Day 5 – April 10, 2010

Pavel Stransky, Holocaust survivor from Prague, met us for breakfast at the hotel before telling us his story of surviving both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. After answering our questions, Pavel rode with us on the bus to Theresienstadt. On the way, Shalmi pointed out the curve in the highway where Reinhard Heydrich was killed. This story and the history of the area helped us to understand the town and fortress of Theresienstadt.

In this residential area which is still an active community and town, we entered a building which was once a barrack which is now a museum. We were introduced to the children’s drawings which depicted daily life in the ghetto. This artwork again brought to the forefront the paradox that existed during the Holocaust.

Shalmi pointed out a piece of artwork in which a woman wearing a fur coat is picking potato peels out of a garbage pile, a surreal scene: a woman wearing a fur coat is scavenging for potato peels. Pavel guided us through the museum, including the model of the camp including where he stayed. He accompanied us from there to the Danish Synagogue, a hidden synagogue in the Danish area of the ghetto, which was just discovered a few years ago by a local resident.

From there we went to the what is known as the Magdeburg barracks, where the work of artists, composers and musicians is displayed.

These works were created during the final days of life before being deported to the East, Shalmi points out the irony of this situation: the legacy that these people leave behind is in the very cultural concept that the Nazis wanted to push the Jews out of….they are gone but this is still here; they chose to leave a legacy that they were part of culture, despite Nazi ideology that Jews were cultural viruses.

After walking through the tunnels of the fortress of the prison camp at Theresienstadt, and talking about the swimming pool which was used by the Nazi staff to entertain themselves by humiliating the inmates with diverse acts of sadism, as if camp routine was not enough, we boarded the bus to go to Lidice. This once was a very peaceful Czech village. The Nazis suspected Heydrich’s assailants came from there. In retribution, they killed all the men of the village, sent all the women to concentration camps, and some of the children were sent to live in Germany to become “aryanized,” or adopted, by German families. The remainder of the children were sent to concentration camps and killed. We walked across the green hillside to the memorial, sculpted in brass using actual pictures of the children of Lidice. The children’s faces stare blankly into the distance, as if anticipating and fearing their futures. An eery silence came over the group as we stood before these children, trying to comprehend the question, “How it was possible for human beings to be so cruel?”

On the bus ride back to Prague, Pavel left us with these words: “One can never win over human stupidity, but one must never stop fighting it.”

Becca says:
In anticipation, I woke up looking forward to meeting Pavel Stransky, an 89 year old Holocaust survivor. When Pavel told us his story of how he survived the Holocaust, I could not help but anticipate the suspense he made me feel wanting to know what happened next. In my opinion, I think Pavel is some kind of gift from God. Not only did he survive in the end, but he explained that there were many times he could have been the one sent to the gas chambers. Fortunately, Pavel kept getting saved. Some people could say he was lucky, but I feel Pavel was saved for a specific reason. It only makes sense to me that he was saved because of his intellect and loving heart. I was very impressed that Pavel is so happy and did not seem to have any regrets. He kept referring back to his wife, Vera. It was easy to tell he was madly in love with her by his facial expressions. When he got home he wondered if his wife was alive, and then he discovered she was at the hospital. This curiousity of her existence is what kept him alive. In conclusion, Pavel really caught my attention, and learning about what he had to go through really gave me a different view on life. I can’t explain exactly because you can’t get the same feeling if you have not met him. He basically taught me to appreciate every moment and everyone you love, because you could lose them at any given time.
Nick says:
After hearing Pavel Stransky’s survival story, I was blown away. He referred to the genocide as not one Holocaust, but 6 million individual ones. Needless to say, Pavel overcame an immense amount of obstacles which no one could truly comprehend unless he or she lived as a Jew in the mid 20th century. Through the elaborate description Pavel included in his story, we were able to get a small sense of what each victim went through during the Holocaust. Looking into his eyes, one could see the desperation and years of suffering he faced in his life. In 1939, Pavel lost his father, who commited suicide, and only three years later was separated from his mother, whom he never saw again. He met the love of his life at the age of 17, and eventually married her, spending their “honeymoon” on a train to Birkenau. After miraculously making it out alive, he was sent to Auschwitz where he was told “Look into the horizon, the only way out is through the smoke in the chimneys.” Again, he made it out alive and was returned to Theresienstadt. Once the war ended he re-entered society. I was amazed by everything he went through, and everything he said will stick with me for the rest of my life.

28 comments

  1. Becca,How wonderful that this particular survivor's story has made you realize the importance of appreciating every moment of our lives, the good with the bad. That is a life lesson you'll always remember and hopefully will put to good use in your own lifetime! Really enjoy reading all of your responses to the events of the trip! Give everyone a big hug for me, especially Mrs. T. Tell her I miss her!Mrs. De Poto

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  2. It's really a blessing knowing that there are still people out there that are Holocaust survivors, let alone ones that talk to people about what they went through. I would personally drift away from the past and just try to forget about what happened. I could only imagine the harsh feelings and cruel thoughts a person would have when reminiscing of those bad times.

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  3. Being able to speak and question the strong people like Holocaust survivors gives a sense of really being in the past. These incredibly amazing people share their life stories and experiences to let people know how they felt, what they had to go through during this time. This experience is not simply a part of history, it is a collection of stories and events that happened to real people, not just names and faces. Going to the barracks and seeing the sculpture of the children, uncertain of their futures, must have been very emotional and thought-provoking.

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  4. It is great that you guys met Holocaust survivors and got to spend a day with them. Going to Holocaust museums must have been an experience also. I'm sure you learned a lot from this.

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  5. It is awesome that you guys got to meet a Holocaust survivor. It was probably hard for the person the talk with you and to think about all off the bad memories that he was talking about. I was angered when I read about all of the horrible things Nazis did to the Jews.

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  6. It is really cool that you guys got to meet and speak with a Holocaust survivor. It must have been hard for him to talk about all of the bad experiences he might have had. Its really upsetting when you think about all of the bad things Nazis did to Jews.

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  7. That must have been a great experience to meet and speak with a holocaust survivor. It must have been a difficult time for Mr. Stransky to tell his survival story. After reading all this information, I really look forward to learning more about the holocaust. I hope I get to meet Pavel Stransky.

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  8. It must have been an honor to meet and spend a day with a Holocaust survivor. For him to talk about his past must have been hard, but it must have been great to hear so you could know what they went through. You must of had great experiences on this trip.

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  9. Spending a day with the holocaust survivors is an experience that not everybody has. I’m sure it was hard for the survivors to talk about their struggles and hardships, but telling their story is the only way we can have evidence of what happened during the Holocaust. Going to the barracks and seeing the sculpture of the children must have been very emotional.

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  10. Since the number of holocaust survivors are only decreasing, spending time with this must have been an incredible experience. Soon enough, there won't be any survivors to speak to, and now hearing about Pavel's story, it is our job to pass it on. It is also great to know that not all the survivors are still miserable, yet glad they're alive and ready to enjoy the future.

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  11. While reading, \”Night\” by Elie Wiesel, I found myself putting down the book multiple times, overwhelmed. \”How it was possible for human beings to be so cruel?\” I thought to myself. I can't wait till Holocaust survivors come to visit New Milford High School!

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  12. It's amazing how much you can learn from the experiences of one person. Pavel had been through a lot in his lifetime, and it seems like he had a lot to say about what had happened. What I thought was interesting was when I read what Nick wrote. \”He referred to the genocide as not one Holocaust, but 6 million individual ones.\”

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  13. I would be in awe of those survivors if I met them. How does one survive something like the Holocaust? The statue of the children kind of freaked me out, but it also made my heart go out to them. Some look my sister's age, and I can't imagine a kid like her going through genocide.

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  14. I am not defending the \”perpetrators\”, but if one were to ask why the SS Officers performed such heinous tasks, they would likely respond that they were following orders. I know that the Holocaust was a terrible, terrible thing, and may it NEVER occur again, but people would do almost anything if told. Just stating.

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  15. It must be an honor to meet a Holocaust survivor, and the statues of the children sure were a bit freaky, yet it shows the grief they were experiencing. And yes, how could it be possible for a human being to be so cruel? It doesn't make sense.

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  16. I think it is so neat that you got to hear a survivor speak as the numbers left living are coming to a close. Just being able to personally hear him speak is so special and it was probably very hard for him. It would have been fun to go to the museum where the children's drawings are. Living a life in the ghettos would be hard for a child. As a child you are suppose to be innocent and having fun, but these children were surrounded by so many hardships. I think of my childhood and how I was so blessed, and then I think of the children and their childhood life and it is so sad.

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  17. It occured to me many times when reading this, how priviledged you are to have met and heard Pavel's story. He sounds like an incredibly strong person and just through reading his story on here I am inspired. The entire Holocaust really can put life into prospective for you.

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  18. The statue of all the children was so eerie looking, it makes me wonder how can a human be that cruel. I think its so cool that you got to personally met a survivor, and to have him walk you around Theresienstadt.

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  19. Wow that children's memorial sounds really moving. Looking at a photo of it was hard to do. I never heard taht children drew pictures on the walls of the concentration camps… what a fascinating horrible thing to actually see first hand. I also never knew that some children were sent to live with German families to by \”aryainized\”. I always thought those who associated with Jews even children were killed or sent to the camps. I cannot even fathom the fear that those children must have felt being seperated form their parents and eventually killed or forced to live with strangers.

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  20. Marty Bloyer: Meeting a Holocaust survivor is amazing. Hearing how Pavel Stransky gave a tour of Theresienstadt is also amazing. I cannot imagine the pain he must have been going through when he was pointing out awful memories from his past. Many people try to forget awful things in their life but Pavel is so strong that he will tell this stories to other people to ensure that they do not happen again. For the White Rose Essay I wrote about the Theresienstadt children and how during awful times under Nazi rule children still drew and wrote to escape their horrible lives. To be in the presence of this history is astonishing. These children were incredibly strong to resist Nazi rule and build better lives for themselves through their drawings and poems that were written. I wish I could be at Theresienstadt and see with my own eyes the condition these children lived in and somewhat understand the pain and horror that they went through. Also the picture of the statue of children was remarkable. The way you described how the children wore blank faces in fear of their future was beautiful. I can't even imagine what was going through thier minds as they awaited their death.

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  21. Its must have been very hard for Mr. Stransky to tell his story as one of the survivors from the wars. He had to talk about his life and he probably got very emotional because its was his life and he saw many people die

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  22. looking at the statue of the kids really touched me because i could never understand why they would do this? why them? why all of them? they are all innocent people being tortured for no apperent reason. but i did like how the survivor talked to you guys. i would of loved to be there to listen to him. not many survivors are left and being able to see one, talk to one and experiance what they have said is the greatest feeling. you can hold that story for them for a long time and pass it on to others, thats the best part. to tell people you have meant a holocaust survivor and heard many stories from them. good for all of you, im happy you all went and learned a lot. now come back and tell us all-melissa

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  23. seeing all of these childrens faces and how young they were not only makes me sad, which is the obvious emotion, but also makes me angry. for someone to be able to even lay a finger on those kids and think about killing or even hurting them is disgusting. im very excited for those of you who were able to experience all that this trip had to offer, i hope youre having a good time.-lauren

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  24. I'm so glad you are all having a wonderful time on such a unique trip. I can only imagine what it must have been like to step foot inside those barracks and have before you, markings from the children of the ghettos.~~Mackenzie D.

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  26. I was shocked when reading that the Nazis allowed the collection of these religious objects. Additioally, I wouldn't be able to bear walking through the Jewish Cemetary if I was a student on the trip. Just thinking of doing so made me realize how much I take for granted and how much I do not think of what I would do if I went through something as painful and cruel.Construction Jobsiphone 3gs accessories

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