Rum Balls and a Rice U Symposium on 4/8/11

Thanks to Jerry we all enjoyed chocolate rum balls in one of our lighter moments. This one got away.

Mary Lee Webeck   4/1/11

Rolling Rum Balls: I’ve got to start sorting and deleting and posting pictures (of which I have thousands), so I thought it very fitting to share this image from Salzburg first. Right after we got off the bus to start our walking tour in Salzburg, I shot this picture. I thought you would enjoy!  This may be more a front of the bus “thing”, so we’ll see.
As to the more serious images, I need to find quite a few hours to work on these. Sadly, I have no photos for our time in Sachsenhausen or Ravensbruck (remember, that is the day I left my camera charging. . . )

As soon as I do find time to post the refined collection I do have (after sorting and deleting), I’ll let you know where they are posted. I know between us we have a really amazing photo gallery. Do you want to post collectively to the blog or do you have other ideas? Let’s figure this out. I know many people are anxious to see the pics we took along our journey.

Rice U Symposium: I’m taking the day off today (Friday) then I thought I was going to attend the Rice U Symposium that we have mentioned. However, it is not today, but Friday, 1/8/11. Don’t know how I got that so wrong!  Maybe because I can’t go on the 8th as I’ll be on my way to Purdue! However, I hope some of you are able to be there, as the speakers will be discussing some of the ideas we talked and thought about on our trip. Here is the link again for the Rice University Humanities Research Center’s Symposium, “Private Places, Public Power”:   http://german.rice.edu/Content.aspx?id=120

Mary Lee

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Reflections on our Holocaust Study Trip

 Ron Grabois   3/30/11

This trip was an amazing trip that exceeded what I hoped to gain from a trip of this nature. Seven concentration camps in less than two weeks would keep most people from going, but our group is not most people. We are a dedicated group of individuals with a goal of learning about the Holocaust from people who live it or lived it. There is no better way to learn.

 I am trying to come to grips with some of what we have learned. Some is very conflicting, like why did the Danes rescue their Jews while the Dutch gave theirs up so readily? These are not countries that have had centuries of Anti-Semitism; instead they allowed the Jews to assimilate. Also conflicting is that many Jews in The Netherlands were saved by the Dutch, like our own Chaja Verveer. Very tough to sort out. It is like they were the best of people and the worst of people.

We also heard from our tour guides, Docents like us, who told us of the people from their countries who said “If the Jews are kept in camps, they must have done something bad” along with “I know that we had nothing to do with the killing, but it is up to us to make sure that it does not happen again”. The Germans seem to want to make sure of that. They do require their school children to visit the camps and they are spending many Euros on fixing the sites up so that visitors can learn from the past so they do not repeat it. I am hoping that they are making the repairs for those reasons, not tourism. Tomas, our guide, made a wonderful closing remark when he reminded us that the Neo-Nazi’s are still in Europe and could be a force there, especially Eastern Europe and we all must be vigilant. He and Nano, our driver, were part of our group and went to many of the same places we did. Nano comes from Croatia where he saw wanton killing for no reason in the conflict there.

Highlights of the trip included the visit to the Netherlands with Chaja Verveer. It was amazing and to hear her story about how she survived, how most of her family survived and how her father met his untimely death. To see his grave in a Christian Cemetery also was very special. Saying Kaddish for Emmanuel was special for me as I am sure it was for Chaja. The visit to Westerbork was also important as it emphasized the tradegy of the Dutch people as almost 75% of them went through there, most directly to their death. We saw the area where Ann Frank stayed while in Westerbork. She had to stay close to 4 weeks because the trains were not running as often. She was in an area for Special Prisoners as she tried to hide from the Germans.

The visit to the Rykstrasse Synagogue was also something I will never forget. A beautiful synagogue in the heart of Berlin that was not burnt during Kristallnacht as it was too close to other buildings. It survived and was refurbished and is just gorgeous on the inside. The 17 of us plus another 20 or so Germans made up the congregation that night and even though we did not know the German, many of us did know the Hebrew songs and were able to sing with them. Just like Naomi Warren, “We are here and survived”. I felt that the Nazis are gone and we were able to sing as we always do, maybe with a little more gusto this time, but our point was made. 

The other highlight was the visit to GIllileje. This small town did so much for the Jews and it was our pleasure to tell them so. This town provided HMH with our boat and so it was great to thank the town mayor Jan Ferdinandsen for the boat and also to see the actual nameplate from the Hanna Frank. The wonderful talk from the pastor Ulla Gaard about  the rescue and how the Germans were actually helpful in allowing the Jews to go to Sweden. The gifts and plaques from the State of Israel are testimony to the rescue. We were fortunate to have Lars and Lotte Starck take us to the Gillileje Museum. There on the back lawn are a boat and statue. The boat looks like ours, but there are cut outs, showing the Jews as they must have looked for the 25km crossing to Sweden at that point. Then there was the statue. It was a large statue that looked like a woman blowing a Shofar. That is what it was, a present from an Israeli who was saved by the boatlift. There also was the survivor Tove Udsholt who told us about her mother going to Sweden while she was hidden in Gillileje. Her Mom was Jewish but her father was not so it was best that her mother went to Sweden. Just all part of the wonderful visit we had to Denmark.

 There obviously were many negatives. Visiting the 7 concentration camps was difficult. Not because of the walking and the cold weather but the fact that they were needed in the first place. These included Dachau, Buchenwald, Ravensbrook, Sauchenhausen, Bergen-Belson, Mauthausen and Westerbork. There you saw man’s inhumanity to man. There we saw the quarry at Mauthausen where people had to move 50 or 100 pound blocks up very steep steps and if they could not, they were whipped or killed. There was experienced Buchenwald with its very cold climate and fog. This made for a surreal experience of seeing the bear pit where the SS guards could take their families to see the bears, while the Jews and others would stand inside an electrical fence watching and hoping for freedom. That day there was a fog settling over the camp and so you could see the fence and barely see the crematorium. Very surreal.

We saw the huge mass graves at Bergen-Belson, necessary because they did not have a crematorium to burn the bodies. The nothingness of where the barracks used to be and just overall hardship. . .

We were cold and tired from our journey. We can just try to imagine what it was like for the prisoners. We probably cannot come close to knowing what it was like and I am not sure that we would have had the stamina and abililty to survive in that environment.

 We also could only marvel at the sacrifices that Ann Frank and her family had to make and for what, since only her father survived. What did survive was a book written by a young woman whose words still resonate with children all over the world. Too bad that it had to be under those circumstances

My personal thanks to Mary Lee and Suzanne for leading this great trip. Those of us who went will never forget this experience.

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The power of good . . . learning in Gilleleje, Denmark

Today, six of us travelled from Copenhagen to Gilleleje, a picturesque, tranquil and beautiful fishing town in Denmark. The fishing is famous. The people are kind and the harbor is colorful. It was another beautiful sunny day. We met new friends and connected with those who have helped Holocaust Museum Houston acquire and learn about our Danish fishing/rescue boat.

Geographically, Gilleleje is significant in Holocaust history. Facing Sweden across the open sound, many Danish Jews were carried from Gilleleje to safety in neutral Sweden, hidden in the holds of fishing vessels. Ordinary people did this, inspired by the need of others. In some cases fisherman were paid, in others they did not receive compensation. Each of the captains, whether paid or not, would have suffered grievously under the Gestapo had they been discovered.

One of the fishing vessels resides now at Holocaust Museum Houston, standing alongside our Holocaust era railcar, as a juxtaposition of evil and good, as a reminder that people can make decisions, even in times of horror and conflict, to help others. Over and over again today, I was struck by the power of good and the need to understand this town’s story and share it even more widely than I now do.

Our experiences today were made possible by two very special human beings, Lars  and Lotte Starck, who arranged visits and accompanied us throughout our time in Gilleleje. We have new friends and we admire them for their work and compassion. Already tonight, they have sent us a link to the online newspaper,  http://www.nordkysten.nu/?Id=19389

Follow this link and you can see pictures of us with Lars and Lotte; Ulla Skorstengaard (pastor of the Gilleleje Church where Jews were hidden in the attic); Tove Udsholt (a hidden child whose mother escaped to Sweden);  and Jan Ferdinandsen (who arranged for HMH to receive the Hanne Frank – a fishing vessel). Jan leads Gilleleje now as the town’s mayor.

Ulla, pastor of the Gilleleje Church, spoke to us of the “crack in the evil system,” a crack that allowed news of the expected Nazi and Gestapo actions to spread, a rescue network to form. With support from this network, Jews found probable escape routes and hiding places along these routes. I am struck by the power of Ulla’s description.

I am struck by the power of nature I have seen at so many Holocaust sites, where cracks in solid stone allow plants to grow in areas that were once built by the Nazis to perpetrate horror and anguish. Ulla connected me to the idea that when a small opening is created for a different way of thinking, there is always possibility.

There will always be upstanders, and by telling more people the powerful story of Gilleleje, we will certainly encourage good actions, new growth in and through the “cracks” that are necessary for change.

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Sharing memories with Chaja. Learning/Feeling/Knowing

Hy Penn – 3/21/11

Chaja  – There are no tears in Chaja’s eyes. The tears dried up long ago.

We stand in front of the grave of Emanuel Verveer, her father.  A beautiful stone marks the site of the only Jew buried on this Christian cemetery located within walking distance to the place we just visited – the place where Mr. Verveer was brutally murdered – by the Nazis.

Chaja has no personal memory of her father – only memories formed from the memories of others. As a 3 year old, there are few persistent memories – hopefully this cushioned a lifetime of tragedies she had already suffered.

We carefully place stones on the grave of a man we never knew, a man his daughter never really knew.

We recite Kaddish, we listen to Chaja speak of her father. We now know him.

Memories of memories. This is what we must continue to pass on to others.

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Today we visited the sixth camp. Another amazing day.

Mary Lee Webeck – March 20, 2011

It’s Sunday and it has been another powerful day. It was a sunny, clear and bright day. We spent lots of hours on the bus with our truly capable driver, Nano, as we left Berlin and made our way through the northwestern part of Germany toward Bergen-Belsen.  Hy Penn introduced us to this camp through both research and personal experience. His mother, Linda Penn and his grandmother, Riva Kremer, were prisoners here.

As we left Berlin behind, our experiences there continued to affect our thinking. Jerry Rochman led a discussion of our responses to the Memorial to the  Murdered Jews of Europe.

The topography and landscaped areas of memory at Bergen-Belsen were beautiful; spring slowly emerges from the ground. In this vast outdoor space, where so many suffered such horror, the mass graves are recognized in raised plots. There is a field of what I think are wild roses, though they were not yet in bloom. The lichen and reindeer moss were thick on the ground. As in so many of these sites, nature reclaims.

Our talented guide today was Susanne Seitz, a local school teacher who grew up in the area of Bergen-Belsen. Susanne shared with us that as a child, she was not aware of the existence of Bergen-Belsen. Susanne, you must excuse me. I neglected to hand you the tip I had in my hand. Please watch the mail, as it will be on its way to you. We all hope you have a good school week and thank you for your work with us yesterday.

Moved by the spaces and caring deeply for those we know who were here, as well as the countless of thousands we will never know, we lit candles and said Kaddish (excuse my error for forgetting the copies, and thanks to those who recited it so reverently) in the “House of Silence,” a powerful memorial space on the grounds. For Riva, Naomi, Alice, Linda, Helen and those they loved, we placed stones and left a special candle imprinted with flowers and butterflies. Although we did not have the time to walk the complete grounds, we left knowing that though the day was beautiful, the place had been horrific. I ache when I think of my beautiful friends, such empowered and brilliant women being subjected to this level of intolerant barbarity. After six camps, I am left challenged by the barbarity and cunning that made such a system possible. . .

Tonight we arrived at our hotel in the Westerbork area and soon after met up with Chaja Verveer and her long time friends, Rudi and Evaline; Rudi was a hidden child who was with Chaja in Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt. Evaline is a strong, but gentle woman, this I can tell. She shares her love of the Netherlands and invites us all to their home. We shared a  delicious dinner and I pondered the statistical anomaly of these two children, Chaja and Rudi (now such charming adults) being helped in so many ways by the brave people who saved them.

Tonight I am tired so I hope what I have written makes some sense. I am so moved by the myriad of questions and reflections that swirl though me, so swiftly that they are often not “catchable” in the moment. These are the thoughts that seem most brilliant (of course!) and I hope to catch at least some of them as they move and realign.  Tomorrow I hope to post some pictures, another way we are processing our experiences.

We are planning a sharing time, so the many experiences of this group can be shared widely back home at Holocaust Museum Houston. Good night.

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Preparing to meet Chaja and begin our time in the Netherlands: Some things to consider

Chaja Verveer  (posted by M.L. Webeck, 3/19/11)

Hi good people,

It is going to be such an honor to accompany you in the Netherlands and share with you my family’s story. You will also meet some people who were part of our history. There is so much to tell and discuss. Maybe we can begin our discussions around the following themes and then take it from there.

 

Why do you think that the story of the Holocaust in the Netherlands (beyond Anne Frank) is relatively unknown?

Why do you think that there is such a positive image of the Netherlands in WWII, despite all the facts and figures?

Did you realize what an impact the failure of Operation Market Garden had on the Dutch in general and on the Jewish population?

In the first years of the occupation the populations (including the Jews) collaborated with the German occupiers to a high degree. Why do you think that was?

Can we relate to the attitude and policies of the government towards Jews returning to Holland after the war?

 

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Perspectives – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Mary Lee Webeck – 3/19/11

Tomorrow as we depart Berlin and drive to Bergen Belsen, we will use the time on the bus to reflect on what we have seen and experienced so far on our study trip.

This morning we visit the Jewish Museum of Berlin and then, this afternoon, we have free time to explore on our own. Each of us will go to spots we want to know about. We have yet to have a non-rainy day to take pictures at the Brandenburg Tor (gate), and this is something people want to do for sure. Some will return to Holocaust-related spaces and others will explore cultural/artistic aspects of Berlin. Some will be shopping.  One person wants to do what “regular people do here.” What we each see this afternoon will surely add to what we understand about the Holocaust and how it is “felt” in Berlin, a city that is layered with the past as it lives today and reaches into the future.

Tomorrow, amongst other things,  we will talk together about The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. That discussion has begun with blog entries.

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A new day. . . Trauern and THANKS

Mary Lee Webeck  – Thursday – Day 6

When you travel, especially on a Holocaust study trip, the days seem to run together. We joke with each other about what day it is. What day of the week, what day of the trip, what date (?). This makes sense to me-because of what we are doing. Today is day 6.  I check my calendar and it is March 18. Today we will see Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck. Naomi, I will be thinking of you with each step. Tonight, although I am not Jewish, I will attend Shabbat with our group.

There are so many people to thank. Let’s start with the dogged and inspired insistence of several of the people on the trip that despite economic struggles, we go forward (pat yourself on the back – Jerry, Ron, Madeline). Thanks to Susan for agreeing that this trip must happen. Thanks to Mitzi for her wisdom. Thanks to Elena for pulling us through. Thanks to Thomas for his daily guidance and to Nano for his excellent driving and his very personal journey of inquiry and reflection. I have learned so much. I will learn more today.  Thanks to German Consul General Roland Hermann for sending me to Germany this summer and expanding what I understand. Thanks to Dr. Wolf Kaiser at the House of the Wannsee Conference for engaging in such thoughtful discussions about the challenges and possibilities of our work. Thanks to the people who are helping us all along the way and to the wonderful guides we’ve had. Thanks to each and every one of our travelers (Jerry, Ron, Madeline, Bryan, Hy, Lynn, Mary Ann, Susan B., Susan L., Gary, Barbara, Emily, Rhonda, Ilene, Brad, Suzanne and me).  Individually, we speak and question and respond. Together we create a medley of inquiry. We talk, we experience sorrow (trauern) and we laugh. We have fun together. As we attend to what we learn, we support each other, forming a new kind of “family” that gives meaning to what we are experiencing.  It is necessary to enjoy each other as we do.

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Thoughts

Hy Penn – 3/14/11

Faces.  Young faces – pure and innocent with no worries and no prejudices.  Old faces.  Faces with wrinkles so deep I wonder what is hidden deep in these crevices.  Could there be a hidden past buried inside?

Old men walking down the street in Munich… did that one round up my mother and her family and place them on a train to Treblinka or did that one tattoo a number on my mother and grandparents arm at Auschwitz…

Our young guide at Nuremburg made it clear that he could not be held responsible for what happened in his country not so long ago.  But he felt he was responsible for not letting these events happen again.

Faces.  These old faces passing by with their hidden past.  Hopefully there is remorse.  Hopefully they have taught the young faces – their children and grandchildren – not to hate… not to repeat the past.

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Be a blogger! It’s easy. Post your thoughts here by replying to what others are saying.

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