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.