our students, all 22 pairs of eyes were riveted to his face. Pavel, now 90 years old, compassionately and bravely retold his time in both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Tears flowed down the faces of our 22 teenage children, who are now barely younger than Pavel was when the Holocaust began. All day, our students approached Pavel and gave him hugs, posed for pictures and asked questions. We are thankful for Pavel’s friendship and the important historical and personal lessons he gives us. This year the Olomouc Jewish Community invited us to celebrate the Passover seder with them. Welcomed by Petr and his grandfather, Milos Dobry, our own Sarah Schrenzel sang the four questions from the Haggadah in Hebrew. What an incredible evening: first listening to Milos tell his story of surviving Auschwitz; then celebrating what for many of us was our first Passover seder; and finally, being able to share in this experience with the Jewish Community of Olomouc, which included many of the Holocaust survivors whom we interviewed during last year’s Holocaust Study Tour. How thankful we are that the Olomouc Jewish Community is helping us next year with our dedication at Trsice. A new facet to our relationship with the community of Trsice was the presentation of a special pin by Colonel Zuffa-Kunci of the Czechoslovak Legions in Olomouc, to our group’s leader Colleen Tambuscio, in recognition of the special relationship which has developed between the Czech people in the Olomouc region and the American students through this Holocaust Study Tour program. We have been working with the local community to further commemorate this story by building a memorial to mark the site of the underground hideouts in which the villagers of Trsice hid the Wolf family for three years during the Holocaust.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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sman•

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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Nicholas Sexton Nicholas Sexton

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

10

McNair Academic High School Jersey City, New Jersey


T

he cautionary tale of the Holocaust is not that it was committed by evil caricatures, but by humans of intellect and supposed sophistication. Wandering the manicured villa at Wannsee, where the elite of German society—doctors, philosophers—finalized the plan for the systematic murder of Jews, was surreal. Even more jarring was seeing photos of Hitler’s top advisors in repose, laughing and smiling for the camera, with their family and friends. They didn’t look like monsters, but like moms and dads, wives, husbands, daughters and sons—no different from you or me. The Holocaust was not just one event, but a gradual chain of events—except too few individuals were willing to try to break the chain. It began with racism, then antiJewish decrees, then the idea of deporting, and only after, mass “extermination.” There was plenty of time to speak out, but few did. Should such chilling reminders of human cruelty leave us cynical and/or depressed? Are some humans, including Hitler, inherently evil? Was the Holocaust, or decades later, the atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur, simply destined to play out?

What about the concept of free will? What about the villagers in Trsice, people like the Ohera family, who endangered their own lives to hide and save Otto Wolf and his family? World history often reveals that all humans have the capacity to be both good and evil. When we label others as “evil,” and ourselves as “good,” we are essentially denying human nature; no person is strictly good or bad. Recognizing and observing the seeds of evil in us all—emotions such as greed, hatred, and ignorance—and countering them on small scales of daily life may be the best way to prevent their massive escalation from ever occurring again. None of us can afford to look the other way. We must be vigilant, with ourselves and with others. As Martin Luther King Jr. wisely noted:“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Soon, there will be no more Holocaust survivors, making it even easier for deniers to insist the crime never happened. But Elie Wiesel reminds us that “Memory is a shield.” My peers and I have a responsibility to keep the memory alive, so that it can shield our world from future genocide. We must work to silence the deniers, and to tell the history to anyone who is willing to listen.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Shielding

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Kasandra Appice Kasandra Appice

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

12

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


W

hen our group first entered the exhibit of “The Fallen Leaves,” I stared at my surroundings and felt a small shiver run from my feet all the way up my spine. When I finally looked down it was frightening to see metal plates on the floor cut out in the form of faces of actual Holocaust victims. Whether it was in their eyes or their mouth, I noticed each one of them held a different expression of fear and pain. I was frozen, afraid to continue, for when I did, I knew I would be walking over the faces of people who had once lived. After a brief lecture about how “The Fallen Leaves” exhibit was created, it was time for our group to continue our tour. At first I wanted to refuse, unable to walk on, but I knew if I didn’t walk with my fellow classmates, I was giving in to fear. I remember as I stepped forward, I kept my head down at all times and attempted to keep my feet from stepping on the faces of each metal plate. Instead, I carefully tried to step on the edges to avoid making the horrible clanking sound everyone else was producing as they took their own steps. The sound was overwhelming for me and horrid to listen to. I remember someone stating the heavy clanging sounds reminding them of the train tracks and the Grunewald Train Station. But for me, it was

much different. I heard it as the sounds of people screaming. The screams of mothers and fathers and children looking for each other; the screams of people being left alone; the screams of people being brutally murdered. I could continuously hear all of these noises in my head and after a while, I began to picture the images of these people and how they might have looked when being put in these conditions. That was when I realized I was picturing exactly what I was walking over. My emotions that came from just walking across a plate-overed floor made me believe that I was the one who was making these people scream and cry again. I felt as if these faces were the symbols of the souls and lives of victims and that I was the one crushing and destroying each one as I stepped on each individual face. It made me feel uncomfortable, it made me feel guilty and cruel. I wanted to stop walking; I wanted it to end. Walking through my own fear at the exhibit of “The Fallen Leaves” made me realize that after I returned home from this incredible trip, I could not just “talk the talk,” but I now was sure that I had to continue to “walk the walk” of educating everyone I could about this horrific time in history.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Walking

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Celina Ensenat Celina Ensenat

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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Bishop O’Dowd High School Oakland, California


W

hen inside the limits of Berlin, the shadow of the Holocaust is always just a few steps behind. On every street are the ghosts of the past. Germany has made great strides in remembering the Holocaust. Modern Berlin has an echo that is unlike any other city that has had such a tragic history. The Holocaust is a continually living, breathing event that is a part of Berlin, which shows how Germany stands alone in its acknowledgement of its past, and the entire world is able to look to Germany as a leader in tolerance and unity education. In Berlin, it seemed as if there were a Holocaust memorial on every corner. The memorials have been incorporated into the very fabric of the society. Where other cities may have a piece of art, Berlin has a piece of art with an historical background. On the sidewalks, there are names of those who are lost. Berlin is a new type of city, one that acknowledges its faults in order to build a better future for itself and the world. German children are educated at a young age about tolerance and diversity using Holocaust sites and its history. It is an extensive tolerance program and hides nothing about the Holocaust in order to have future generations be an educated population who will not stand for an atrocity like the Holocaust again.

Germany is setting a model for the world. If the level of tolerance education in Germany was replicated internationally, genocides might be stopped forever. Even the United States, which is viewed as a leader in global freedom, does not acknowledge its violent genocide past with the Native Americans. I believe that if the United States was to mirror Germany with tolerance education, and memorializing the past, the United States could make great strides in the way we conduct ourselves in foreign affairs and use our considerable influence on other countries to end the practice of genocide. Tolerance education is an essential component of stopping genocides permanently. Germany has emerged to be a leader and role model. The living, breathing Holocaust is something that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In order to have a more peaceful, fruitful future, Germany has accepted its wrongdoings and is building them to better its self. The world needs to look to Germany as a model of what actions should be taken to prevent genocide from reoccurring ever again.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Modeling

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Deanne Millo Deanne Millo

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


T

ransportation. We go to work; we go on vacation; we go to school. We never expect the worst. Seventy years ago, in the middle of World War II, no Jew, no gypsy, no one really knew where they were going as they boarded the trains at the Berlin Grunewald train station in Berlin, Germany. When our group arrived at Grunewald in April of this past year, it was pouring rain and cold—a fitting mood of the Holocaust’s dreariness and gloom. We got off the bus and walked towards the tracks. As I got closer, I started to get a sense of fear. I started to really think about what Mr. Barmore had said to our group: “All the people who boarded these trains had no idea where they were going.” They were simply told to bring all their important belongings and go. I stopped and thought

about that and I related it to 9/11. Ten years ago on September 11, 2001 as those unsuspecting victims boarded their planes, they didn’t think it was going to be their last time alive. They were using a form of transportation to go on a business trip for work, to go on vacation, or to go back to school. Like Grunewald, those unsuspecting victims probably boarded their trains with no real thoughts of impending death. All these years later, to be standing on the train tracks looking at where these deportations had taken place opened my eyes; this is where pain, suffering and death started for so many. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away and I know that I will never look at train tracks the same way again.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Looking

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Brenton Prisendorf Brenton Prisendorf

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


W

hile traveling on the train that took our group from Berlin to Prague, I found myself reflecting back on the various places I had been while on this trip and it had a somewhat reverse effect on my interpretation of the Holocaust. I asked myself a question: how could the Holocaust ever have happened? The scenery I witnessed while on the train ride was beautiful and bright. How could something as dark and grim as the Holocaust have been allowed to happen here amid the various colors of nature, its landscape and the wonderful sunshine? The general public around the world knows that the Holocaust was one of the worst tragedies to occur in history, as do I. This train ride, however, made it impossible for me to connect the Holocaust to the peacefully flowing river on my left, the stunning hillside peaks on my right, and the quaint villages traveled through on my journey. It was very hard to envision that the Holocaust could have happened in such a breathtaking area of Europe. I thought about the Jews’ train rides to the concentration camps and reflected on my own train ride. I was sitting in a somewhat comfortable cabin with cushioned seats and with only five other people next to me. As I had learned about the Jews’ transport, there had been hundreds of

people stuffed into cattle cars smaller than the rail cart of the very train I was now on. Also, I was traveling by the same means of transportation as the Jews had during the Holocaust; I was even in the same area of the country. It made me aware of the distinct differences between my travel and their own and I came to the horrible realization that the train tracks we were traveling on at that moment had probably transported thousands of imprisoned Jews to their deaths. This knowledge and comparison made me feel somewhat sick and guilty. Here I was simply traveling to get from one place to another and had almost forgotten to think about how many Jews’ last stops had been located at the end of these very tracks. Back home now I am often reflecting on that train ride. It not only brought me to one of many destinations through out my trip, but its scenery, its history and its lessons brought me to the realization that the horror of the Holocaust did indeed happen but the ugly truth of it all was reflected back to me in the midst of some of the most beauful places in the world that I have ever seen.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Reflecting

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Casey Slank Casey Slank

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


M

y three friends and I joined hands and we felt the strength transfer from one to the other hoping it would help us make it to the end of the tunnel in Theresienstadt, Terezin, Czech Republic, that we were too terrified to walk through alone. The tunnel had been used for Nazi soldiers during World War II in case they needed a quick escape if the camp were to be invaded. The tunnels were dark, cold and compact—an incredibly uncomfortable place to be inside—but having others there with me made it something I knew I could get through. The further we got into the tunnel, the more scared I became and I felt like this tunnel would never end. That was when one of my friends ran up and grabbed both my hand and the hand of one of our teachers. Her own terror had revealed itself as she clutched our hands. Together we walked through the seemingly never-ending tunnel holding hands and I felt like this was very symbolic for the circumstances. It made me think of Pavel’s story. He had told us that the biggest factor that helped him get through the Holocaust was his faith in love. This, in turn, made me think of the song “All You Need Is Love” by

The Beatles, which seemed to be a recurring theme throughout many of our experiences that day. Sometimes love really is what you need to get you through the most terrifying of times, and I felt it holding my hands when I was walking through the tunnels. When we reached the end, we were getting more and more relieved; we could actually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, reaching the end of our walk, we broke out of the tunnel to find the soldiers’ shooting range—also used as execution grounds for the prisoners at Theresienstadt. We broke our grips on one another’s hands, and stood on our own to walk through the rest of the camp, still feeling the effects of that terrifying walk through the tunnels. Now, here we stood in a place where prisoners had been executed. We had walked together to this terrifying place where they had stood alone. Had they been terrified to stand there to face death where we had been terrified to walk? I could never imagine being in the place of the prisoners there, but I realized how absolutely terrifying it must have been for them if I felt the same so many years later after the camp had been liberated and the Holocaust was over.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Terrifying

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Sarah Petrick Sarah Petrick

McNair Academic High School Jersey City, New Jersey

T

he small illustrations of purple flowers sprawled over a museum display in Theresienstadt could have been easily taken for granted. After they became the center of my attention, however, I noticed the delicate butterflies with ridged lines and uneven coloring. Before I experienced such presentations on the study tour, I had considered myself educated on the Holocaust. I could easily recall dates, political figures, and statistics without a problem. I was indeed “informed,” thanks to high school textbooks packed with plenty of jagged numbers and blunt words. Yet, as I stood in front of artwork made by some of the youngest victims of ghettos, camps, and their multitudes of misfortunes, I acquired more than information. I acquired perspective, and sensitivity. I was looking at the Holocaust as it appeared to the innocent eyes of a child. Children possess an innocent sense of imagination. Their artwork reflects a mixture of reality and creativity. The reality they had to face, however, could hardly be imagined by any child. The countless tragedies did produce drawn images of frightening items relating to the Holocaust. While I was accustomed to seeing photographs of Nazis, none of them expressed such distinct feeling than a child’s drawing of a regime with fangs and blue hair. In the midst of what they saw, what they did not see is creatively conveyed as well. Memories,

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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families, and objects present the children’s want of happiness to shine through the dismal circumstances. I recognized feelings of hope peeking through the obscure renditions of a carousel and brightly colored faces of people. Standing in front of the display, I couldn’t help but marvel at a small girl’s ability to make purple flowers of such a tragic experience. Later that day, the drawings remained present in my thoughts while looking upon the children’s memorial in Lidice. Depicting a group of children killed in an unjustified manner, the mood of the situation is represented in an unforgettable sculpture of realistic faces and mannerisms. As I stood in the midst of life-like children, small wild purple flowers grew from the surrounding grass. These were children. They were somebody’s daughter or son, niece or nephew, and granddaughter or grandson. Some had brave stances of maturity, while others humbly held the hands of siblings. Various as they were however, each child shared one quality. Every child was innocent of the consequences they were facing. While all those who experienced the tragedy of the Holocaust shared the blameless characteristics, their innocence did not keep them from harm. When views and opinions are presented by an artistic interpretation, all barriers are shattered. Compared to photographs, art

can display a visual representation that reflects the artist. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin displays blatant aspects of horrific events while presenting a personal view of the matter. Large gray blocks of various heights and sizes bombard paths meant to be followed by the viewer. Sensations vary depending on the person and how they experience the presentation. While this might seem troublesome, it still serves as a reminder that the Holocaust is something that the human race cannot afford to forget in the subjective memory of each individual human being. We are not children suffering through a genocide, but art is a universal expression of feelings. Feelings about the Holocaust are powerful, and logically lead to universal, artistic expression. My sister and I loved to draw flowers as children. We just liked to draw, but we produced countless pieces of art that my parents cherish to this day because they reflect us subjectively, as individual human beings. Our drawings even look quite similar to those I saw in the museum that one afternoon over the course of the trip. Every person begins as an innocent child. These “victims” were children, just like my sister and I. The Holocaust produced an inhuman volume of unnecessary death and destruction, and still to some it drew out the creation of little purple flowers.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Drawing

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Samantha Bell Samantha Bell

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

24


W

hen our Holocaust Study group visited the small village of Trsice, we sat down and heard the story of the Ohera family’s role during the Holocaust. Mrs. Ohera’s family was one of the many who helped hide the Wolf family during this time. The Oheras were not Jewish, but came to hide a Jewish family through their friend Mrs. Ticha who had aleady been facilitating their hiding arrangements. The way Mrs. Ohera told her story really moved me. Although she spoke no English, our translator allowed us to understand and recognize her emotion. She had this sad look in her eyes as she was telling her story that I will never forget. Mrs. Ohera lost her father to the Nazis in the roundup that also took Otto’s life. It is admirable to me that to this day she is not resentful at all, and that even though she still grieves what happened to her father, she has never regretted her family’s decision to hide the Wolf family. Even though she has only told her story publicly a few times, the way she handled her emotions moved me. I know that if I were in her position, it would be extremely difficult for me to be so strong. I respect Mrs. Ohera and look up to her. Even back here in the United States, I find

myself still thinking of her and her courage; I find myself hoping that if I ever need to be as brave as she is, I will be. Mrs. Ohera wants to tell her story and even though she did not go through the horrific events that most victims faced in concentration camps and ghettoes, her story is one of sacrifice and is part of the history of the Holocaust. I believe that the only way to prevent something so horrific from happening again is to educate young minds. Not many people are fortunate enough to experience a journey like me and my fellow students have, so we must bring back what we learned to educate the younger generations. In about 10 years there might not be any Holocaust survivors left. Educators like Pavel Stransky and Mrs. Ohera really hold an important place in our society, and I know that I will take their stories, their words and their sacrifices with me wherever I go.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Sacrificing

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Theresa Powers Theresa Powers

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

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Saint Thomas Aquinas High School Overland Park, Kansas


“There was not just one, but six million individual Holocausts, and mine happens to be a love story also.” – Pavel Stransky

P

avel Stransky, by far one of the most inspirational people I have ever met in my life, went through so much, and yet is still able to be happy while recalling all of his worst memories. His story began in 1938 when he met the love of his life, Vera. Their love was so strong that it survived through ghettos, concentration camps, and years of torture. Pavel experienced the Theresienstadt ghetto and camp, and Auschwitz II – Birkenau. While he was at Auschwitz, he was appointed to be the teacher of the children’s block because he had a background in teaching. “That was one of the main purposes for my survival,” he said. As Pavel recounted many of the torments and nightmares of what he saw and went through while at Auschwitz, it inspired me; his strength and sense of calm spoke to us. When we asked him why he chose to tell his story and how he gets through it each time, he answered, “I don’t want people to forget too soon.”

Pavel and Vera have the strongest love I had ever heard. They met before the war, got married in Theresienstadt, were separated when in Auschwitz, and later reunited after the war. Hearing Pavel talk about “the love of his life” enabled me to feel his overpowering love with every word he spoke. He told us that the day that he and his wife Vera were reunited after the war was “the happiest day of [his] life.” Throughout Pavel’s speech, he emphasized the word hope. He kept repeating, “You have to have hope…without hope you are dead.” Hearing a Holocaust survivor tell me to have hope inspired me profoundly. Pavel taught me that I can have hope when my life presents its own struggles and hardships. My memories of Pavel are significant to me because he doesn’t view his Holocaust survival story as one filled only with terror, pain, and hardship. He also looks at it as his love story with Vera, and how much his own love for her inspired him with hope for the rest of the days of his own life.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Inspiring

27


DaiQuan Nelson DaiQuan Nelson

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Henry Snyder High School Jersey City, New Jersey

28


I

magine yourself in a dream. You see yourself playing with your friends enjoying the weather, until suddenly you hear some sounds coming from the house where your family was having a good time. At the same time you can hear your family yelling, “Help!” As you sprint to the house a group of men stop you from coming to rescue your family. This imaginary scenario came to me remembering the 82 children of Lidice whose fathers were killed by the Nazis. When I stood in front of the memorial at Lidice, my imagination ran away with my thoughts. The children in the memorial have expressions on their faces that show they didn’t understand why this event took place that day, a day where many fathers were killed in front of their children. Standing there it hit me because I had to open my eyes to see the children in front of my face.

I didn’t know what to do but cry. Imagine yourself in a dream. When the Nazis see tears roll down your face, they tell you to shut up or else. You couldn’t help but to continue to cry. Next, they shoot a bullet in the air and say, “Shut up!” The Nazis start to kill your father, your friends’ fathers, one at a time, one by one. You start to pray and ask God to save you from this moment where there is nowhere to go. You end your prayer with amen, but when you look up there is a gun in your face. Now that I am home in New Jersey, I see those faces in my sleep. Sometimes I jump up from out of my sleep and hear a sound coming from another room, and I realize that it was all a dream. But I can sit here and think about the dream and know what will happen at the end. I cannot figure out or understand what happened at Lidice.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Imagining

29


Gregory Winkler Gregory Winkler

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

30

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


I

am beginning to realize more of what I want from my own life. I am beginning to realize how tired I am of being hidden from the world. I am beginning to resent the fear that I often have of myself and things I want to do. Lidice, Czech Republic gave me a new courage and a sense of spirituality that is totally unique for my life. I found Lidice to be the prettiest place that our group visited during the entire trip, but in contrast, I found that its famous memorial statue of some of the Holocaust’s youngest victims showed the dark and evil side of Lidice’s history. I saw Lidice as a wall of beauty that hid a dark truth; I found a new hope in myself in Lidice. When I looked at the 82 faces of the children who make up the statue in Lidice, I felt as if they were asking me two questions: “Why?” and “What do you want?” These are two questions that I have asked myself for a long time. I thought about my “self” and those 82 children. Those children were murdered before they even had a chance at life, some of them too young to even know what life could be. So I looked into my heart and I thought about what I

wanted my life to be. It was there and then that I promised myself that I would make something of my life—that I would live my life differently from that moment on and make it mean something. I would do this for the Lidice children who had had their chances taken away without the opportunities to determine what their own lives would mean. While I was staring into the faces of the statue, I suddenly heard the voice of a child. I looked around to see a family with their small son walking through the site. When I saw them I began to cry—not from sadness, however, but rather from joy. Here at this place after such evil, I was able to glimpse a sign of hope in that young child who, like me, had his whole life before him. That hope and the site around me gave me the strongest urge to pray that I have ever had. I suddenly dropped to the ground. I prayed for the youth of the world and for the future of the world. I prayed for safety from the horrors of the world and for the new generations to lead the world away from horrible times and into the hope of peace.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Hoping

31


Sarah Schrenzel Sarah Schrenzel

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

32

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


D

uring our time on the trip, my Jewish identity was recognized and welcomed with a Passover seder that was held for our tour group in the Czech Republic. Being easily accepted into this Jewish community in a foreign country caused me to think about the hardships my own grandfather had probably gone through during the Holocaust as he struggled to honor his religious beliefs and keep his identity as a Jew. Unlike the seder where I was surrounded by friends and other Jews, he had been surrounded by German citizens and Nazis. He was very courageous in his situation as he tried to stay faithful to Judaism in the middle of World War II. Some seventy years later my Jewish life was different; I was able to visit Olomouc and honor my Jewish history with an extraordinary dinner and an extraordinary community. The people from and around Olomouc were enjoying another seder with each other. There were Holocaust survivors and survivors’ children who seemed happy

within the community and adding another year onto World War II being in the past. It would have been in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia where my grandfather would have had his family seders. In the past, Judaism was looked down upon, but Jews continued to believe despite their hardships. My grandfather, too, did what he had to do to keep and to protect his identity. For those who had the strength and never gave up, like my grandfather, they held onto their Jewish identity and honored who they would always be. My grandfather kept our family’s Jewish heritage intact. Honoring his religion and Jewish heritage was a priority for him. Two generations later, in honor of my grandfather, and as a result of the seder and other experiences through out the tour, I have strengthened my own faith as a Jew and will keep it and honor it all the rest of my life.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Honoring

33


Ashley Lignos Ashley Lignos

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

34

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


A

lthough Milos Dobry didn’t have enough time to tell our group his entire story, what I heard him say was enough to make a huge impact on my life. As the Holocaust took place and the Nazis were gathering prisoners, survivor Milos Dobry would probably have been taken away with so many others had it not been for his courage. One day, so many years ago, Milos ran into his kitchen to begin stirring a pot on the stove. When the Nazi officials stormed into his kitchen Milos stated that he was a cook and even offered the Nazis some of the food he was “cooking.” At that moment, in Milos, the Nazis saw a purpose for him and they decided right there not to take Milos because he would become a cook for the Nazis and serve them their food. The thought of this happening was mind-boggling to me because I realized that Milos would not be alive today if he hadn’t had the courage to run into that kitchen; he knew the risks he was taking but his immeasurable courage allowed him to stand strong and make a decision

for himself that would, in turn, allow a lifesaving decision to be made for him as well. Having courage is a major goal I have now set for myself today. I strongly believe that nobody has the right to put anyone down and Milos shared the same belief. He showed us this when he took a stand not only for himself but for his life and for his family. He clearly understood what he was getting himself into and the thought of backing down never occurred to him. Instead, Milos stood there in the kitchen, alone, with several S.S. Officers and had the audacity to lie to their faces. He lied for his life and in so doing saved it. Having courage allowed him to not just continue to stay alive, but to live with some kind of dignity that many of the Nazis had already stripped away from so many of their other victims. Milos Dobry would not be one of them.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Having Courage

35


Francesca Blazina Francesca Blazina

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

36

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


W

hen our study tour group arrived in Trsice we were graciously welcomed and then introduced to a Slovak tradition of dipping a piece of bread into salt and eating it. We were then introduced to a woman named Mrs. Ohera, I could tell Mrs. Ohera was excited to see all of us and I sensed that she greatly wanted to share her story with us. It became clear to me that this woman, no matter how much emotional pain she would have to go through, wanted us to hear what she had to say. Once we arrived at the house where she had grown up with her family, Mrs. Ohera told us the story of her father’s decision to help hide his Jewish neighbor, Otto Wolf, and his family for several years. She went back to that time, seventy years ago, when the Holocaust grew more real, threatening and widespread, and when her father had made the decision. Although there was a language barrier between her and our group, we didn’t need the pain in her voice to be explained to us, nor the sense of admiration and pride she still had for her father and his bravery. We could clearly see the fear in her eyes as she relived the story of her father’s being found

out, removed from the home, tortured and eventually murdered by the Nazis. When I first heard Mrs. Ohera’s story with my fellow classmates, I could tell we all felt the same pity and pain for her. But later that night, as I sat thinking about our day, her experience became much more personal for me and my own life. Mrs. Ohera’s words were more than history and survivor testimony for me—I saw in them a much deeper emotional connection to my own life. When she said she grew up without a father, I could relate to her. As she spoke, I experienced many different emotions: guilt, fear, sorrow and pain. But then I suddenly felt appreciative—appreciative for the time and the power that I still have to fix relationships and make them stronger. What I have mostly learned from Mrs. Ohera is to start appreciating the important people in my life and the time given to me to spend with them. That night I knew I would start with my father. While Mrs. Ohera’s time with her father was brutally taken from her and cut short, my own would start again as soon as I got back home to him.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Appreciating

37


Cherilyn Conner Cherilyn Conner

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey

38


n April 19th our group drove to Trsice. I stared out the bus windows wide eyed and amazed that I was actually in the town where the Wolfs—a family I had come to learn so much about in preparation for the trip—had been hidden. I was surprised by how precisely the town matched my perception of it from my reading and I anxiously anticipated our walk through the forest.

O

Standing there in this forest in Trsice where a family had escaped death, I thought back to what Otto Wolf had written in his diary and how he had described the hideout himself. He had described hundreds of mice, he had described the family being silent inside their hideout for hours at a time when people were walking nearby. I stared at where this family had hidden and thought to myself: “four people lived in that small space?”

When we arrived at the forest we began walking through the woods to the actual hideout. I looked at my surroundings as I stepped through the vegetation, walked around trees and walked by bushes; it felt overgrown but it was still quite spacious. And then suddenly, I was truly shocked and we were standing before our destination. I had never imagined the hideout to look the way it did. I had been expecting to see an underground cave or a makeshift tent and was actually quite confused because what I saw was beyond anything I had been prepared for. The “hideout” in front of me was three conjoined ditches in the ground with brush to cover and conceal them. That was it—no tent, no cave—just make-shift shallow ditches in the earth.

In school we all learn of the conditions in concentration camps where hundreds of Jews were confined into one barrack, where crude bunks were set up for some prisoners to sleep one or two at a time. But what about the family of four living in a ditch in a forest? Could the Wolfs’ story really be the only one of escape? Had others “escaped” through this method? The Wolfs and their hideout taught me that even those who had found success in “escaping” deportation, had still been among the victims of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Escaping

39


Lilibeth Nova Lilibeth Nova

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

40

Lincoln High School Jersey City, New Jersey


I

went on the Holocaust Study Tour thinking I would learn about simple things and nothing would change my outlook on my life, but I was mistaken. I learned more about myself, about people, and how society needs to change. What was most memorable to me was seeing the memorial to the 82 children in Lidice who were murdered by the Nazis when they thought that Reinhard Heydrich’s assassins were hiding in their village in the Czech Republic. The Nazis killed their fathers, sent their mothers to camps, destroyed their village and sent these children to die. I had seen pictures of this place and read about it, but when I stood there I couldn’t believe how difficult it was for me to face this truth. I looked at every single face that stood there and tried to make a story for each, trying to understand what they were feeling, but it was impossible. Some of the faces looked like they could have been my brother or cousins and even my niece whom I love dearly. Until I stood there, I never thought about my own life and my own family. I tried not to cry, and fought back tears, but it was impossible. I put myself in the shoes of these children and felt their terror and fear. I felt their pain of losing everything. Personal

memories from my childhood came to mind, like my father leaving me and struggling with my own depression. I tried to compare my personal challenges to the Holocaust or even other genocides that have been occurring in the 21th century. My problems seemed so small when compared to what these children went through. Now that I am back home things are completely different for me. I’m more aware of myself and people around me. I take everyone’s feelings into consideration. I still go back and look at the pictures and videos of The Massacre in Lidice, June 10th, 1942. I still remember how beautiful the memorial was and how peaceful the park was. I still close my eyes at times, remember the faces and try to fathom the heartlessness of the Nazis who killed all these children. I wonder how many people still have to be killed so that everyone understands genocide must stop and change must occur universally. I hope that more people become aware of what happened at Lidice, and work to make sure history never repeats itself, because if it does, then we have to face ourselves.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Facing

41


Jordan Kaprielian Jordan Kaprielian

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

42

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


T

he story of Otto Wolf and his family is one of survival. They survived three years hiding in a makeshift hideout in the middle of a forest in Trsice, Czech Republic. Our group walked into the beautiful forest where the Wolf’s hideout had been located. While walking, I was behind Mrs. Ohera and Dr. Brezina who were talking to each other. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I began to imagine them as children walking quickly and carefully through this forest. While playing as a young child one day in the forest, Dr. Brezina had seen the Wolf family come out of the hideout. While walking I tried to imagine how Mrs. Ohera’s parents risked their own lives to help the Wolf family who was forced into hiding. I was surprised at how fearless they were in the midst of what I am sure were painful memories and I was surprised at how determined, years later, Mrs. Ohera and Dr. Brezina seemed to be to return to the hiding place.

When we arrived at the hideout we found two gaping holes in the side of the hill. These holes were collapsing and were grown over with plants. It was difficult for me to imagine living in such a small cramped space of filth and rats and for such a long period of time as the Wolfs had. Learning about and meeting people like Mrs. Ohera and Dr. Brezina, I am surprised that Otto Wolf’s story and all whom it involves are relatively unknown. Most people have either read or know of Anne Frank’s story and her diary, but there must be other untold stories out there, beyond Anne Frank’s and like Otto Wolf’s that still need to be sought out and preserved. We never know when a surprising story of survival might be found. We need to tell them and preserve them so that history does not repeat itself nor ever surprise us or catch us off guard.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Surprising

43


Mackenzie Daniel Mackenzie Daniel

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

44

Bishop O’Dowd High School Oakland, California


A

uschwitz indubitably provided me with the most emotionally touching and profound experience when I saw the authentic and original human artifacts that truly connected me to the thousands of Holocaust victims. As we embarked on our tour of Auschwitz I, I immediately found myself paralyzed with feeling while staring at the infamous steel “Arbiet Macht Frei” sign that ominously hangs above visitors’ heads as they walk under it. It was at that very moment that I completely realized where I was—I had entered Auschwitz. While proceeding through several remodeled barracks, we were faced with the excruciating truth of the gravity of the Holocaust: never-ending corridors of glass cases filled to the brim with clothes, shoes, and human hair. Though I was absolutely horrified and shocked coming face to face with such personal items, the most unforgettable artifact I came across was a simple cheese grater. As I studied this antique item, I realized that the cheese grater I have in my own home, looked identical to the one I was staring at there in an old barrack. With that said, I began to cry; seeing something so similar to my own belongings was the true climax of my trip. The household item connected me to the victims of the Holocaust and showed me how similar they were to all of us.

It was Auschwitz that epitomized the trip’s overall message that the Holocaust was truly a question of humanity. Although our group visited numerous museums, churches and synagogues, I can honestly say that the minute I stepped foot onto the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I wholeheartedly felt like I had finally connected to and personalized one of the sites on our trip like I had never connected to anything before. For me, engaging with the surroundings of the camp allowed me to connect the knowledge I had gained on this trip to the years of my in-school studying and reading. Considering all of the sites our group toured, I never had such a surge of mixed emotions of horror and curiosity before taking the tour of the camps. Ironically, it was as if everything I had learned had finally come to life while I was simultaneously visiting a solemn area now forever dedicated to preserving the voices of its millions of victims. Spending an entire day walking the vast acreage of Auschwitz-Birkenau provided me with the opportunity to both personally experience the infamous and notorious place that I had only read about and to connect it to the life I live everyday.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Connecting

45


Jessica Genao Nunez Jessica Genao Nunez

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

46

Liberty High School Jersey City, New Jersey


T

hroughout the Holocaust trip, the thought that went through my mind the most was, “How could human life be so devalued by these people?” I couldn’t understand how a group of people could believe that it was acceptable to completely degrade and destroy Jews. The Nazis made themselves out to be heroes who were “protecting” Germany and its people—protecting it from the “parasites” who they saw as the Jews and upholding a “perfect race” that all could “value.” At the Wannsee House, there was a lake surrounded by trees and flowers. It was a beautiful place and yet at the same time it was not a beautiful place. It had a chilling history; this was the place where the fate of millions and millions of Jews was determined. It was the place where the value of human life was once again ignored by the Nazis. It was also, as Shalmi once said, another phase on the road to Auschwitz. A place filled with agony that no one should ever experience. Auschwitz was another horror in itself. Even though I had read about Auschwitz in textbooks, being there brought the Holocaust to life for me and helped me to understand the horror that once took place there. It was surreal. I saw the piles and piles of shoes, suitcases, kitchen supplies,

items that these victims had valued—items that made up a human life. I couldn’t help but think that I too own and value such items: clothes, shoes, suitcases, and my kitchen is filled with pots and pans. These Jewish victims were human beings just like me and that angered me. We were all human beings! I realized that the Nazis, in an odd way, valued these things more than they valued the Jewish human beings. They salvaged all these material items but disposed of the Jewish people. Their possessions were sold, even hair was shaven and used for blankets and mattresses. I couldn’t grasp this; I wanted to somehow go back in time and just scream to the Nazis that these people’s lives were worth an immense value. I can’t go back in time and stop this horror from occurring, but honoring these victims is a way to give their lives the value they once lost. Each person had a story; they were not just numbers like the Nazis tried to make them. If we ignore the Holocaust, we ignore the value of the victims’ lives and are more likely to lose sight of the value of human life again. Most importantly, we must remember the valuable contribution of all human life—no matter how short or long that life may be.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Valuing

47


Michelle Khimishman Michelle Khimishman

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

48

New Milford High School New Milford, New Jersey


W

ith the establishment of the Nazi Party, Jews were transformed from human beings into numbers. They were viewed as threats to a perfect race and it was believed that they needed to be destroyed completely. To carry out this goal, many concentration camps were set up all across Europe from 1933-1945. At Auschwitz, as a number, Jews became part of a system. From their first moments at the camp they had the numbers of its “system” inked onto their forearms. From that moment forward the victims no longer had identities, they were numerical figures and all part of a bigger system. After our group arrived and toured Auschwitz, I found myself contemplating the purpose behind the tattoo. I understood that the Nazis used it to keep some sort of order among the Jews, but a number was also placed on each prisoner’s jumpsuit. Why hadn’t the jumpsuit been enough? I finally came to realize that the goal behind the tattoo, other than keeping order, was to dehumanize the Jew and make him feel less than the person he was. I wondered if for the rest of their lives, would those survivors always look down at their forearms and remember the time they were told they were inferior to society? How would they ever get beyond it to establish a happy life in the days ahead of them? I thought of Pavel Stransky, a Holocaust survivor we had met days before. Pavel had endured and survived Theresienstadt and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was astonished

that he told the painful story of his past with what seemed to be absolutely no anger in his voice—even with the constant reminder of the Holocaust tattooed on his very forearm. I was baffled by this man’s humility. I considered all the things that Pavel preached about life, and it suddenly all clicked. Pavel personified the magnitude of love in life. Pavel had found the strength to survive and to continue living through the great love he had once had for a young woman. One day while on our trip, Pavel had asked each of us what we considered to be the key to life. At first I could not think of an answer. As that day went on, I continued to roll his question around in my head. I finally came up with a response: could the key to life be found in forgiving? Without forgiveness, there is no contentedness in life. There is no going back into the past to accept what had already been done and move ahead. At one point in their lives, thousands of Holocaust survivors had been catalogued and organized as numbers and somehow many of them had found that forgiving needed to come from their hardships. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to reach, yet Pavel had found that forgiving lead to a new life. A new life as an individual, not a number ever again. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Perhaps forgiving allows one to go on to teach what should never be forgotten.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Forgiving

49


Reagan Smail Reagan Smail

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

50

Bishop O’Dowd High School Oakland, California


W

hy is the Holocaust so fascinating to us? What makes this point in history so important? What made this genocide so “sophisticated”? As a society, we reach new milestones every century, every decade, and every week. As time passes, each society adjusts to new technological inventions. Yet what happens when technology is forced to adjust to a society? During World War II, the world watched as Nazi Germany implemented its goal of annihilating Europe’s Jews using the technology of industrialization. Nothing demonstrates this better than the Nazi camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, a 20th century death factory. At Auschwitz-Birkenau, victims were systematically sorted, stripped, gassed, and burned: in through the gates, out through the chimney. The technology of the advanced killing techniques used at Auschwitz-Birkenau were never seen before in a mass murder attempt, thus making the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp a devastating milestone for humanity. The two most shocking things that I noticed when I came to Birkenau, nearly sixty-six years after its liberation, were its immensity and its organization. When I stepped into the mile-long compound that is practically twice the size of the town near which the camp is actually located, I couldn’t help but think to myself,

“Wow! Something really, really significant happened here!” Over one and a half million innocent people lost their lives at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory and the manner in which the Nazis murdered the Jews makes this event revolutionary and incredibly important. The strategy, the systematization, and what Shalmi Barmore calls the compartmentalization—the dividing up of tasks to make the process more efficient, leaving the responsibility for the murders divided among individuals, and therefore accepted by none— were revolutionary to war at the time. When I went to the museum at Auschwitz, I noticed a common theme throughout all the exhibits: the bureaucratic organization of the Nazis. Charts, lists, plans, blueprints, all outlining the specific plans to eliminate the Jews—plans of how to round up the Jews, how to transport the Jews, and how to maintain the illusion that nothing was suspect, that the prisoners were going to be taking showers and going to work—all part of their strategy. Overall, the most important lesson I take away from the Holocaust Study Tour is to understand how “unsophisticated” an advanced technological society like Nazi Germany actually was.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Compartmentalizing

51


Sadie Ramos Sadie Ramos

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

52

Lincoln High School Jersey City, New Jersey


G

enocide: A word that once did not have a particular meaning to me. As a child, the world seemed like a peaceful place; the worst possible thing that I believed could happen was 9/11. However, the Holocaust Study Tour, and travelling to the opposite side of the world has not only educated me, but has also changed my life forever. The solemn location that had the biggest meaning for me was Auschwitz. Auschwitz is constructed of three different parts: Auschwitz I, a concentration camp; Auschwitz II, Auschwitz-Birkenau, a death camp; and Auschwitz III, Monowitz, an industrial complex built to support the war effort. In Auschwitz I tears rolled down my face when I witnessed the pots, pans, shoe shine, prayer shawls and other belongings, including the two tons of human hair shaved off the prisoners’ heads. By seeing their valuables, it became obvious that these people did not have the slightest idea of what the future meant for them. From a distance, looking onto Auschwitz II, Auschwitz-Birkenau, I could see “The Ramp”: railroad tracks leading directly into Birkenau, where the trains would leave the Jews for the selection process. Many families were torn apart at the very spot.

Some were sent to work towards the war effort and others were sent straight to the gas chambers. Right then, I thought to myself, “What if that were me and my family? What if I were separated from them because of my appearance or my ability to work?” Inside, standing behind the barbed wire where these people once stood, I felt like a prisoner myself. Unquestionably, I was fully aware that I was going to leave, but simultaneously I felt like I was stuck there; I struggled to discover what the meaning was behind this contradictory feeling. The barracks had the appearance of a barn: filthy living conditions. The room seemed crowded with only about 30 of us in it; it seemed impossible to imagine eighty or more people being in that room. The walk from the front to the back of the camp was difficult, emotionally and physically, and brought me an unwanted sense of despair. In the end, the Holocaust Study Tour opened my eyes a little more to the true meaning of genocide. Imagining if my family and I were in that situation was unbearable, and seeing firsthand the places where humans of all ages were tortured and murdered will mean something to me forever.

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Holocaust Study Tour 2011

Meaning

53


Trsice & Olomouc Trsice & Olomouc

T

rsice and Olomouc, Czech Republic—a small village and a larger town close to the Czech-Polish 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. Each year, before embarking upon the trip, students are 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. Once again, in March of this year, students from New Milford High School had the opportunity to participate 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 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. In October of this year, we were delighted to find out that Leona Stejsksalova, won her mayorial election and will continue on as mayor of Trsice for the next four years. Leona was unable to be with us this year due to a recent surgery, but we were again greeted with open arms by her Deputy mayor and staff. Our relationship with the


Holocaust Study Tour 2011

community of Trsice continues to develop as we work collaboratively to complete the fundraising efforts for 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 in their home) 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.

This year, in Olomouc, we happened to be there on the first night of Passover and were invited to participate in a seder dinner held at the Jewish Community Center. Among us at the dinner were the survivors and hidden children we met last year when we had the opportunity to record their Holocaust stories. This enriching cultural opportunity resonated with each of us as we looked around the room at the 47 dinner participants and wondered: What is their Holocaust story? Who were they here with at the seder? Why were some individuals not here with their spouses or their family? What it is like to celebrate a holiday with a community, but without family? Our work in Olomouc and Trsice will continue as we realize the building of the memorials and the finalizing of the recorded testimonies that we began last year. A formal dedication is planned for the 2012 visit and will involve both the Holocaust Study Tour participants, the family of Felicitas Garda Wolf—Otto’s sister 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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Shalmi Barmore Shalmi Barmore

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ur 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 oversees the work of EchoMelitz, an Israeli based 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 the 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 leadership and commitment to educating the participants involved in this year’s Holocaust Study Tour.

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Pavel Stransky Pavel Stransky

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ur 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 AuschwitzBirkenau 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 90, Pavel is determined to bring his message to all who will listen. We admire his remarkable courage during the Holocaust and willingness to educate others on such a difficult and tragic part of his own 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 Our Guides

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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 the 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 participation 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 Majorie 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 a seamless, educational, and memorable experience.

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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 Design Andrew Bridge, 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 Website: www.newmilfordholocaustproject.com Blog: www.hst10.blogspot.com

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

Holocaust Study Tour 2011  

New Milford High School's journey to study the Holocaust

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