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.


About Holocaust Museum Houston

Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, we teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
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8 Responses to Today we visited the sixth camp. Another amazing day.

  1. Jerry Rochman says:

    Sunday, 3/20/11 – Bergen-Belsen

    Located in north central Germany Bergen-Belsen sits alone, remote, silent, awaiting whatever visitors come to remember. The day is warm, with sunshine but our souls are chilled as we remember and reflect on the horrors perpetrated here not so many years ago. This is a dark place, a place of filth, disease, death and endless waiting. A place of horror beyond one’s wildest imagination. Haven’t I said this previously about other camps?

    I know I have but this place is different, chilling, frightening. The silence that envelopes this place is testimony to the despair that thrived here.

    I’m uncomfortable here, on edge, with a heightened sensitivity. Why? Why here? I don’t know. Could it be the the silence, broken only by the beautiful sound of birds singing? Could it be the mass graves scattered all around the site. A question enters my mind – Why are these mass graves raised above ground level? Could it be that this places these innocent victims closer to their creator?

    So many questions – so few answers.

    How long will it take for me to process what I’ve seen on this trip? Will I ever understand what happened, why it happened and why good people didn’t speak out. These are precisely the questions that as a docent I am supposed to be able to answer. Today I am the one asking.

    I feel humbled today to walk through this sacred space with Hy Penn, who’s mother and grandmother survived the ordeal. Thank you Hy for sharing their experiences with us. We gather together to light candles and say Kaddish. It is our way of saying we will never forget the beauty of the lives that were cut short in this now quiet place.

  2. Every day has brought an incredible, moving an emotional experience. It is hard to describe the emotions I have felt at each site, memorial. It is very personal.It has been wonderful to hear and share the experience with our group.But I keep asking myself WHY and HOW and at each exhibit I try to find something that makes sense. I look forward to the experience of the next few days..It is ending too soon!Thanka to all who blog for the wonderful thoughts.and now we have Chaya with us which will be so special in the coming days.

  3. Yardena says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post your thoughts and experiences after such an arduous day! In my mind I see you as you walk the paths of the camps looking for heart-shaped stones…
    Let me know when “sharing time” arrives so I can absorb some of these experiences from the group.
    Best to all….Y

  4. Hazel says:

    Hy I will remember!!!! Thank you. Hazel

  5. Hazel says:

    Mary Lee I only wish I could write as beautifully as you have even though you were tired. Your posts make me feel as though I was right along side of you. Your blogs throughout the trip have made me feel as though I was witnessing what you are seeing. I hope that I will have the advantage of traveling with you in the future, but until then I am “sucking” in every word and emotion that you are forwarding to me and when you come “home” please be aware that I will be ready with notebook and pencil (no actually I will let Bryan take the notes for me) in hand to hear the more. Stay well and safe, Hazel

  6. Hy Penn – March 20, 2011


    We arrived at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp site this afternoon with blue skies above, milder temperatures and beautiful countryside. At first glance, we could have been at a resort.

    This is no resort.

    Multiple burial mounds line the walkways as we enter the grounds, the same grounds my mother and grandmother walked not so many years ago. My mother often told us how Bergen-Belsen was the worst camp they were in–starvation and illness surrounding them with nothing to do but sit and wait, pray and hope.

    My mother and grandmother were the lucky ones – they were able to leave Bergen-Belsen and move on to another camp – a far different fate than those buried in the camp’s mass graves.

    As a group, we recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to remember the dead. We say these words to remember so many buried here who have no family to say these words for them.

    I hear my mother’s voice, my grandmother’s voice speaking to me! I hear the voices screaming from the graves surrounding us, “Remember, please remember.”

    I will remember.

    • Emily Adams 3-21 says:

      We have seen so much and yet I am not able to put my experiences into words. Some places hit harder than others, and some parts of our trip stick out more than others.

      – Mauthausen. My first camp. We were able to walk around on our own without a guide. The rooms of this camp were self-explanatory. Hate happened here. The stairs of death will haunt me. I did climb all of them. I was exhausted, and shaking, yet I was warm and fed and not carrying boulders.

      -Hearing the personal stories of my “trip family’s” experiences with each of these places. Learning about their personal connections with these camps, and seeing registration papers of family members of these camps. They seemed to be saying, “Yes! I was here!” I know all of this is has happened, yet it didn’t become real to me until I was there seeing it and touching it.

      – I must admit that I did not know much about the Wannsee Conference. That “vacation home” holds a lot of history. How can men come together and decide the fates of so many others and not feel anything?

      -Buchenwald. The word alone will haunt me. It was freezing. foggy, misty, raw. Electric fences surrounded us. When thinking about how the Nazis were able to watch thousands of children freeze and starve, the naive part of me has to think that they were not thinking. They were brainwashed or in some sort of trance. Real people do not treat others this way. Yet with what I saw, the people took pleasure in treating the Jews this way. No amount of brainwashing can make you enjoy what you do. That choice was purely their own.

      -Ravensbruck and Bergen Belsen. The whole time I was here, all I thought about were the tall trees, the grasses, and the dirt. They all saw Naomi here. They were here with her. Horrible things happened here, and yet I only saw strength in these camps.

      – Today we met Chaja. She took us to Westerbork where she was as a little girl. She stood where the orphan building was, were she was prisoner many years ago. We also went to the exact spot of her father’s execution for being part of the resistance. There was something very personal about going to that place for her, and I feel privledged that I was able to hear her story.

      Tomorrow we will visit the Anne Frank house. I know there will be a lot to see and learn there. I am looking forward to that experience as well.

      There has been so much I have seen and learned in this short amount of time, I can’t believe it is almost over! I hope my thoughts have been somewhat comprehendable, the mental exhaustion of all that we have experienced is a jumble in my brain, so I am sure it flows out the same on the screen.
      Sending my love,

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