Day 2 Berlin

At our debriefing and journaling session last night, we continued the discussion of memorials, again using familiar American memorials as a frame of reference.   In looking at memorials, Mr. Barmore explained, one needs to be aware of the various perspectives surrounding them.    One perspective is the essence of the memorial (whether it be to an individual or an event), but another significant perspective is that of the individuals, group, or nation which established the memorial.  It represents the personal or historical story yet also reflects the perspective of how those who created the memorial see that story, and as such, reflects who they are and how they see themselves in the context of that event.  Memorials are therefore subjective representations. 
We ended our evening discussion with some observations and a question – to further complicate our thinking.  Memorials are about memory, but a concise, pointed, powerful image.   They can be provocative, though, and impact our intellectual thinking and foster discussion about the topic of the memorial.   Mr. Barmore lastly posed the following question as food for thought:  History is complex….can a memorial be complex?  
After breakfast, we began our day on our bus where Mr. Barmore  gave a lecture which began with a question.   Inasmuch as Germany had a rich history and was an important international cultural center by the 20th century,  “Why did the Holocaust happen here?”    This question, he told us, was both a specific, particular question relative to the Nazis, but also a universal question, because it could potentially happen anywhere given certain circumstances.  The Holocaust, therefore had been studied by psychologists to determine if it was something in the German character which had allowed this to happen; by historians to find out the incremental steps which had led to the Nazi dictatorship; by sociologists who checked things like children’s stories —all in an attempt to understand ‘why.

Mr. Barmore told us that our first stop today would be the German Historical Museum where he would show us some highlights of German history in an attempt to provide a framework that would contextualize the Holocaust.   That, in and of itself, he said, was difficult because if one accepts the assumption that German history defines the German people, how does a museum present that history as something which led up to what that society did?  And, he noted, German society does take responsibility for its history and the Holocaust.  The Holocaust is not the only thing that defines Germany, but is a part of her history that she is not afraid to confront and examine. 

Mr. Barmore then posed a second question:  “Why the Jews?”  As less than 1% of German society, how did German Jews become the primary target of the Nazis?   He said that one explanation was that it resulted from the collision of two special histories and that though Jews were less than 1% of the population, they were visible and important in German society.   We would be viewing historical events in German history in the museum, not to in any way justify what the Nazis did, but to try to understand the crisis in Germany created by World War I and understand the message that the Nazis brought to the German people which led to their rise to power, despite the fact that Hitler was looked down upon by the German people.   In order to understand the complexity of Holocaust history, we would need to examine the rise of nationalism in Germany and the role of the Jews in that society.
At the German Historical Museum,  Mr. Barmore again used the United States as he had yesterday, to explain some of the differences between the concept of nationalism as it developed in Europe and what we would call ‘American nationalism’.   America, he said, is a civil state — the Founding Fathers laid out in the U.S. Constitution the structure and role of the government which was created in the name of the people.  The purpose of the state is to guard the civil rights of the citizens and the government officials in America are our civil servants; there to serve the interests of the people.   In contrast, in the European historical evolution of the context of ‘nation’, it is something  greater than its people, something vague and difficult to define.  The nation will be personified by a symbol in order to simplify it .  France would be symbolized by the female statue, Marianne, Britain by Britannia, and Germany by the statue,  Germania.   And under fascism, the state would become an absolute;  the role of the individual in that society was to serve the state.
As we continued through the museum we learned that during the Romantic Period,  many aspects that gave identity to a people, such as language, literature and music, would become specific to that nation.  In this way, Shakespeare’s plays became not just literature, but English literature, and Beethoven’s music would become German music.  While Germans were lacking in terms of geographic unification, they developed a sense of cultural unity which defined them.
 Later, when the Nazis came to power, a spiritual component to nationalistic pride was added, so that Germans became superior not just physically but spiritually, which manifested itself in creativity.  For the Nazis this superior creativity would be attributed to race.  If a German lost, it was not that another individual won, it was that the German had not lived up to the criteria of racial superiority.   And when Jews became emancipated they entered the middle class, became economically successful and fell in love with German culture — what Mr. Barmore called a “one-sided love affair”.   While Jews felt assimilated, eventually German racism would hold that Jewish contributions to German culture were not creativity, but a vulgarization, cheapening or copy of that culture. 
As we went through the museum, Shalmi pointed out the importance of Versailles for the Germans. Following their victory in the Franco Prussian War of 1871 the emperor of Prussia (Germany) was crowned. However, after the fall of the empire, immediately after World War I, Versailles has a new meaning for the German people. This became the place where they received the official recognition of their defeat, and were punished by the Versailles Treaty. Before World War I, the military consisted of officers who were from the upper classes. After the trench warfare of World War I, the soldiers who emerged from the trenches entered a new society in which all were equal, war equalized them under the flag and for the first time you have a combination of socialism and nationalism.
 Our time at the museum ended as our day had begun, with a question posed by Mr. Barmore.  Nazi racial ideology claimed that not only was there a superior race [Germans] and inferior races [such as Poles and Slavs],  but a third race, Jews,  which had penetrated German society and was actually a destructive element in German society which would cause the German race to become extinct.  Nazis then reasoned that this group had to be eliminated from Germany in order for the German race to survive, but the paradox was:  What did it mean to eliminate the Jews?  In 1933 there was no question of killing the Jews, so what led them to that process?
From the museum we went to the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind. In this factory, students heard about the blind and deaf employees who made brooms and brushes from horse hair and pig hair. Otto Weidt also employed Jews, and used the Berlin Work Act to legally keep employing his Jewish workers during the war. Otto protected his Jewish employees as well as a Jewish family of four which hid in a secret room built behind a secret wardrobe closet.  After eight months of hiding, the family was betrayed and deported to Auschwitz, where they were all murdered.  Our guide explained how Otto Weidt helped an employee, Inge Deutschkron, who is the survivor who returned to Berlin after the war and preserved and documented his rescue efforts as a tribute to the memory of this heroic man.  Inge still lives in Berlin and at age 92, occasionally teaches about this important history  at the museum that she single-handedly established, memorializing the rescue efforts of Otto Weidt. 
After lunch we continued learning as we walked to the Old Neue Synagogue, which was built over a six year period and consecrated in 1866.  The  beautiful Moorish building style and the large Schwedler Dome of gold, shaped the silhouette of Central Berlin,  and was a symbol visible to all of the self-confidence of the Jewish community.  During Kristallnacht, in November of 1938, most of Berlin’s 14 synagogues were burned, but  Wilhelm Kratzfeld, the Berlin police officer responsible for the district, was able to preserve the synagogue from major damage by chasing away the arsonists and calling the fire department.  The synagogue was able to resume services in April of 1939 and the last services took place in March of 1940 at which time the synagogue became a storage place for documents and records.  Allied bombs severely damaged the synagogue in 1943 and in 1958 the main synagogue was blasted in what was then East Berlin.  Nine of ten synagogues in West Berlin were blasted and three of four in East Berlin were also blasted.  In 1988 a seven year reconstruction project was undertaken and the synagogue opened as a museum in 1995.
Our Berlin guide, Olaf, told us about the first female rabbi, Regina Jonas, associated with the synagogue.  During the war she was deported to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz where she was murdered at the age of 42.
Following our learning about assimilation of the German Jews, Olaf also showed us two Torah curtains.  The writing was in Hebrew but had been used to write a Psalm in German, Psalm 89:15  “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne and mercy and truth shall go before thy face.”
We lastly learned that at the end of the war, less than 7,000 of the 160,000 Jews who had lived in Berlin were alive.  Today there are 10 synagogues and about 10,500 Jews in Berlin, primarily from Israel, Russia and Poland. 
It was bitterly cold so our bus took us to our final stop of today, the memorial at Rosenstrasse.  In February 1943 a group of German Aryan women stood in front of the building at Rosenstrasse 2-4 which had been a Jewish Welfare Office but now serviced as a detention center for Jews who were to be deported east.  These women were all married to Jewish men who had been rounded up under Joseph Goebbels’ orders.  Goebbels wanted to clear Berlin of all Jews in time for Hitler’s birthday and make Berlin ‘Judenrein’  as a gift for the Fuhrer.  For one week these women stood in front of the building and chanted “We want our husbands back!”    The Germans set up machine guns and threatened to fire upon them, but the women would not relent.  Finally, the Nazis released all of their husbands, even bringing back two of them who had earlier been sent to Auschwitz.   The memorial depicts the events of this week in February and the heroic efforts of these women to have their husbands released.  These Jewish men were able to live out the remainder of the war in their homes in Berlin.  The students reflected that the memorial  depicted camaraderie, strength, the women’s support of each other, their common cause, the separation of their families — another concise, powerful image of an important event.  Mr. Barmore made one final observation to us:  There were many non-Jewish women across Europe married to Jewish men;  this type of resistance only took place here, adding to our sense of complexity of the history surrounding the Holocaust.

Student Reflections

 
Bedros says:
Though this day has been surreal to me, and the magnitude of being in Germany has yet to grip me, I have realized an uncomfortable truth.  This being that when a group of people have nothing, they may often look to blame another for their strife. This concept has been a personal internal struggle for me. Today, I have come to the realization that the consequences of scapegoating can be destructive.
Alyssia says:
The one thing that really caught my attention today was Otto Weidt`s Workshop for the Blind in Berlin.  When on the tour of the museum I felt very emotional when learning about the effect that one German man had in saving the lives of so many Jewish people.  It made me realize that even though society has taught us, for the most part, that all Germans were passive during this time, there were Germans that were against the mistreatment of the Jewish people and it was truly touching.

Meredith says:
Today when we were at the German Historical Museum we talked about how many Jews tried to assimilate beyond their German past.  It made me think about being Jewish in America and even though I am not trying to erase my personal history I am just like any other American teenager, I do not go out of my way to associate only with Jewish families.  Some of my best friends are Catholic and we do not think twice about the fact that we are different religions.  Today just made me think that assimilation was the goal for many German Jews, but because of the societal attitudes of the times, they were never able to achieve full assimilation as my family and I have done in America.

Andrew says:

 It really stunned me how the Jews were not accepted into German society once the Nazis came to power even though many of them were at the top of their fields in music, business and highly assimilated in German culture. During the period of the Holocaust they wanted to be accepted as they had been before, but Nazi ideology kept this from happening.  They truly wanted to be German.  As Olaf said “They, the Jews, were never really invited to 5:00 o’clock tea.”

Mia says:

Many subgroups in modern society are criticized for not putting enough effort into assimilation.  Immigrants are often considered leeches in their new countries.  At the German Historical Museum we learned that the Jews took an approach which strongly subverted that stereotype by being fluent in German by the second generation, changing their names, and being active participants in German commerce and culture.  No matter how assimilated they became, they always remained a part of “a one-sided love affair” in that they were not accepted based on race. Coming from a nation of immigrants it is hard for me to truly understand why people who attempted to German society would be rejected.  The issue we face in learning about the Holocaust, is that it is as much about assimilation as it is about acceptance.
 
Juliana says: 
At Otto Weidt`s Workshop there was more than just the aspect of hidden Jews that was touching.  Otto not only housed Jews he even sent packages to a Jewish friend who was sent to Theresienstadt.  Otto was well aware of the consequences for hiding and aiding Jews, and yet he did not stop his actions.
 

79 comments

  1. Well so far it seems like you all have had two exciting days. Having had a chance to hear Shalmi speak at our school, I can only imagine how informative and passionate he is over in Germany. I love the photos and video and I'm very impressed with all your insight. \”T\” you've done a great job! Hope you all get some rest, oh and by the way, the first day of Holocaust Classes without you at NMHS offered a projector and smart board that didn't work along with a computer that had no \”known\” password! Don't worry, Mrs. Aufiero came to the rescue! Enjoy and keep up the good work!Mr. Pevny

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  2. Many memorials are indeed subtle throughout Germany. I feel this happens more often in Germany than any other country because they know what has happened and recognize the atrocity their ancestors are responsible for. It seems as if the Holocaust is recognized fully and sincerely throughout Germany but I feel more should be done to enhance the learning experience by making the memorials more obvious and straight-forward. Olaf and Shalmi are key to understanding the German side of the Holocaust so take advantage and ask questions! There is no such thing as a stupid question!

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  3. Alyssa makes a very good point about how the memorials are almost hidden in the modern society I highly believe that this was done on purpose. I feel it is very significant how many memorials do not stand out but blend into the crowd, the Jews who were persecuted where often normal citizens who blended into the every day society. I also believe that although Germany is a nation that will never forget their past, they must also move on I feel some of these memorials help them to do just that by building towards the future while making sure the past is still present. Gabrielle also makes a good point in touching upon this subject about how these plaques help to give the Jews who perished their identity back. She also stated how the smallest memorials are also the most involved I feel they also make us reflect on how small the Jews must have felt.Allison's comment reflects on how often when things are not going well we often chose the fist solution to come along with out thinking about consequences that may follow. We must all begin to realize what every choice we make will mean to others and make sure that negativity can not come to it. Shalmi's point is so true the positive can bring about the negative if we are not careful with our choices.The story of the Jewish Synagogue is incredible. There is so much history with in the structure. The courage Wilheim Krutzfeld had to stop the Nazis still amazes me. Did you guys notice walking through how the original design of the synagogue is on the wall and windows but it all breaks off all over the place? I was so interested by this when I saw it. After a while I realized this was representing the destruction Kristallnacht had on the synagogue.I love the story of Otto Weidt he was so strong to take that family and all the blind worker into his shop to save them. I can't imagine living in the back room but I can imagine how grateful that Jewish family must have been. I remember learning that the Nazis wanted Otto to employ normal Germans but Otto convinced them that because the workers had no sight they could make the brushes better.I can't wait to read tomorrow's post, I hope you are all having fun and learning a lot.

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  4. Day 2 seems to be as fulfilling as day 1. There is so much history for you to take in; it's great that you have such knowledgable and experienced guides to help you along the way. We hope you are all adjusting to the time difference, climate and most importantly the culture… Enjoy your journey!PS- Hi Amanda!

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  5. I am enjoying following your journey! Kristina's point about personal courage is an important one and it brings to mind Martin Niemöller's famous quote: \”First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.\”Kristina is right when she talks about courage and consequences. If you believe in something strongly, then you must fight for it. Thanks for putting together this blog and for letting us live vicariously through you! Looking forward to reading more!

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  6. As it is stated in context, the stay in Berlin is, in due course, where we “try to SOMEHOW make sense and contextualize the history.” The keyword in this statement is somehow: in some means attempt, and fail, to understand the root of this lengthy oppression that was the Holocaust. I understand that there are political aspects to this history, yet what about the moral feature? Throughout my whole journey on the HST the one thought that never left my head was HOW in the world did this happen? How, as a society, could we let this happen? The students saw that were particular exceptions, like Otto Weidt. In Samantha’s comment, she talks about the blind factory and how truly bold and courageous the actual factory was. Otto Weidt could have died for keeping this unit. Yet, that did not stop him. I love how Sam points out that “Mr. Weidt chose to be an upstander instead of a bystander.” What if more people were as determined and gutsy like Otto? How many more Jews could have been saved? The Weidt factory should show us all, as a community, the importance of audacity. We should not let fear interfere from achieving a common goal. We must all UPSTAND instead of BYSTAND.Hope you are all keeping T sane and someone is annoying Mr. Chang half as much as I did last year! MISS YOU CHANG!! -Michelle Khimishman

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  7. It is intriguing to see a developing understanding of the modern German perspective of the Holocaust, to honor and remember is important, blending in the tribute with the city is understandable. The immensity of the horror could easily engulf the city and make it impossible for Germans to live with the guilt. That kind of crushing of the soul happened with the Treaty of Versaille and look where that took Germany. To crush the country's spirit again would be daring history to repeat itself. Here we have an honest attempt to reach a balance; honoring the fallen with dignity by weaving their memory into the tapestry of the ongoing community. These bleak losses are part of the national identity, not to be forgotten, which helps shape the whole. In a way, these memorials embrace what the Nazis would not; that Jews were, are, and continue to be members of the essence of Germany. And therein lies a hope for healing to continue. And if it can happen in Germany, there's hope for the world…

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  8. I got chills when Tyler talked about the group walking through the Jewish cemetery looking for the tombstones, and then discovering the tombstones were all destroyed. Imagine standing mid-cemetery looking for graves and suddenly realizing it was ALL graves, and they were surrounded by the dead.Kind of a metaphor for the day…

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  9. I am following your very educational trip. Learning about this very unfortunate part of world history first hand must be an incredible experience. Unfortunately, evil people still exist in this world who publicly speak about their hatred of others. We must never forget our history or we are bound to repeat it. I cannot wait to read tomorrows posts. Keep learning, you are the leaders of tomorrow!Hello Samantha, love dad!

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  10. I am enjoying reading about your experiences each day. I am learning so much right along with all of you. I am so proud that my son, Tyler, is a part of this special group. I look forward to learning more each day.

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  11. We anxiously wait each day to read this blog!! We are living vicariously through you as you learn and discover–to experience these things first hand is such an amazing blessing for each of you. While reading your comments from your second day, we got chills as we read Gabrielle's account of having to bow down in order to read the memorials and it being an act of respect. Also Kristina's account of Wilheim Krutzfeld being very brave in the face of extreme danger reminded us of someone we know very well 🙂 It is always right to stand up for what's right, no matter the cost. Many people you will learn about did just that and are, and will continue, to inspire and motivate others to do the same. Looking forward to hearing all about day 3. Hope you are all getting rest!! Love you Sina!

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  12. You guys are only on day 2 of the best two weeks of your lives, and it is great to see everyone is taking it all in! Could you imagine, everyday walking to work or school with the subtle constant reminders of man's darkest hour? Since the trip in 2009 I have not gone a day without thinking of the Holocaust. I can't imagine what it is like in a city like Berlin, where even if you didn't have an experience like HST, you are constantly reminded of it. Have a great day 3! Learn all you can, and most of all, be as polite and thankful as possible to your teachers and tour guides. They do not have to do any of this for you.

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  13. So wonderful to hear about all of your learning experiences! The history you are learning could never come from textbooks only. You are very fortunate to be where all of this amazing story happened. Ask a million questions- that's the only way to learn.Enjoy the day! Miss you all! Mrs. DePoto

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  14. During the early days of your HST, you have already observed a lot firsthand. As you know, that is a totally different experience and so valuable! What you are seeing and learning about now will hopefully add depth to your HST days ahead of you. You are each embarking on a journey that will be life-changing. It is an important mission to help educate the world about the Holocaust and other genocides. As the years pass and there are fewer actual survivors, it will be up to you to share with the world what you have learned and hopefully make the world a better place.I am proud of all of you, and I'm sure this trip will be extraordinary! I look forward to following you and reading each of your comments throughout your journey.Mrs. Keesing

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  15. Hi to all. It is Tuesday a little before noon here. I am following your story as it unfolds and impressed with every new insight that you have and every new idea that you express. The layers of thought and experience are rich and provocative, and I have no doubt that you are representing New Milford High School well. I will make it a point to highlight your trip tonight when I present the State-of-the-District Address to members of the community and the Board of Education. Talk soon. Have a good night.Mr. Polizzi

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  16. This is an incredible education for us to follow your journey! Your experience of visiting the memorial sites and having these first-hand discussions as you stand or walk by is an invaluable privilege for all of you. Your thoughts are inspiring!

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  17. It is about 4pm here, so you are probably winding down the day and writing your next submission for the blog. I was just reading your itinerary, always impressed by Mrs. T's meticulous planning. It is wonderful to be able to anticipate what you might write about next. I am reading your blog every day, so proud of the level of maturity you are demonstrating as you reveal your experiences and inner thoughts in rich language. One of the recurring threads I am reading is one of courage and how difficult it can be to remain courageous in the face of tremendous danger. Eleanor Roosevelt once challenged us all to, \”Do something everyday that frightens us.\” That is what you are doing! The other theme so many of you have addressed is one of respect for history and for the stories of real people. As you studied history throughout your schooling, how much of it felt so real, felt so human? I am drawn to your compelling comments each day. Looking forward to today's entries.

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  18. You are about to have a most rewarding and undoubtedly life-changing experience. I look forward to your posts and also to hearing from you directly when you get back. Safe travels to you.

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  19. I can't believe it was only a year ago that I was on this same trip! It really is the experience of a lifetime, so take in as much as you can while you can! Everyone you meet has so much to offer you, especially Shalmi. He is such a smart man, please, pay attention to everything he says! This trip is a privilege, so remember why you're all there! I will be following you all throughout your trip, have fun!!!

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  20. Hey Guys! We hope that you are having a great time so far on your trip (and that the air plane food treated you well). We wanted to send our best and tell you we already miss you. This is a trip of a lifetime so enjoy every minute and we can't wait to hear what you have to tell us when you get back! Love Mrs. Swarctz's first period Ensemble Class.

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  21. It feels like yesterday that I went on this trip! Hard to believe it was a year ago. Have an incredible time, guys! Take every moment of it in. This is a once in a lifetime experience and changes your outlook on humanity. Yes, you're going to be exhausted some days more than others, but listen to the stories of the survivors and put yourself in their shoes. Remember you're standing where a haunting history took place. Make sure you say hello to Pavel and Mr. Barmore for me! I can't wait to hear all about it when you get back, Midland Park-ers! Enjoy!

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  22. Wait! Tell Andrew we have a meeting coming up and I need him here!!! haha.. just kidding 🙂 Hope you guys drink up every ounce of information you can, and journal as much as possible. These are the memories of a lifetime. Back here at NMHS we are all rooting for your safe journey- we will be checking in often, so be sure to post up a storm! {{hugs!}}

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  23. \”One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.\” ~Henry MillerYour travels will change your lens forever. You will not return the same person you were when you boarded that plane. You'll be wiser, more compassionate, more mature, more ready to advocate for injustice. Wishing you a rewarding experience. Looking forward to following you.

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  24. Have a safe and amazing time! You will leave with enough memories and experiences to last a lifetime! Soak in every moment and embrace it. I look forward to reading about all your excursions! Happy travels 🙂

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  25. I'm thrilled to read your first blog post. Students, I know you're tired, but you have already seen and learned so much from Mr. Barmore and Olaf about nationalism and the rise of Nazism. I'm eager to learn your reactions to the memorials you saw and how Berlin today differs from your perceptions studying this history in the United States before seeing Germany. Always stay close to Mr. Barmore and listen to every word–he may be the most brilliant teacher you ever encounter (I know he's the most brilliant teacher I've ever known!). Write as much as possible in your journals every day, even though you're tired, because the days go too quickly and you will forget. Also, try all the food on your plates–especially desserts! Love to all–Mrs. Bauman

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  26. Thanks for a great overview of your first day. There's so much information & so much to see and learn. I love the advice prior about using your journals, it will be great to have that years from now to look back on as well. Take advantage of this wonderful opportunity you've been given – soak it all up – think – listen – ask questions – write it down – find the relevance in our world & your lives – be kind to each other – enjoy. The best to all. Mary McElroy

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  27. Safe travels, Colleen and students. Stay warm indeed! I will be bringing my students over in a week and I will eager follow your blog (and will link you to ours. I'll be very curious to hear what you think of the controversial exhibition at the Judisches Museum right now. Also, what did you think of the Roma-Sinti Memorial? This will be my first viewing of it after many years of construction.

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