Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Going to Poland!

Sorry I have been M.I.A. this past week, everyone. The Center has been preparing for its annual Gedenkreise ("remembrance trip") to Krakow and Auschwitz, and things have been a little hectic.

This evening we are finally departing for Poland! We are travelling by bus for several hours, so I'm certain my initial excitement will dissipate around hour four of sitting in the crowded vehicle... Haha. (But the anticipation is likely to come back in a rush when we pull into the hotel parking lot in Krakow.)

Our trip to Krakow is part of the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative conference, which occurs annually at the end of July and beginning of August. This time of year is very important for the Roma because it marks the anniversary of the liquidation of the "Gypsy camp" in Auschwitz-Birkenau on August 2nd and 3rd, 1944, an event that resulted in the murders of some three thousand Roma men, women, and children. (In total, the Nazis killed 21,000 of the estimated 23,000 Roma prisoners in Auschwitz.)

On August 2nd, I will be traveling from Krakow to Auschwitz to commerorate the liquiation of the Gypsy camp and the victims of National Socialism. The day's activities will include a tour of the camp's grounds, a reading of the victims' names, a series of speeches from Roma leaders and official state dignitaries, and finally a requiem at Krakow Philharmonic.

It will surely be an experience I will never forget.

In addition to the commemoration ceremony, the Roma Genocide Remembrance Initiative conference will also host a series of workshops on Roma Holocaust history and contemporary rights' advocacy. Because I can speak English (the lingua franca of the conference), I will be helping with at least one of these workshops. I'm really looking forward to these small group discussions because they will give me an opportunity to chat with young Roma about the current situation of the Romani people in Europe. (Of course, it's nice to get a personal perspective on issues that textbooks and newspapers sometimes gloss over.)

I'll try my best to update everyone during my stay in Krakow. If I don't have access to the Internet in Poland, I'll be sure to post pictures when I return to Heidelberg on Monday.

Please take some time on Saturday to remember not only the Roma victims in Auschwitz but also all peoples who were persecuted by the Nazis in the Third Reich and Nazi-occupied areas.

"Blaudes" by TanzMedia

For all the artistic type who have been reading my blog:

In 2012 the first national memorial for the murdered Sinti and Roma victims of Nazism opened in Berlin. At the time a group of young German dancers from the dance troupe TanzMedia were asked to choreograph a movement piece to coincide with the memorial's opening. The result was "Blaudes", a visual piece that incorporated elements of forced perspective, film, photography, and--of course--dance.

I invite all of you to watch a recording of the dance here. (The actual dance begins at 3:07.) 

As you will see, the dancers all come from diverse cultural backgrounds--an indicator of how far Germany has progressed since the Third Reich.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Weekend Trips (Part Two)

In every German city there is a least one Holocaust memorial. Some memorials fill up city blocks, like Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Others are so small you might just miss them. But wherever you go in Germany--and, more often than not, in any European metropolis--you will find a sliver of remembrance for those who died in the Holocaust.

The German school system has done a wonderful job of integrating these memorials into their secondary education program. Two weekends ago I was able to witness how this is done.

On Saturday, July 12, I travelled with a group of student teachers at the University of Heidelberg to Frankfurt-am-Main for a tour of Holocaust memorials. In all, we visited about the ten individual monuments, memorials, and parks throughout the city that mark the persecution and marginalization of Jews, Sinti and Roma, and political dissidents in the Third Reich.

Although these places of remembrance conjure up feelings of loss and contrition, their presence in crowded plazas and bustling streets disrupts the monotony of everyday living, reminding all who pass--if only for a moment--that there is hope for a better future when we remember the past. Hitler's regime of hate was strong, but I believe the regime of tolerance is much stronger as long as we don't forget those who we have lost.

This is the Frankfurter Römer, or the city hall of Frankfurt. During the Third Reich Hitler would stand on the second-floor terrace and greet cheering crowds of supporters.

In front of the city hall is a sloping plaza known as the Rathausplatz. It was here that students burned the books of Jewish authors and intellectuals, as well as the works of other "undesirables", on May 10th, 1933.

This plaque honors Frankfurt's Sinti and Roma families who were persecuted and killed in the 1930s and early 1940s. Unlike most memorials in Germany, which are normally victim-focused, this one names two perpetrators of the Nazi program against so-called Zigeuner (gypsies): Robert Ritter and Eva Justin, who both "identified" the racial characteristics that distinguished Sinti and Roma from true Aryans. 

This memorial, the first of its kind in Frankfurt, was built in the 1960s. At the base are the names of Nazi ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination sites. Not accounted for are the innumerable locations of mass shootings in Eastern Europe.

The entrance to a Jewish cemetery which was destroyed in the Third Reich but later restored after the war

 Eight rows of rectangle prisms snake around the perimeter of the Jewish cemetery. On each box is the name of a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. The number of prisms surpasses five thousand, only a fraction of the lives lost in WWII.

In the Middle Ages, this was the site of the Jewish ghetto in Frankfurt. When the ghetto was destroyed, this plaza became the Jewish market. The Nazis later renamed this area in order to rid itself of its Jewish past. Today, sycamore trees shade a tomb-like monument in the center of the park. 

This is the IG Farben building at the Goethe University of Frankfurt. During World War II, IG Farben, a German chemical company, administered the production of Zyklon B, the poisonous substance used in Nazi gas chambers. After the war, this building was commandeered by the American military and became the main bureaucratic office of the Marshall Plan. The building now belongs to the University. 

The colorful figures on the front lawn are plastic statues of the University's namesake, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Weekend Trips (Part One)

It's never fun to travel by yourself. Fortunately for me, I've been able to travel around Germany with friends and co-workers over the past two weekends.

On Sunday, July 6, I travelled to Nuremburg to visit my friend Anna, who is currently studying at West Point.  (Anna and I ruled the Paw Paw Middle School Student Council together with iron fists about seven years ago.... haha.)

Nuremberg is truly a city frozen in time--or rather, several time periods. The old part of the city is picturesque: narrow alleyways, arching cathedrals, medieval walkways. (It perfectly fits the fairytale-like, German village stereotype.) As you travel out of the Altstadt, however, the architecture begins to change. Rounded street corners become more angular, and every building assumes a crudeness typical of the Bauhaus movement--and the Third Reich.

Many of you are probably familiar with Nuremberg's Nazi past. In the 1934 Nuremberg became the official location for Nazi party rallies. To accommodate the number of Nazi party members and youths who came to the city for these annual meetings, the outskirts of the Nuremberg were transformed into fairgrounds, complete with a Colosseum, a grand boulevard, and sweeping fields for parading.

After the fall of the Third Reich, the Allies and the German government protected these sites from destruction (and for remembrance). The size and grandiosity of the Nazi party grounds are remarkable--and startling. In Nuremberg, the influence of Hitler's influence and power is palpable. If you ever visit Germany, you must travel to Nuremberg. It is a must-see.

If you would like to learn more about Nuremberg, the the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, or the Nuremberg Trials (were former Nazi leaders were tried and convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity), visit any of these links.

In my next post, I will tell you about my trip to Frankfurt this past weekend. Stay tuned!

The Schoenner Brunnen ("beautiful fountain") in the Altstadt 

The view of greater Nuremberg from the Altstadt

The former party grounds of the Nazis (also, a car show)

Inside one of the cathedrals in the Altstadt

The Kongresshalle, which was modelled after the Colosseum in Rome
The Kongresshalle now houses the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Documentation Center.

Monday, July 14, 2014

At the Final Whistle...

I have been very fortunate this summer. Not only do I have an amazing internship, but I also got to experience a winning World Cup showing.

Here was the reaction at the final whistle last night. There was a palpable tenseness throughout the entire game, which immediately dissipated when the referee signaled the end. What a relief!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tonight's the Big Game!

Well, tonight it all ends. The World Cup has been unbelievable (particularly because Germany has gone so far.) I'm a little sad that this global event will come to a close this evening, but I will never forget these exciting past few weeks.

I hope everyone gets a chance to watch the finale!! I filmed the video above when Germany beat Brazil on Tuesday. I can only imagine what it will be like tonight if Germany wins again....

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Red Fish, Blue Fish"

Before Dr. Seuss wrote his famous children's books, he was a cartoonist for the leftist newspaper, PM. Yesterday I was going through some newspapers from 1941 and came across the political cartoon below. I knew it was a Seuss original almost instantaneously. (His work just has that "look.")
Citation: "The Political Dr. Seuss." PBS: Independent Lens. PBS, n.d. Web. 10 July 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Esther Bejarano and the "Microphone Mafia"

Today, Zeitzeugen (lit., "time witnesses") from the Third Reich are few in number. Holocaust museums around the world are desperately collecting as many first-hand accounts from survivors as possible. It is, therefore, truly a treat to meet a survivor of National Socialism.

Esther Bejarano was a Jewish internee in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Ravensbrueck in the early 1940s. After her liberation, she, along with many European Jews, moved to Palestine, where she lived for almost fifteen years. In the early 1960s, Esther moved again, finding refuge in the least likely of places--Germany. Ever since, Esther has worked tirelessly to end anti-Semitism, fascism, and discrimination in Germany (and the rest of Europe). 

Esther survived the gas chambers by joining the "Girls's Orchestra" in Auschwitz as an accordionist, an instrument she picked up upon her arrival in the concentration camp. Prior to 2009, Esther had been best known for her participation in this band. Recently, however, Esther has become well-known for a new (and rather unusual) musical exploit.Five years ago Esther became the newest member of the "Microphone Mafia," a German hip-hop group. Together, Esther and the "Mafia" sing and rap songs in a myriad of languages that all promote one ideal: tolerance.

I saw Esther in concert on July 2nd at Osthofen concentration camp, which was absolutely incredible. The concert consisted of a reading and a set that lasted over two hours--an amazing feat when you consider that Esther will be ninety this year. To see such vitality in a woman who has survived so much was a pleasure. But to see such undying conviction in a human was truly an honor. 

Esther Bejarano with one of her band-mates

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Fourth of July, Everyone!

I just wanted to wish a "Happy Fourth of July!" to everyone. I also want to specifically thank all those who have helped protect this country and our freedom in the armed forces.

Yesterday, I attended a reading and concert at Osthofen Concentration Camp, which is not far from Heidelberg. The keynote speaker at the reading was Esther Bejarano, who has recently published a book about her experiences in Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck. I plan to write more about this moving experience in a later post, but I just want to quickly share Esther's last account in her book: her liberation.

In March of 1945, Esther escaped from one of the infamous Nazi "death marches" with a number of her friends. Knowing that their rescue was imminent, Esther and her friends had to decide in which direction they were going to run: the Americans were to the west; the Soviets, to the east. They chose to go westward.

When Esther finally met some American soldiers, the Americans took them to an abandoned restaurant to fix them a meal and a bed. The following day, Esther, her friends, Russian soldiers, and the Americans celebrated the downfall of Hitler by gaily dancing around his burning portrait in an empty town square. Esther played the accordion, which she learned to play in Auschwitz.

Although we celebrate freedom and liberty in America today, we should always remember that those rights are not solely American, for nationality does not determine human dignity. All humans, regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity (etc.), are deserving of equal respect. It is this belief that we should also celebrate today.