Super Bowl Attendees in Minnesota Will Be Greeted by Holocaust Survivor Exhibition

Super Bowl Attendees in Minnesota Will Be Greeted by Holocaust Survivor Exhibition

An exhibition at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport displaying portraits of 52 survivors from the Twin Cities region shows how they overcame great tragedy to live great lives

The "Transfer of Memory" exhibition at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport.
David Sherman

Thousands of football fans flying into Minneapolis-St. Paul for Super Bowl LII this weekend will be struck by an unconventional artistic sight at the airport’s terminals: a photographic exhibition of Holocaust survivors living in the metropolitan area known as the Twin Cities.

Brothers Mark and Zygi Wilf – who own the local National Football League franchise and whose parents survived the Shoah – are among those underwriting the airport’s exhibition, which opened in December and will close Monday as most fans fly home after Sunday night’s game.

The display intends to capitalize on the Super Bowl’s presence to increase people’s awareness of “where bigotry, intolerance and prejudice can lead,” Mark Wilf told Haaretz this week.

The 44 portraits, showing 52 survivors from 10 countries, have been exhibited over the past six years in Minnesota and several surrounding states – in such places as synagogues, churches, community centers, armories and concert halls. But the NFL’s championship game offers unique visibility.

Sunday’s game pits the favored New England Patriots against the Philadelphia Eagles. The two teams’ owners, Robert Kraft and Jeffrey Lurie, are both Jewish. Kraft brought 18 NFL Hall of Fame players to Israel last June, on a goodwill tour that included a visit to the sports campus bearing his name near the Knesset in Jerusalem.

“As part of Super Bowl LII, we thought [the exhibition] would be a win for this community of survivors,” said Wilf, whose Minnesota Vikings came within a game of becoming the first ever team to compete in the Super Bowl in its own stadium.

“Next year, God willing, we’ll be in the game,” he said. “But we’ll enjoy the experience of hosting this game in the Twin Cities.”

The Wilfs’ parents, Joseph and Elizabeth, and the family’s charitable foundation have long supported programs that aid survivors and strengthen Holocaust education. Joseph passed away in 2016.

“The whole world is coming to the Twin Cities this week to watch a football game – one of the premier sports events in the world. These [survivors] overcame great obstacles and tragedy in their lives, and they were resilient. They built productive lives and are great examples to people,” Wilf said.

Judy Baron, 89, and her husband Fred, a survivor from Vienna, are shown in one of the portraits, taken in 2011. Fred Baron passed away in 2014 at age 91.

Judy Baron, 89, and her husband, Fred Baron, in 2011. Fred passed away in 2014 at age 91.
David Sherman/Transfer of Memory

A native of Marosvásárhely, Hungary (now Târgu Mures, Romania), Judy survived three concentration camps and lost both parents and her two sisters in the Holocaust. “It is a very big honor to have [the photographs] exhibited when the football game is here,” she said.

The exhibition, named “Transfer of Memory,” is expected to have been viewed by nearly 2 million people at the airport, said Anthony Sussman, communications director for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. The Wilfs, the Vikings, the JCRC and Delta Airlines (for which the airport is a hub) are sponsoring the exhibition at the airport.

The photographs are accompanied by text covering the subjects’ paths from the Holocaust to Minnesota.

In advance of the Super Bowl, the JCRC has been sending out the survivors’ photographs and stories. That effort, along with related programs it hosts in synagogues and churches, “lead to a bigger conversation about building inclusive communities and standing up to hate,” said Laura Zelle, the exhibition’s curator and the JCRC’s director of Holocaust education.

Twenty-two of the subjects have died since the photographs were taken, including one couple (Eli and Fanni Kamlot, of Vienna) and sisters Mary Ackos Calof and Esther Ackos Winthrop, natives of Greece. One of the most striking portraits shows Eva Gross, who was 83 at the time, sitting on the arm of a couch beside her mother, Ella Weiss, then 100. Weiss passed away shortly after the photo was taken.

Ella Weiss, 100, sitting with her daughter Eva Gross, 83. Ella passed away shortly after the image was taken.
David Sherman/Transfer of Memory

The photographer, David Sherman, called the experience of taking all of the pictures “humbling.”

“I set out to make portraits of these survivors before they die. You just learn that survivors are special people – that as soon as the war was over, they started right away to rebuild their lives,” he said.


The University of Hartford’s Greenberg Center gets new digs

From the Jewish Ledger

By Stacey Dresner

HARTFORD – For years, the prestigious Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford was tucked away in a cramped, less than prestigious 1,000-square-foot office in the school’s Auerbach Hall.

Not anymore.

In December, the Greenberg Center moved into a space in the Harry Jack Gray Center far more befitting its stature as “one of the crown jewels of the university,” as once described by University of Hartford President Emeritus Walter Harrison.

Greenberg lobby

The newly renovated $1.2 million space is also more befitting Professor Richard Freund, the executive director of the Greenberg Center and archeologist extraordinaire who travels all over the world to excavate such sites as the Cave of Letters, Qumram, the Sobibor extermination camp, and even the fabled Atlantis.

“The university has taken a tremendous leap with us, to take the Greenberg Center into the 21st century,” Freund said.

On Wednesday, Jan. 24, a “soft” opening of the new Greenberg Center was held for the university community. Faculty, staff and students watched as Greenberg Center founder Arnold Greenberg and his wife, Beverly, cut the ribbon on the new center.

“The new space is really quite beautiful and represents a significant increase for us in terms of usable space,” said Arnold Greenberg, who lauded the individuals who helped make the new Greenberg Center possible – 35 years after it was created.

“We knew it would take time because space is always at a premium at a university, but we have been blessed with enormous support from all of the presidents of the university,” Greenberg said. “Without their support we couldn’t have realized as much as we have. The program and the center have been embraced by the university.”

University of Hartford President Gregory Woodward and presidents emeriti Walter Harrison and Humphrey Tonkin were on hand at the opening to show that support.

“There are hundreds of great things going on at the University of Hartford but one of the best and most shining examples is the work of the Greenberg Center,” said Woodward. “They were functioning in a less than appealing space…and with the generosity of various friends and the Greenberg family themselves, we were able to come up with a plan to raise money to make a better space.”

The new Greenberg Center is now in the space that used to house the Hartt School’s Allen Music Library.

“At the same time we were renovating our major university library system. So the music library moved over to the real library, and it opened up this great opportunity to give the Greenberg Center this prominent space both in terms of the actual physical space as well as a more desirable location where people will come across and interact with the Greenberg Center more often,” Woodward said. “What a great moment to bring that important function to a better place.”

The week before the soft opening, Dr. Freund took the Jewish Ledger on a private tour of the new Greenberg Center.

The Center’s new Hatikvah Holocaust Resource Library.

“It is amazing that we were able to transform a space like the Allen Library to a space that is so multi-use,” Freund said.

The Center is now entered through a bright front lobby with a lounge area in which students can study or socialize and a front desk manned by office coordinator Susan Gottlieb, jokingly likened by Professor Freund to Captain Kirk’s command center on the Starship Enterprise.

A large central room — the Millie and Irving Bercowetz Research and Study Library — anchors the Center. The multi-use room features several worktables designed for quiet study as well as comfy armchairs with small built-in tables just big enough for students’ laptops. One wall features a screen enabling the space to be used for film and video screenings. The room will also be used for lectures and other events.

“This is a work in progress,” Freund said as he led the informal tour. “The curator is going to transform this into, I think, a beautiful space.”

But even without the artwork and artifacts that have yet to make it to the walls and display cases, the new Center is an inviting space designed to be enjoyed by students, faculty and even the public.

“This is the point – to have people from the community seeing students, talking to students; to have a space where they can all actually meet, and feel they can discuss things,” Freund said. “It is ‘town and gown.’ That has always been the mission of the Greenberg Center – that it’s not just for the students on the campus but for the whole community.”

The “centerpiece” of the Greenberg Center, Freund says, pointing to the bookshelves lining the walls of the Bercowetz Library, are thousands of Holocaust-related books. This collection of 5,000 books in the Center’s Hatikvah Holocaust Resource Library, which was purchased and donated by the Zachs Family Foundation, is named for the Hatikvah Holocaust Center in Springfield, Mass., which used to house the books and which closed its doors in 2010. The books are already catalogued and ready to be used as resources.

“This will be a central part of the center,” agreed Avinoam Patt, the Center’s Philip D. Feltman Professor and director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization. “This is what I do — Holocaust education — and we wanted teachers to be able to come and use these resources… We now have several thousand books dedicated to the Holocaust, a whole reference section and the largest film section dedicated to Holocaust education.”

Running along one side of the main room are two back-to-back classrooms, separated from the main space by see-through glass display cases, intended to hold many of the Greenberg Center’s treasures. A mannequin clothed in the garb of a Roman gladiator stands at attention in the corner of one of the classrooms.

“I will be able to teach archeology and be able to show the students the artifacts while

I am teaching,” Freund said as he removed a small ancient scroll from one of the display cases. “I can actually take artifacts out and have students examine them. To show them that this is what it looks like. They can hold it; they can touch it. It makes a very big difference.”

On the other side of the Bercowetz Library, there are four offices for Professors Freund, Patt and the program’s Hebrew and Arabic language instructors.

Near the lobby is the Special Collections room, now earmarked for the Kostin Research Library, a private collection of more than 6,000 books written about nearly every Jewish community around the world, collected by Hartford businessman Dane Kostin.

The Center includes a Holocaust collection resource room with computer and an assortment of Holocaust videos, and a separate meeting room.

Also a part of the new Greenberg Center is the Holocaust Education Resource and Outreach Center or HERO Center, which is now a shared initiative of the Greenberg Center and the Farmington-based Voices of Hope.

Founded by businessman Alan Lazowski and the families of Holocaust survivors across the state, Voices of Hope collects personal accounts of survivors and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust through personal testimonies in classrooms and lecture halls around the state.

“We work closely together,” Patt said. “What we realized is that too often we ended up competing against each other. So we said, ‘We have the resources here, you have the outreach mission, let’s partner and work together.”

As an example, Patt mentioned a February field trip that Kingswood Oxford’s middle school students will be taking to the Greenberg Center.

“Now what we are able to do is have 150 students downstairs in Wilde Auditorium to meet with a survivor, and then we will be able to have kids visit the Resource Center and the Jewish Heritage Museum,” Patt said.

With the new Center, not only will more field trips be offered to provide education for the state’s school children, but community programs are already planned for the entire community. 

Shown here at the soft opening of the new Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies on Jan. 24 are (front, l to r) Greenberg Center founders Beverly and Arnold Greenberg cutting the ribbon, and Prof. Richard Freund, executive director (back, l to r,) U of H President Gregory Woodward and Prof. Avinoam Patt.

“We are always trying to come up with programs that tie in with our classes and that people in the community will want to attend,” Freund said.

Programs already scheduled are “Art and Spirituality” with Siona Benjamin (a Jew raised in Bombay) on Feb. 20 in the Wilde Auditorium; Samantha Baskin and Patt on “The 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising,” on April 16 in the Center’s Bercowetz Library; and The Greenberg Center’s Annual Awards Evening on May 7.

The May 7 event, which represents the formal public opening of the new Greenberg Center to the entire community, will feature guest speaker Paula Apsell, the senior executive director of NOVA, the PBS documentary series.

But the Center’s events will not only include the academic.

With a kosher kitchen located in the back, Freund is hoping the space will also be used for more romantic engagements.

“If people say, ‘I’d like to get married at the Greenberg Center, can I do that?’ The answer is yes,” he stated. “Kosher kitchens are central because we want to have events here. I can imagine alumni coming back here to get married. It’s got all the bells and whistles.”

“This is going to be a destination,” Freund added. “When people come to Hartford they are going to want to come to the Greenberg Center.”


Sen. Richard Blumenthal, West Hartford Congregation Gather To Remember Holocaust Survivors, Victims

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, West Hartford Congregation Gather To Remember Holocaust Survivors, Victims

From the Hartford Courant

On a day when her children struggled to understand what she had withstood, Gisela Adamski — among a dwindling number of witnesses to a time nearly incomprehensible in its evil — recalled the time she was caught stuffing spinach into her pants in a Nazi ghetto, and laughed.

Adamski, 90, was among several Holocaust survivors who gathered at Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford Sunday to remember the millions of people killed by the Nazi regime during World War II. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal spoke to the synagogue’s congregation one day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, honoring those in the audience who survived, and the millions who did not. The event, organized by Connecticut Voices of Hope, a non-profit founded by descendants of Holocaust survivors, commemorated the 73rd anniversary of the Soviet army’s liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on Jan. 27, 1945.

Blumenthal also recognized Benjamin Cooper, a West Hartford resident and former combat medic who helped liberate the Dachau death camp as part of the U.S. Army’s 45th Infantry Division. Cooper, 96, was inducted last month into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.

Seeing people like Adamski and Cooper in the flesh is “a reminder of how close that era is to us,” Blumenthal said, “and how we need to remember it after they are gone, and educate our children so that they remember it after we are gone.”

Adamski, who attended the remembrance ceremony with her daughter, hails from Oppeln — formerly in eastern Germany and now part of Poland, which before the Holocaust was home to about 500 Jews.

Adamski was 10 when Kristallnacht — the Night of Broken Glass — ushered in a new era of violent persecution for German Jews. Adamski and her Jewish classmates were barred from going to German schools, permitted to attend only one class led by a Jewish teacher.

By 1943, Adamski was barred from going to school altogether. The SS had by that time begun removing Jewish families from Oppeln and sending them to ghettos, but Adamski’s family was left alone until 1943. Her father had fought in the German army during World War I, and “for that reason,” she said, “we weren’t as taken as early as the others. We were the last to leave.”

But on April 20, 1943 — Hitler’s 54th birthday — Adamski, her mother and her father were taken to Theresienstadt, a ghetto in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Her father was beaten as they got off the train. Her 44 year-old mother suffered a stroke, seeing her husband attacked with fists and German shepherds.

In Theresienstadt, a 15-year-old Adamski grew spinach and tomatoes — “the most sour tomatoes you’d ever eat” — in an enormous garden for German soldiers. It was there she was caught trying to smuggle pilfered spinach in the elastic of her work pants; at a checkpoint, the spinach fell out of a pant leg, right in front of a Czech guard. “I was terrified,” she said. “But the Czechs, they were not so bad as the Germans.”

But after 17 months in Theresienstadt, where Adamski and her family lived with 47,000 Jews in a compound that had been built for 7,000 Czechs, Adamski’s father was taken to Auschwitz. She and her mother were sent three weeks later.

“Auschwitz, just arriving there, was the worst part,” she recalled. “The yelling, screaming, ripping children from their mothers.”

An inspector deemed Adamski fit to work. Her mother was sent to her death.

“My mother was told to go left, I was told to go right — I never saw her again,” she said. Adamski was put to work digging trenches in Polish forests to slow down the encroaching Soviet army, and was liberated by that same army in 1945. After the war, she learned her father had been killed in Dachau on Christmas Eve, 1944.

Blumenthal, whose father fled Nazi Germany when he was 17 for the United States, warned that a climate of bigotry similar to the one that delivered Nazi genocide is now swirling in the underbelly of the United States.

“This day has such powerful, special meeting, because we’ve seen those forces of hatred and bigotry condoned and encouraged, at the highest level,” Blumenthal said. “The remarks made by such elected officials that offer license and legitimacy to intolerance and prejudice — which is the dark side of America — are very, very concerning.”

Blumenthal referenced the Charlottesville demonstrations in August, where neo-Nazi groups chanted “Jews will not replace us” and brandished swastikas. One counterprotestor was killed when a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd. After the rally, Republican President Donald Trump seemingly attributed the violence to both white supremacists and counterprotestors, saying there were “very fine people on both sides.” His comments drew condemnation from Democrats and members of his own party.

Blumenthal’s father managed to borrow $10,000 when he arrived in the United States in 1935, which he used to spirit his parents and siblings out of Germany. Blumenthal said it is difficult for him to listen to Trump’s promises to restrict immigration, and in particular a family reunification program Trump has dubbed “chain migration,” without thinking of his 17-year-old father.

“Ten thousand dollars today, that doesn’t sound like much money. But he was a refugee — a penniless refugee,” Blumenthal said. “I often think now about the Trump immigration policies that exclude people who have no resources, who don’t speak English, who have no connection to this country — my father would have been one of the ones turned away.”


Annual Meeting Gratitude and Recognition


Mystic Seaport is featuring GERDA III: Danish Lighthouse Tender

GERDA IIIBuilt in 1926 as a lighthouse tender, the Gerda III appears to be a common Danish workboat. But in October of 1943, she played a much more important role. The boat was used by Henny Sinding, the 19-year-old daughter of the boat’s manager, and a four-man crew to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Denmark.

The refugees were brought to a warehouse along Copenhagen’s waterfront and smuggled aboard the Gerda III, hiding in the cargo hold. The little vessel then set out on her official lighthouse supply duties, but detoured to the coast of neutral Sweden and put her “cargo” ashore. Although the vessel was regularly boarded and checked by German soldiers, the refugees were never discovered. The Gerda III rescued approximately 300 Jews, in groups of 10 to 15.

Henny Sinding and the brave crew were not part of the organized Danish resistance movement. Ordinary Danish citizens were outraged by the Nazi plan to deport Jews to the death camps. The Danish people mounted a spontaneous effort that saved more than 7,000 of their Jewish neighbors – almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark.

By an act of the Danish Parliament, the Gerda III was donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The vessel was restored to her wartime appearance, complete with neutral flags, by the J. Ring Andersen yard in Denmark. Mystic Seaport is proud to help care for the boat and exhibit her in the United States.


Holocaust Escape Tunnel

For centuries, the Lithuanian city of Vilna was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, earning the title “Jerusalem of the North” until World War II, when the Nazis murdered about 95% of its Jewish population and reduced its synagogues and cultural institutions to ruins. The Soviets finished the job, paving over the remnants of Vilna’s famous Great Synagogue so thoroughly that few today know it ever existed. Now, an international team of archaeologists is trying to rediscover this forgotten world, excavating the remains of its Great Synagogue and searching for proof of one of Vilna’s greatest secrets: a lost escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site.

Featuring our friends at the University of Hartford: Avi Patt and Richard Freund

To watch the full video, click here.

 


Voices of Hope Statement on Charlottesville

Dear Friends and Members of Voices of Hope:
The violence in Charlottesville this past weekend has shown that hate exists and is still actively a part of our culture. These perpetrators of hate were well organized and prepared to provoke violence. They walked the streets chanting Nazi and anti-Semitic slogans; they spouted racial epithets; they posted Holocaust imagery on their websites; and shouted unrepeatable vitriol at Jewish worshippers in a nearby synagogue. These are the same thoughts and actions that led to the events of the Holocaust and other genocides.
There is no place in our society for hate, intolerance, bigotry or injustice. We understand what can ensue when people remain indifferent and fail to take a stand when evil rears its ugly head. We must continue to educate and teach how important it is to stand up and speak out.
No individual should be intimidated for their religious beliefs. No one should be singled out for their race, sexual orientation or any other trait that makes them different. Voices of Hope is committed to condemning hate speech in any form but also to teaching that we cannot forget the past, we cannot be bystanders and that we have an obligation to speak up. We are committed to sharing the testimony and lessons of the Holocaust.
Voices of Hope will continue to bring young people to hear firsthand testimony and create the opportunity for them to learn about how the Holocaust and Genocide are related to both historic and current events that echo the worst instances of man’s inhumanity to man. Our goal is to engage more teachers and students to examine how to critically face racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry and to understand that prejudice is the catalyst that leads to violence and ultimately genocide.
Voices of Hope is here to stand with you in teaching, learning and making a difference through Holocaust and genocide education. We have curriculum, speakers and resources available to help you make a difference. We will continue our mission to foster a culture of courage and social action against hate, bigotry, intolerance and indifference.
Sincerely,
Peter Fishman
President, Voices of Hope
Alan Berkowitz
Vice President, Voices of Hope

Why I Went to Auschwitz

There was a small hole in the kitchen floor that led to a secret crawl space. That image is burned into my memory. The space was maybe five feet long by five feet wide.

The owner of the house said, “They used to fit six people inside there. When the Nazis would come.”

His name was Tadeusz Skoczylas, and the house we were in had belonged to his family during World War II. It was a small brick house in the town of Ciepielów, Poland. It had a red roof that had seen better days. The front door was just a few steps off the street. In the backyard were a few barns and other small shacks.

I had been in Poland for a few days already, and the horror of the history I had experienced was overwhelming. But this was something different. This was so personal.

I’m looking at this tiny space. And I’m imagining six people down there, hiding from death. Six real people. Crawling through that little hole right in front of me. Not that long ago. It wasn’t a history book. It wasn’t a museum. It was right there.

Tadeusz explained that one day in 1942, Nazi soldiers visited the house on a tip. Someone in the village had told them that the family had been harboring Jewish people. There were supposed to be 10 Skoczylas living in the house. On this particular day, the youngest boy in the family was not home when the soldiers came by. The Nazis grew suspicious and began tearing the house apart. They found the hole and the crawl space, but the Jewish people the family had been hiding were not there. They had already moved on.

Without saying a word, the Nazis went next door to a neighboring family and took their young son. The punishment for hiding Jews was death for the entire family, and they had a quota to fill.

The soldiers took all 10 people out back and executed them right in front of those barns and shacks that are still standing there today.

When the little Skoczylas boy returned home, he found his entire family dead.

That little boy was Tadeusz’s grandfather. The house stayed in the Skoczylas family, and his grandfather lived in it. Now Tadeusz and his mother live in it.

I couldn’t believe it. And as I walked through the rest of the house, this feeling sort of took over me. There was all this history right in front of me. And it was real. I could reach out and touch it. I could feel it between my fingers and smell it in the air. It was a tangible thing.


I took that trip just a few months ago. It was my first time in Poland. I went there to learn more about something that had fascinated me since I was a teenager: the Holocaust. I’d read so many books and articles about it, but reading words on a page is not the same thing as seeing things up close.

Then I visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., for the first time. It was 1998, and I was playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. I was in D.C. meeting our owner, Herb Kohl, over the summer. We had some time free time on my last day in the city, and Mr. Kohl suggested we go to the Holocaust Museum on the National Mall. I’ll never forget how I felt after those two hours in there — I could have spent two days. My immediate feeling was that everyone needs to go there.

There was one room in particular, though, that I think about often. It’s filled with photos of Jews from a town in Poland. The pictures line the walls and extend up toward the sky, where light floods in from a window. Almost 90% of the people in the images were sent to their death. Before they were taken to concentration camps or executed, they would leave their prized possessions behind with friends or family.

The people of these Jewish communities were pushed to the absolute limit of their human instincts. They just wanted to survive. And from that, the tales of brotherhood and camaraderie are so awe-inspiring. It was a reminder of what the human spirit is capable of — both for good and evil.

Honestly … it made me feel sort of irrelevant. Which was a strange thought to have as a young NBA player who was supposed to be on top of the world. I was realizing that there were things outside of my bubble that mattered so much more. I wanted my teammates to feel that as well. So every team I played on after that, whenever we were in D.C. playing the Wizards, I would ask our coach if we had time to go through the museum. Every visit was different, but each guy came out thanking me for taking us there. I could see in their eyes that they had a different perspective on life after that experience.

I thought I knew what the Holocaust was, and what it meant. I went to Poland with a few close friends to learn more. But I wasn’t prepared for how deeply the visit would affect me. I had seen so many documentaries and films on Auschwitz, but nothing really prepares you for being there. The first thing I felt when I walked through those iron gates was … heavy. The air around me felt heavy. I stood on the train tracks where the prisoners of the camp would arrive, and I felt like I could hear the trains coming to a halt. I had to take a breath to center myself. It was so immediate. So overwhelming.

We walked through the barracks and gas chambers and what I remember most is what I heard: nothing. I’ve never experienced silence like that. Apart from footsteps, the complete lack of sound was almost jarring. It’s eerie and sobering. You’re standing in these rooms where so much death has taken place and your mind is trying to come to terms with all that’s happened in this space.

One question keeps repeating over and over and over in your mind: How can human beings do this to one another?

How does somebody process that? You can’t.

This is not history. This is humanity. This is now. This is a living lesson for us as a people.


After Tadeusz Skoczylas took us through his family’s home, I stood outside for a while by myself, thinking about everything I had experienced.

Why do we learn about the Holocaust? Is it just so we can make sure nothing like this ever happens again? Is it because six million people died? Yes, but there’s a bigger reason, I think.

The Holocaust was about how human beings — real, normal people like you and me — treat each other.

When the Skoczylas family was risking their own lives to hide people they barely knew, they weren’t doing it because they practiced the same religion or were the same race. They did it because they were decent, courageous human beings. They were the same as those people crouched in a hole. And they knew that those people didn’t deserve what was being done to them.

I asked myself a really tough question: Would I have done the same?

Really, would I have done the same?

When I returned home to America, I got some very disheartening messages directed toward me on social media regarding my trip. Some people didn’t like the fact that I was going to Poland to raise awareness for the issues that happened there and not using that time or energy to support people in the black community.

I was told my ancestors would be ashamed of me.

I know there are trolls online and I shouldn’t even pay attention, but that one sort of got to me. Because I understood where they were coming from. I understand that there are plenty of issues in our own country right now, but they were looking at my trip the wrong way. I didn’t go to Poland as black person, a white person, a Christian person or a Jewish person — I went as a human being.

It’s easy to say “I went to make sure these things don’t happen again.” But I went to learn about the true reality of what happened during the Holocaust, and what we can take from that. The people who believe that I am not spending my time the way the right way … well, they’re missing the entire point. We shouldn’t label people as this thing or that thing. Because by doing so, you create these preconceived notions, which is how we get into these horrible situations in the first place.

We have to do a better job breaking through ignorance and the close-mindedness and the divisions that are plaguing our society in 2017.

I remember being a kid in elementary school, and we all used to have a couple pen pals from around the world. I was so excited to hear back from people in different countries. I wanted to know about how they lived. I was curious about their lives. And I feel like we’ve lost that a little bit. It seems like now, we only see us. We only want to look out for us. Whatever us even means.

I think about the Tadeusz family. Who did they define as us?

They saw us as every human being, regardless of what they looked like, or what they believed. They thought everyone was worth protecting. And they were willing to die for it.

That is something worth remembering, always.


New CT Hate Crimes Bill Passed

http://connecticut.adl.org/news/adl-hails-tightening-of-hate-crimes-law-in-connecticut/


My Real Birthright by Carly Shapiro

May 8, 2017

Introduction

As I spent the weekend trying to gather and process all my feelings and thoughts, I figured a blog post would be the best way to publicize my impactful weekend traveling throughout the country of Poland. I didn’t know what to expect. I have been learning about the Holocaust and World War II since I was 13 years old. I had never envisioned myself, at 20 years old, flying from the amazing city of Tel Aviv, Israel to Warsaw, Poland. I knew that to some extent I had Polish roots. But, due to many factors, I was unable to trace these roots directly. So I accepted in my mind that I would be an impartial viewer of each camp, ghetto, memorial, and grave site. I am going to do my best to summarize and dissect the most impactful moments of the weekend.

I understand that my opinions and views may not agree with yours, so please be kind in reading.

Warsaw

After a tiring flight from Tel Aviv at 6:00 AM, we started our touring immediately. Just an hour after landing, I found myself standing in the Warsaw Ghetto, with my hand on the partial ghetto wall that remains. My first thought was, “who’s window is that…?”

The Warsaw ghetto wall remains sandwiched between two large apartment complexes. The windows look out onto the courtyard where Jews once sat starving and dying of disease. And the complex entrance walls are scattered with hundreds of bullets from the war. It baffled me that people could possibly live on the same grounds, let alone in the same buildings as the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. These apartments were refurbished, beautiful, and modern. What type of person could bare to live within these still standing ghetto walls? If these walls could talk…

 

Treblinka

Later that day, we boarded our bus to head to our first concentration camp… My first concentration camp: Treblinka. I pictured everything I had seen in photos and movies: the wooden barracks, barbed wire fences, dirt paths. I was so shocked as I walked into this lush green forrest, watching the tall trees dance, and smelling a familiar woodsy scent that was hauntingly similar to my old Jewish summer camp.

What I didn’t know was how much deception went on from the German Nazis. Everything they did was to deceive Jews. There was a ‘building’ in Treblinka with a Red Cross sign, where they took the injured, disabled, elder, and children. They would enter the doorway and wait their turn for help. When they entered the building doorway, there was a mass grave and they would receive a bullet in the head. Sickening.

The entire camp ground, which I had learned, was completely destroyed. Everything that stands there is made of stone and is there to be of tribute to all the Jews that had perished in that wooded area.

There was a feeling at that camp that I cannot put into words, but it fills your spine with chill and puts a knot in your stomach.

Each stone standing is meant to represent an entire community that died at Treblinka. It must have been two football fields of statues. One small stone statue to represent an entire community. It’s sickening.

The idea of stones in Judaism is a very powerful meaning that I thought was so touching. It is customary to leave stones at a gravesite because stones do not perish. They stand with time, as opposed to flowers, which die within a matter of days. Stones withstand time and weather and are so powerful in representing those who perished. In a way, it’s beautiful what they have done with the space where Treblinka once stood. It’s poetic in withstanding time for those innocent Jews who barely had any time on this Earth.

We all walked off the camp feeling distraught from our first exposure to the painful truth of what happened to our ancestors.

The brutality and the dehumanization was so off-putting that it was hard to eat after leaving the camp. But while our bus pulled away from Treblinka, our trip rabbi explained something that I think says a lot about the Jewish people and Judaism itself. He explained how after visualizing all this death and feeling so stunted by it, we were able to physically walk off this camp, unlike our distant relatives who previously entered the camp. For that reason, we celebrate and we drink a l’chaim. He poured shots of whisky for whoever wanted.

Majdanek

“There are no birds here, only crows. Birds don’t sing in Majdanek.”

As we drove through a residential town in Poland and passed a McDonalds, I was hit by a brick wall. The forced labor camp we had just driven to came out of nowhere, and we were now in a place that felt like hell on Earth. The bus went silent.

The first thing I noticed were the houses directly outside of the camp. This is a child’s view outside their window… sickening. I saw a man exit his house and hop on his bike to go down the path directly next to the gas chamber and crematorium.

One of the first things we did upon entering the camp, was walk through the gas chamber. As I stood there, I felt numbed by the pain that was once experienced in that relatively small building. Our tour guide read a story about a young girl named Helena Birnbaum who survived Majdanek and the Holocaust. But she was separated from her mother immediately after being shaved and showered prior to the gas chamber. As Helena stepped out to be put into the labor camp, she noticed her mother no longer behind her. My heart strings tore at the thought of being ripped from my mother knowing my last hug with her had already passed.

As I walked out of the gas chamber and onto the bright green grass, I had this overwhelming thought that was so emotional and beyond words at that point. We, a group of 20-21 year old Jewish adults who came here from Israel, are walking out of this camp. With our lives, our dignities, our ambition, and most importantly, our sense of Judaism. As so many of our ancestors weren’t able to, we have the privilege to leave this place and pass on the story and our Jewish tradition.

We also were able to walk through the crematorium, which is in its original form. I have chills up and down my spine thinking about that room. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was so horrified and disgusted, I was beyond the point of sadness. My stomach hurt in the worst way to think about everything that took place where I was standing. As I left that horrible space as fast as I could, I could only pray that the twisted, barbaric, messed up people who operated that system were rotting in hell.

Auschwitz – Birkenau I and II

This place I was dreading. I knew it to be the mother of all labor and extermination camps, but I didn’t know how I would react. So far, I had seen a lot of the same terrible things that went on under Adolf Hitler’s power, but I didn’t know what made these two camps so monumental and – dare I say – famous.

Auschwitz I is an absolute tragedy. It was a twisted and manipulative fate for Jews that had been deported there. The grounds are massive, we weren’t able to do all of it in a whole day. The large brick buildings all housed different purposes: a brothel of Jewish prisoners, a Nazi doctor who experimented on women and children, a canteen for German’s to relax and look out and admire their prisoners, the list goes on.

The most sickening part about Auschwitz I was that it almost felt like a college campus. There was structure to it: big buildings, stone paths, gates. I almost felt like there should be a map on the corner showing which building was which. But instead of a place filled with opportunity and learning, it was a twisted living community for Jewish prisoners awaiting their fate and living miserably in the mean time. But compared to Auschwitz-Birkenau II, Auschwitz I looked like a fantasy land…

Auschwitz-Birkenau II was horrific. The living conditions alone showed how worthless the Germans saw Jews to be. They treated them worse than animals and it’s something that I never want to envision anyone

having to go through the unimaginable torture they endured. People risked their lives by hiding in the toilets, covered in feces, with the hope of escaping the forced labor camp. And when they didn’t die of disease or starvation, they were sent to the gas chambers.

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau II went on forever. The rubble of barracks (prisoners living quarters) went on for what seemed like miles. Each barrack was filled with 100+ prisoners and was around the same size of a typical bunk at my summer camp – which typically fit 15. I didn’t understand how someone could possibly survive this place, let alone live to want to tell the story about it.

Conclusion

On Shabbat, our rabbi, Ezra, told us a story. Abridged: A man living in Krakow, Poland has a dream that there is a hidden treasure under the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech. He has this dream many times and decides that it must be true, so he travels to Prague. Once he gets to the bridge, it’s blocked off and he cannot go under to see if there is treasure. He asks a policeman what’s going on. He tells the policeman that he has to go down under the bridge because he had this dream. The policeman laughs and says if he listened to his dreams then he would meet a man from Krakow who had treasure under his stove in Poland. So the Jewish man goes home to Poland and looks under his stove and finds the treasure.

Sometimes you have to go a long way to find what you’re looking for very close to you. And here I am living in the most amazing city and country in the world for five months, but I had to travel all the way to Poland to find what was in my heart all along. After this amazing trip, I’ve finally realized my purpose as a young Jewish woman: to live my life as a proud Jew for those 6 million who unfortunately could not. I never thought that it was important to raise my children Jewish, or to marry a Jewish man. But now I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I lost 6 million of my own kind due to ignorance, selfishness, and pure hatred. It would be purely selfish if I did not do everything in my power to grow the Jewish race. I not only feel rare and special, but I feel like I have a purpose.

The trip was something I never envisioned myself doing, but I am so incredibly proud that I was able to and that I have taken away so many important realizations from it.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”        -George Santayana