From a very young age, I have heard stories from my paternal Grandparents about what it was like to grow up as Jewish people in Nazi-Germany during the 1930’s. Luckily they were able to get out of Germany before the Holocaust officially started. As lucky as they were, many people were not as lucky including members of their own families. Since then, I’ve always had a huge interest in the Holocaust. When I heard last Spring about the possibility of being able to visit these sites, I jumped right at the idea. I wanted to retrace my roots and see what the people went through first hand. As it got closer, I started to emotionally prepare myself for what I would see, not only at Auschwitz but in Historic Berlin, as well as Warsaw and Krakow. I was truly moved by seeing all these places but especially visiting the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and The Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw. Also being a lifelong Staten Island Jewish Community Center member, I was pleased to see the JCC of Krakow and hear about how it changed Jewish life in Krakow after the war.
Visiting Berlin and the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe- March 7, 2015
As they say “A Journey of a thousand miles begins with one first step”. Most people when they take that first step have some idea of where they are going to end up. However that is not always the case. I realized this a few weeks ago when I entered the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Visiting this site and seeing the “confusingness” of the monument really helped deepen my understanding of the Holocaust, as well as the city of Berlin. It also helped me with my course HI-291
The monument is comprised of a lot of blocks. They are big and very scattered. They also come in all sizes with no specific pattern besides being rectangular prisms. I think this is meant to represent the people who were murdered. The only thing they had that grouped them together was that they were of Jewish descent. Yet because of this descent, they were killed. Also when entering the monument, the blocks seem endless and you almost feel lost as you walk through. This helped me to better understand the journeys that the people who went to the camps faced. They had no idea where they were going and when it would end.
This monument also helped me to better understand the city of Berlin. It made me realize that Berlin is a very diverse city which really represents everyone and has a history. Especially with its history during the Cold War etc, it is important to remember that there is always an end at the end of every hard time you just need to work your way through it. Berlin was the center of the Cold War and the capital of Germany during WWII so it makes sense that they would not only dedicate this memorial to the Murdered Jews of Germany but Europe and not specify a specific time period. The monument to the murdered Jews of Europe really showed me that and much more about Berlin’s history and Anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe really impacted me as a Jewish individual, and deepened my understanding of the city of Berlin. It also though helped me understand my Holocaust class. In the beginning of class, we read an article called Hitler’s Berlin and learned about how he made a plan to assimilate the Jewish people before killing them. This shows just how confused they must have been. I really enjoyed seeing this site and hope soon there is an end to killing strictly on religion.
Visiting Warsaw- The Jewish Cemetery- March 10, 2015
As the old saying goes, “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.” In my opinion, the best way to remember history is to actually experience it first hand. Maybe not the actual event, but definitely seeing the site and standing in the places where it took place. That is how I felt a couple of weeks ago when I took a trip to Warsaw as a part of a course on Holocaust history. One part of Warsaw that truly stuck out to me was when we visited the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw. Seeing this site helped me to better understand Warsaw, the Holocaust course I’m currently taking as well as my own personal understanding of the Holocaust.
Growing up I always heard about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising when studying Holocaust History but it was never really emphasized just kind of the lesson before the lesson(s) on the Concentration Camps. Seeing the Cemetery though really showed me what happened there. There was one grave stone which was labeled “symbolic graves of the Holocaust.” That really put the city in a whole new perspective for me. The cemetery had thousands of graves but only one grave symbolically dedicated to the Holocaust. While there were other graves of victims, the rest were just for Jewish People in Warsaw. It really showed me just how big the Jewish population of Warsaw was and is.
This cemetery also relates to the themes of the course I’m currently taking on Holocaust History. In our class we read about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and resistance. We also read Here There Is No Why by Rachel Roth. Roth was born in Poland and witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This gravestone is for all the people who died in the Holocaust. Roth lost all of her siblings as well as her mother. Not only is this gravestone dedicated to them, but to all the other victims of the Holocaust. Many were probably neighbors of Rachel Roth and people she grew up with.
Furthermore, in addition to helping me understand Warsaw and my Holocaust class, seeing the whole Jewish Cemetery but especially the gravestone dedicated to the Holocaust victims really helped deepen my understanding of the Holocaust as a whole. I did not realize just how heavy of a Jewish Population Warsaw had. Now I can see why it was chosen as a site of Uprising because that was the homeland of so many Jewish people. I’m glad I got a chance to see it. The fact that there were so many victims that they gave them one gravestone for all who couldn’t get their own really put things in perspective for me.
Visiting Auschwitz- Looking through the book of victims- March 12th 2015
From a young age, I knew that my paternal grandparents had lost relatives during the Holocaust. However that was all I knew, that my grandfather lost his mother and one of his sisters during the Holocaust. No one knew where, when, or how they had perished-or at least if they had, it had never been shared with me. When I got to Auschwitz, I had no idea what to expect. However, the last thing I expected to find out what was details about their death. I found out in a book of names of all the victims. Seeing the names especially the names of my own relatives changed me personally, as well as deepened my knowledge Auschwitz and helped me with the research paper I am writing for my class on the Holocaust.
When I walked into the room with the book of names, I was amazed at how big it was. I knew that millions of people died but I didn’t realize it would take a book the size of a room to display all the names. That really gave me a perspective of just how many people were killed in Auschwitz alone. When I saw the books, the last thing I thought was that I’d be able that I could find the names of my own family members. However, I decided to give it a try and low and behold I found not only the names of my great-grandmother, but that they were killed in Auschwitz in the year 1942. One thing that still remains uncertain though is how they died. Were they worked to death, died from illness in the camp, or just burned on the spot in a crematoria. That is something that probably will forever remain unanswered. While reading Deborah Dwork’s Auschwitz, she states “In 1942 they murdered another 2.7 million Jews, of whom approximately 200,000 died in Auschwitz.” Just looking at a book of over 200,000 names and knowing at least 2 of those people were members of my family had to be one of the most touching moments of the whole trip.
Seeing these names is also helping me with the research paper I am writing for my HI-291 class. I am writing a paper on the effects of the survivors of the camps as well as their families. My grandfather was able to escape Nazi Germany but still lost relatives (as I saw firsthand in the book). His whole life he was very quiet about the topic and refused to ever speak about it. While doing my paper, I am going to look for patterns about survivors not talking about that time due to depression, ptsd, and survivor’s guilt. Hopefully I can find something. Regardless, though seeing the names will remain in my mind while I’m doing my paper, and most likely for the rest of my life.
Visiting Krakow- The Jewish Community Center of Krakow- March 13th 2015
A couple of summers ago, I was at orientation for my summer job at the Lillian Schwartz Day Camp at the Staten Island Jewish Community Center (JCC) when my boss and mentor Glenn Wechsler stated “For every great thing in life, you need tradition and you need change.” That is exactly how I felt this past March when I visited the Jewish Community Center in Krakow. I felt the tradition of being in the Jewish Community Center as well as the change of being at the JCC Krakow instead of the Staten Island JCC. Visiting the Krakow JCC grew me as a person, as well as deepened my understanding of Krakow as a city as well as the Holocaust
I have been a member of the Staten Island Jewish Community Center since the age of 8. I have attended summer camp there as well as various volunteer groups through the years and it is a huge part of my life. Through the JCC of Staten Island, I knew of their sister JCCs in Red Bridge, London and one in Israel. However I was not really even aware there was one in Krakow. When I got there I was amazed. I was 8 hours away by plane yet in something so familiar to me.
Little did I know, the JCC of Krakow had so much to do with the Holocaust and more importantly rebuilding Krakow after the Holocaust. Krakow is only an hour and a half from Auschwitz, the site of over a million deaths during the Holocaust. After the war, the jewish community in Krakow was destroyed. Luckily the Jewish Community Center was able to rebuild the community and give the Jewish people a home again.
Furthermore, visiting Berlin as well as Poland during my class really moved me and changed me as both an individual and a learner. I really gained such great knowledge on the Holocaust as well as Jewish life in Europe today as well as truly helping me write my research paper on the Conditions of Auschwitz and how survivors and their families are impacted today. Seeing the sites and how the beds were so high and especially the cattle cars are in my mind as I read scholarly material about the time. I have an image in my head as I read. And not just the image of a photograph, but images that I saw first hand with my own eyes.
I am so grateful to have had this experience with not only my dad, but my classmates and the faculty which chaperoned the trip. From the plane rides, to the sites in Berlin, to the taking the train from Berlin to Warsaw, to visiting historical sites in Poland, to Auschwitz, to the dinners we shared, I’m so glad to have had this experience and wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else. This was truly a trip I will remember forever.