Day 3 Berlin

 

After another sumptuous buffet breakfast, we boarded our bus for visits to three very different memorials: the Bavarian Quarter memorial, the Grunewald train station memorial, and the Wannsee House. Before heading off, we had our second brief German language lesson from our local guide, Olaf, teaching us some useful phrases.

In a section of western Berlin called the Bavarian Quarter, so named because many of the streets were named after towns and princes in the German state of Bavaria, we were shown an unusual modern memorial. In this middle class section of the city, once lived an estimated 16,000 assimilated German Jews. 

Approximately 70-80% of this section was destroyed during the war, so it is now largely comprised of modern apartment buildings and stores. In the 1980’s the city council decided to put up a memorial in this area. It is comprised of over 80 signs, about 10” x 14” attached to poles throughout the quarter. On one side of each sign is a city ordinance or law which had been enacted against the Jews during the period of 1933 to 1943, and on the other side is a picture or symbol which depicts the essence of that ordinance. These memorial signs are scattered, and we encountered several on our walk around the quarter, noting that they were not in any particular order and not chronological.

Mr. Barmore told us of a saying: “The Holocaust did not come with a bang; it came with a whimper.” If the Final Solution had been attempted in 1933, he said, German society would have objected. But it didn’t happen overnight; it happened slowly. These laws were part of the process of Nazification of German society, happening slowly and over a long period of time, long before the annihilation of European Jews. 

The question was asked, “Did these laws come from above or below?” Who came up with the concept that it was important to make a law which said ‘Jews can’t own pets’, or ‘Jews cannot sing in the city choir’ or ‘Jews can only sit on benches in the public square which are marked specifically for them’? These were not the Nuremberg Laws, but local ordinances and restrictions passed for Jewish citizens.

At one sign which showed a loaf of bread, the ordinance read ‘Jews are only allowed to buy bread between 4 and 5 in the afternoon’ and was dated April 1940. Mr. Barmore spoke of milestones for Germany’s Jews in the Holocaust. One such major milestone was Kristallnacht. Another, he noted, for Berlin’s Jewish community, was this restriction. He told us of how survivors would mention this law and say that when their neighbors saw them standing in line for bread, they would not acknowledge them but would cross to the other side of the street. They were embarrassed, but this embarrassment, in time of war and food rations, made them ambivalent about the law. This ambivalence led them to look the other way when they saw their neighbors. The law was difficult partly because by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, most or all of the bread would have been sold, but the most painful part for the Jews of Berlin was the fact that their neighbors abandoned them.


Our next visit was to the train station in Grunewald, a very wealthy residential area of Berlin. It was from this train station, beginning on October 18, 1941, that most of Berlin’s Jewish residents were to be deported. Olaf showed us three memorials at Grunewald to the deportation. The first memorial was a cross section of railroad ties in front of the entrance to the train station, established by a group of Lutheran women in 1987, with a plaque commemorating the beginning of the deportations. The second memorial was a wall which depicted figures as they walked up the hill to the train platform to be deported. The third memorial established by the German Railroad, was two platforms lined by plaques which represented each deportation train from Grunewald, listing the date, the number of Jews and the destination of the train, whether Theresienstadt, Lodz, Riga or Auschwitz.


After lunch at a nearby German restaurant we arrived at our final memorial destination for the day, the Wannsee House. It was in this house, located on the beautiful waterfront lake, Wannsee, that representatives of the bureaucratic agencies would meet on January 20, 1942 for a luncheon over which they would discuss how to carry out the plan known as the Final Solution. Olaf told us how after the war, though the city owned the Wannsee House, it was a property that was ignored until 1992 when they opened the exhibition about what had occurred here fifty years earlier. “Initially they wanted to forget,” he said. “Now they want to use it to educate.”

Inside the Wannsee House, which in 1942 was a house used by Nazi leaders for meetings and social gatherings, Mr. Barmore reiterated what he had told us yesterday about Nazi racial ideology; namely that the Nazis did not view their desire to eliminate the Jews from German society as emanating from any hatred of them, but from their ‘reasoned’ conclusion that Jews were essentially a destructive virus in the body of Germany and for its survival, they needed to be eliminated. “The Jews are our misfortune” was a common phrase used by the Nazis. To the Nazis, ‘misfortune’ represented ‘evil’ from a profound point of view.

Mr. Barmore told us the Nazis were therefore faced with a paradox: on the one hand, they wanted to eliminate Jews, but on the other, they didn’t have a clue as to how they were going to accomplish their goal. In 1933, he told us, Joseph Goebbels was asked if eliminating the Jews from society meant that they should be killed. Goebbels’ response, he said, was “What do you mean? We are not barbarians”. Yet in eight years, there would be 5 factories of death operating in Poland, with precisely that function. So how did they arrive at 1941, doing exactly what they could not conceive of doing in 1933?

We learned that it was a process which consisted of three phases, 1933-1942. Historians had long struggled to understand this process and they largely fell into two schools of thought. One school, the Intentionalists, believed that there was a straight line between Nazi ideology and the killings. The other school of thought are the Functionalists, who reasoned that if it was a straight line, there should be references to the killings in Nazi documents and writings as early as 1933, 1934, 1935, and so on. Yet they could not discern anything about annihilation in the reports of early years. The Functionalists, therefore, believe that Nazi policy evolved, a “Twisted Road to Auschwitz” , due to different circumstances, in three phases.

Phase 1 [1933-1939] focused on legislation and emigration of Jews. Early in the Nazi years, April 1, 1933, a one day boycott of Jewish businesses occurred. This was not orchestrated from above, by the government, but was an action of the S.A. and was unsuccessful and unsettling for the German people because it represented chaos at a time when they had elected a new government on the promise of law and order. Nazis therefore decided they must not allow mob activity to take over and decided to go about the process differently. They would first define who was Jewish, then take away the rights of those individuals and proceed against them in a legal, orderly way. No phase ended because it was complete, we were told, but because another phase started. For example, emigration did not stop in 1939; in fact, officially a German Jew could leave Germany as late as February 1943 if he/she could find a place to go. At this time, most Polish Jews had been murdered.
Phase 2 [1939-1941] focused on the period of concentration. When Germany began WWII with the invasion of Poland, there were 2.5 million Jews that Germany needed to deal with. Possible solutions discussed were the concentration of the Jews near Lublin, or shipping them to Madagascar, neither of which was possible. The Jews of Poland were concentrated in the larger cities into ghettos during this period. Mr. Barmore noted that this was a phase of the process which is unfortunately often overlooked in a discussion of the Holocaust, while the death camps are the major focus. He told us that the average length of time a Jew spent in a death camp was 2 hours. This is where they were brought to die. While the ghettos were the place that they lived — for one, two, maybe three years. So a study of the ghettos, he reasoned, and their life in the ghettos, was a crucial part of Holocaust history. 

Phase 3 began June 1941 with the German attack on the Soviet Union. The Nazis understood that it would be a special war; one of competing ideologies and they prepared for that special war by establishing special units, called Einsatzgruppen or mobile killing units, prepared for a harsh war with Russian communists, partisans, and Jews who might be aiding the Soviet army. These units from June through December would be responsible for killing more and more Jews outside big cities, often with the help of local citizen, especially in the Ukraine and Lithuania who viewed themselves as not being conquered by the Nazis but being liberated from the Soviets.

After this happens in the Soviet Union, but only in the Soviet Union, the Nazis needed to decide what to do with the rest of the Jews and they started analyzing their options in October and November of 1941.   They reasoned that the mobile killing units were inefficient, and they were especially concerned that 20-30% of the members of the units doing the shootings had suffered mental breakdowns.  They needed to design an indirect, impersonal way of killing by industrializing it, so they developed the factories of death in Poland.   They had already experimented with carbon monoxide and zyklon B gas, and so they were ready to proceed, but they needed to figure out how it would actually be accomplished. Hitler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich was given that task.

The three phases in the Twisted Road to Auschwitz, 1-Emigration and Legislation, 2-Concentration, and 3-Annihilation were complete.  So how had the Nazis who in 1933  (Phase 1) responded that there would be no killing because they were not barbarians, arrived in 1942 (Phase 3) where they were, in fact, barbarians?  Mr. Barmore said there was one possible answer, and that was that war brutalizes.

However the Nazis came to be what they could not conceive of becoming when they initially came to power, Heydrich and representatives of the bureaucratic agencies which would be instrumental in the  murder of  Europe’s Jewish population delineated the process for it here, over lunch, in this house where we were now standing.

Video Clips

Student Reflections

Group 1 – Allie, Miya, Helen, Amanda, Kelly M., Kendall, and Max say …

We felt the Grunewald Memorial was the most memorable and touching place we have visited thus far.  We have been seeing a lof of memorials but this one felt different. It was organic, not created after the Holocaust, but coming from the Holocaust.  For the first time we could really begin to picture the victims right where we stood.  Seeing the houses right by the station made us question how people could say they did not know what was happening.  Definately a sobering experience.

Group 2 – Alicia, Sarah, Bedros, Chris, Sam, Ashley, and Shannon say …

Today we visited the Bavarian Quarter where we saw signs that memorialized the Nuremberg Laws and segregation of Jews in the Nazi era.  Everyday the German citizens of this region have to see these reminders of their country´s actions in World War II.  Unlike in Germany, Americans are shielded from the racial bias of their history.  Germany has acknowledged their past and  has provided visible representation of their awareness.  Additionally, it seemed to us that Berliners are hyper aware of their past. 
Group 3 – Alyssia, John, Kiley, Emma, Andrew, Guage, Juliana, Kelly B., and Meredith say …

While we approached the Wannsee Villa, we were all in awe.  We were taken back by the beauty and intricacy of the museum, as well as the heinous events that occurred behind closed doors.  The conference room where the final solution was scripted made us unnerved, and made us all realize that moment was the means to bureaucractic justification for the end of the Jewish question.

34 comments

  1. Hannah C's comment is what \”brings this all home.\” How can the lessons you are witnessing on your journey be translated back home to your classmates? Hannah put it into a context that any student can understand: the need to feel accepted and the need to belong. On your trip you are certainly witnessing the atrocities of the time; but you are also witnessing the strength of those (too) few people who refused to be part of the status quo and who were willing to stand up and be heard despite the consequences.

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  2. I feel as though a sense of normality that was adapted during throughout this atrocious time in history. Like Aidan points out in his cogitation: the Nazis were HUMAN. The Nazis were a brilliant, intellectual, and manipulative collection. This is crucial in the analysis of the Holocaust. Just like Shalmi articulates, “The Nazis couldn’t simply say ‘lets kill all the Jews.’” And they did not do so. Instead, they did just that in a gradual, scheming fashion, which was not obvious to the public. For example, the restrictions on Jews, as we have seen in the Bovarian Quarter. Non-Jewish civilians were nonchalant about these decrees and simply stood by, accepting the new way of community. What if that had happened to them? How would they react?As I stated before, the public was not fully aware of this goal “kill all the Jews.” What I ponder is how did a huge red flag appear in their minds. Their fellow citizens were being oppressed right outside their door. What if something like this happened in our community today?The Wannsee Conferences poses an interesting and crucial point. This is where the “Final Solution” was enacted. The “final Solution” was erected by common, intellects with doctorates. The “solution” was discussed and finalized with flowery, manipulative words that did state what the actual prospect was: “lets kill all the Jews.”

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  3. Guys, hope all is well and thanks for sharing everything with us back here in the states. This comment is addressed to Aidan, I can't tell you how many times I pondered the same questions? How does one laugh, play, read stories and have dinner with their family and then do all those horrible acts? I think you've really hit on something there. These were normal everyday people like you and I at one time, and if this can happen in Germany, it could happen anywhere. This really shows the importance of awareness to what has been done during the Holocaust. I see a lot of sad faces in the photos. I know some of the things you are learning are going to be upsetting, but I know you will all benefit and become better human beings because of this experience.\”T\”, I hope you're holding up okay and June, great Job with the Blog, videos and photos.Best WishesMr. Pevny

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  4. Wow that is very interesting what Shalmi is talking about saying how the Nazis wanted to eliminate the Jews but they didn't know what it meant to eliminate them. I feel it hold true to what I've heard him say abut how we are all born the same but given the conditions all of the potential to do dad things. Even Hitler's second in command said you can't mean to kill them. No one though about where the Nazis would bring the country but we all know it didn't end well.I was very interested by how the Turkish man said he feels guilty when groups of people look at the memorials in the Bavarian Quarter. The memorial is so explicit and controversial I often wonder how Germans who have grown up with this memorial feel about it and I wonder what a parent would say to their child if they were to ask about it.The Grunewald Train Station is such a powerful memorial. It must have been so scary to be one of those thousands of people loaded onto the trains that left from Grunewald to a future unknown. Megan makes a good point about how on the day that should have been one to plan for the future they had no clue what was to come but were all most likely hoping for the best.The comment Aidan makes about how the SS officers leave the families in the morning kill people all day and then return home at night like nothing happened has been something that has always bothered me. I can not understand how someone can do so much harm so a certain group of people and carry on their life as if nothing was happening.Don't forget to ask Shalmi everything and anything he is a brilliant man and you can only learn to most if you ask him questions. I look forward to reading the blog everyday too see what everyone has learned.

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  5. It's interesting how the Turkish man feels guilty when he walks by the signs in the Bavarian Quarter.. Imagine how the Germans feel? (the educated ones at least!)Seeing the tracks at Grunewald makes everything a little more real. I remember looking to my right and not being able to see the end, or where the tracks ended. Jews were taken there and had the same questions..Where am I going? When will I return? Will I ever see my family or my home again? I remember walking up to the Wannsee Villa just like it was yesterday. You probably noticed how beautiful the house, the lake, and the garden were… I know how hard it must be for each of you to try and take in the thought of being in the same room where a decision was made on who lived and who died. But that's what I think the whole trip is about, you must go through the emotional pain and see the evidence of what the Nazis did, to learn how to ever be able to prevent something like this from ever happening again.Love you T! And miss you Junebug, Mrs. Bauman, and Mrs. Sussman! Have a great trip! 🙂

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  6. Looks as though many of the messages you are hearing are resonating with you. The way you gain benefit from understanding history is by choosing what you will do and not do as a result of it. It is important that all people do not allow the bad from our histories to repeat itself, and that the good that happens is celebrated and repeated.On a side note, you all look tired in the pictures which we assume is a combination of physical and emotional drain; we hope you get enough rest at night to keep this going for 11 more days! Your rested minds will learn and retain!

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  7. Hey you guys!! I am learning so much from this blog and I love the videos and pictures.I feel like I am there with you guys everytime I log on!! To the students I say \”congratulations\” for making the very mature decision in going on this trip. To the adults \”Thank you from the bottom of my heart\”!!!! you are helping shape these young minds into such wonderful,educated, sensitive human beings(more so than they already are)Have a safe trip to Prague!!!!

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  8. Your three days in Berlin were amazing. I can't believe how much you saw and learned. Looking forward to hearing about Prague! Have a safe trip. I agree with the Flores family. I feel like I am there with you. Thank you for the pictures and your thoughts. I am having a great experience through all of you.

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  9. Reading today's blog, I couldn't help but think, my God they really are walking through history. To walk the tracks the Jews walked to their deportation and deaths, to stand in the train station where they awaited their terrible fate, how can it not affect you? Of course it does. And to stand in the same room where the top Nazis planned the Final Solution … My God, from thousands of miles away my mind reels. You stood in the room where powerfully misguided people conducted one of the most inhumane planning sessions in the history of the human race! You know in your bones how real it was, and still is. And this makes you powerful witnesses to the truth. People try to deny the Holocaust, try to justify prejudice, not just against the Jews, but in all sorts of communities, among all people, in so many different circumstances. You now have crucial proof that evil can arise, and it does linger, and it is so palpable it can shame a pedestrian passing a sign some 70 years later. As witnesses to the truth, you become sacred torchbearers to that truth, and will pass it on, in your blogs, to your classmates, friends, relatives, and, eventually, your own children.That is a very beautiful legacy you are building, and it offers perspective as to what you are doing on this trip.Bravo.

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  10. Reading Megan's comment really got to me. As I began to read the sentence, I saw \”Janurary 1st\” and all I could think was \”why?\” Those poor people were probably looking foward to making the best of their new year, they probably hoped that the darkness they had been experiencing would finally break way to allow some light to shine through. But yet, they were deported the first day of the new year. Their memories deserve to be remembered, and I'm so happy that you guys are able to experience the history first hand and continue to write these blogs in order to keep their legacy alive.

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  11. I really find what Ben stated as interesting. That is a great way to look at how the Nazis laws singled out Jews. The Nazis planned each step they made and Ben captured that idea very well. Well stated Ben! Hope all of you are having a great trip. Miss T, I'm really missin ya :)-Brent

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  12. The tracks at Grunewald left me thinking about my own family. The tons of Jews waiting on that platform were just like all of our families. I had an image of my mother and father comforting my brother, sisters, and I knowing that those tracks may lead to destruction and tragedy. I just pictured my little sister's face, holding my mom's hand, staring off into the distance and down the tracks, without a care in the world while my mom holds an expression of hope and fear at the same time upon her face, using everything inside her to remain calm and comforting. Tears come to my eyes just imagining a moment like this, its mind-blowing how mothers and families were actually there and subjected to this in a sense, challenge as a reality.Its heart-rendering to think about the fact that the Nazi's were regular people who had families of their own that they supported by working at a job dedicated to killing people exactly like them. Like Aidan said, these men and women were regular people, human, brainwashed by a sick, twisted man. They were ALL human. The same exact species, the one and only difference between them were beliefs.

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  13. P.S. Hi T! I miss you! Can't wait for you to come back so I can visit the school and hear all about this year's journey. The blog looks great as always, I feel like I am there all over again. Hi Chang, Mrs. Bauman, and Mrs. Sussman too! Miss you guys 🙂

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  14. Hello World Travellers!Mrs. Aufiero and I are reading your blog right now 8th period. We are so impressed with your entries about the places you have been and the things that you are learning. I hope to share your blog tomorrow with my 9th grade English class. They just finished reading Night. Your trip will make a modern day connection and hopefully inspire them to learn more. Continue to be safe and enjoy this journey.Mrs. Montecuollo & Mrs. Aufiero

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  15. Hi Everyone,Your visit to Berlin was amazing!I can't imagine your emotions while standing at the train station reading about the Jews who were deported. I'm sure it is something you'll never forget.Take care,Mrs. Mayer

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  16. You all are educating me so much on the Holcaust through the videos, descriptions, and pictures it is all so great. I am learning day by day something new. Hannah C's comment stood out to me the most. I never truly could comprehend why people didn't stand up and do something, the bystanders. Reading your comment made it easier for me to understand when you put it in terms that is easy for someone like me to understand, in middle school I do remember if you were a supporter of gays then people would automatically assume you were gay also, therefore it was easier to just not say anything and if you did then go with the crowd so you wouldn't be judged or made fun of, like you said.Love hearing everything, can't wait for what's to come.

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  17. Hello allI am following your amazing trip through history every day. What a wonderful and enlightening experience you must be having. Too bad everyone can't learn history this way. Take it all in and enjoy every single minute- you can catch up on your sleep when you get home. I know you will fall in love with Prague- I know I did. Hope you get to see and hear the clock in the square. Wishing you a safe tripMrs.Haskill

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  18. I have always wanted to visit Berlin. I am envious of you all. What is different about this monument is that it is a living reminder what what happened. You guys actually walked in the steps of where some of the deportations happened. Amazing. Simply amazing.

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  19. Knowledge of those small steps that were taken by the Nazi party to separate the Jews from the rest of society are vital to understanding the Holocaust. If Hitler had just come out of nowhere and declared that all the Jews must be killed, most people would not have listened. He was only able to reach that point of mass murder through all those small steps, which eventually amounted to unconceivable hatred and violence.

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  20. Your comments on the effects the Nazis felt from killing the Jews, thus forcing them to do the killing themselves really struck me. It shows that some of these killers had enough morals to feel guilt, but it couldn't stop them from continuing to commit mass murder.

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  21. Did any of you ask locals about the signs? I remember when we previewed them it seemed that someone commented that some of the locals didnt know the meaning or them or had never paid them any attention. Was this true in your experience.-Harlan Ouellette

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  22. Thanks once again for your reflections. It amazes me that you are all high school students. Only 3 days there and already you have begun to see things much differently. I really don't know if I could stand in your shoes. So much sorry. Looking forward to hearing more in the days ahead. Thanks again.Mr. P

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  23. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Please don't waste this special opportunity – listen, learn & reflect. You will all return wiser, and I know you will strive to make the world a better place.

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  24. As I have said many times before, a learning experience like this cannot be replicated in a classroom or school for that matter. The overall blog continues to evolve into a world-class exposition of knowledge and learning that is being actively applied. Keep up the great work and thought-provoking posts.

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  25. Wow… when I read Goebbels’ response, “What do you mean? We are not barbarians” I was once again shock how narrow minded and ludacris these people were. What WERE they thinking?? The photos of the train station are always very striking…to see the various locales and the vast number of victims that were hauled off…unknowing their fate…so sad. I look forward to following your Blog, as I do every year. Just be sure to take in all this important information so you can go forth and spread these valuable lessons when you return. This is an amazing opportunity!

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  26. I set time aside this morning to sit back and quietly read your blog and all of your reflections. I have to say, I know quite a bit more than I knew 30 minutes ago.What stopped me is when Group 2 wrote that \”American's are shielded from the racial bias of their history\”… Since I've never been on this trip, I found it interesting that the German citizens of this region are reminded every day of their country's past. How horrible for them! Imagine we were in constant reminder of the crimes in America's past? But that's exactly it… maybe we should be reminded more often. Maybe that would change our country for the better. Have these reminders changed the German mindset? Do you have the opportunity to speak to average German citizens to hear their thoughts and opinions? Your thoughts gave me a great deal to think about….

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  27. I couldn't help but link your guide's comment, “Initially they wanted to forget,” he said. “Now they want to use it to educate\” and Group #2's comment that, \”Americans are shielded from the racial bias of their history.\” Interesting insights as always! Continued safe journeys …

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  28. So glad to see so many of my former students on this life-changing educational journey. What you will come away with could never be found in just reading and studying about the Holocaust. This experiential learning will transform your attitudes, change your lives, and make you better people. Can't wait to hear more!Enjoy every moment!

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  29. Wow, you have covered so much in the short time you have been there. I have been checking in to see some of the comments posted. Some of these stories can be so impactful. When you step back, you really appreciate what you have.

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