Day 4 – Berlin to Prague

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DAY 4 – BERLIN / PRAGUE
We began our last day in Berlin with a stop at a memorial to one of the lesser known events of the Holocaust. In February 1943 a group of German Aryan women stood in front of the building at Rosenstrasse 2-4 which was serving as a detention center for Jews who were scheduled to be deported east. These women were married to Jewish men who had been rounded up on orders of Joseph Goebbels who wanted to make Berlin “Judenrein” [Jew-free] as a birthday gift for Hitler. For one week the women stood in front of the building, chanting “We want our husbands back!” The Germans set up machine guns, threatening to fire on them, but the women would not back down. Finally it was the Nazis who relented, releasing all their husbands, even bringing back two who had earlier been sent to Auschwitz. The Rosenstrasse memorial was one built by the Soviets in response to pressure from citizens who felt the event should be marked and depicts the events of this week in February 1943 and the heroic efforts of these women to challenge the Nazi regime and secure their release. Mr. Barmore informed us that about 2,000 Jewish men would live out the remainder of the war in Berlin. This represented another contradiction, he said, as to Nazi policy. The Nazis were so fixated on the destruction of all European Jewry, to the point, he said, that when they found out that some Jewish babies had been left with rural Ukrainian families in an attempt to save their lives, a special SS squad was sent to the area to find the babies, kill them and their adoptive Ukrainian parents, and yet they were willing to allow 2,000 Jewish men to remain in the German capital because of the women’s protest. This demonstrated, Mr. Barmore said, how even dictatorships cannot totally disregard public opinion and needs to be mindful as to what actions might be negatively viewed by the population. It was also noted that there were many non-Jewish women across Europe, married to Jewish men, but this type of resistance only took place here, adding to the complexity of the study of the Holocaust and human behavior.

Earlier in the week we had visited the German Historical Museum which gave us an overview of German history. Today, our final stop would be the Jewish Museum of Berlin, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, which opened in 2001 and focused on 2,000 years of German-Jewish history. Entering the Museum’s basement brought us to three axes. Two of them – the “Axis of Exile” and the “Axis of the Holocaust” focus on the Nazi era. The third axis, the “Axis of Continuity” leads up several flights of stairs to the exhibition which takes visitors through two floors of German-Jewish history, beginning with the first Jewish communities in the Middle Ages, through Moses Mendelssohn’s contributions to the Enlightenment, the process of assimilation of Jewish citizens, the Holocaust, and the rebuilding of the Jewish community in Germany post 1945.


Olaf began our tour with the Axis of the Holocaust where we entered through a door to find ourselves in a 24-meter high space, called the Holocaust Tower, rising from the basement to the roof inside the building. Empty, unheated, dark, lit only by natural light from a diagonal opening in the wall, one could hear sounds from outside the building yet felt so disconnected and separate. Mr. Libeskind called this room the “voided void”. 
 
In the Garden of Exile stand 49 titled columns on sloping ground. Olaf told us that exile meant rescue and safety but arrival in a foreign country also caused feelings of disorientation. Refugees often had difficulty gaining a solid foothold in their new home, hence the uncertain path visitors must walk as they wander through the columns. Mr. Barmore talked to us about how there was no stability in this exhibit, but rather the sense of uncertainty which reflected the difficulty in even trying to understand what, precisely, was the German Jewish identity.


Mr. Barmore also spoke to us about the absence of what used to be. He spoke to us about an area nearby which now nothing stood, but where once stood a synagogue. “When nothing stands for something, it’s a loaded nothing,” he said. “It’s nothing, but with memory, not a simple void, making this place not just a museum but also a memorial.”


In one space we came upon a robot which was writing a Torah, which we all found quite fascinating.
In another empty space in the building, there was an exhibit by the Israeli artist, Menashe Kadishman, who called his installation “Fallen Leaves”, dedicating the more than 10,000 metal faces covering the floor, to all innocent victims of war and violence. As the students walked through the void, stepping on the metal faces which created a cacophony of clanking, they reflected on the significance of this modern memorial as well as their level of comfort at walking through it.

As we continued through the history of Jews in Germany, we came to the 20thcentury – commerce, art and film. Jews because of their long history with commerce, had developed the department store, such as the large Berlin store, still in existence, Kadewe. Mr. Barmore told us that while Jews were less than 1% of the German population, they were 10% of the Berlin population, and on the main commercial street, Kurferstendam, they were even more prominent, visible, and economically successful, leading to jealousy. Jews were prevalent in film which was seen as a degenerate art form and prominent in journalism which Nazis claimed was the vulgarization of literature. These arguments played into the Nazi ideology that Jews were a destructive element in society, incapable of creativity, but who had a predilection for destroying that which was good in a nation, its culture.

The last stop we made in the museum was before a picture of Walter Rathenau, who, Mr. Barmore said, was the symbol of the one-sided love affair he had spoken to us about earlier. Walter Rathenau was the son of Emil Rathenau, a highly successful German Jewish businessman who had established AEG Incorporated. His son, Walter, was nominated, following the loss in World War I, as Foreign Minister for the Weimar Republic and would be sent to Paris to help negotiate what would become the Treaty of Versailles. Two men, Albert Einstein and Max Lieberman approached him and begged him to not accept the nomination, fearing that if anything went wrong, the Jews would be blamed, Rathenau’s response was that “I am first a German; and if my nomination helps Germany, I will accept.” Rathenau went to Paris and he signed the Treaty of Versailles which was rejected by consensus of German public opinion. A short while later, he would be shot and killed by a right wing radical. At the trial, Rathenau’s mother spoke to the mother of the son, and is reputed to have said, “If your son knew what a good German he killed, he would have turned his gun on himself.”
We left the museum and drove to the new train station where we said goodbye to our Berlin guide, Olaf, and boarded our train for Prague. The rest of the day was traveling on a five hour train ride through the beautiful countryside, arriving in Prague at 7:30 p.m. where we were met by our Prague guide, Kamila who took us to our hotel and then to dinner at the Municipal House.

To watch videos of our experiences today go to our YouTube Channel at 



22 comments

  1. The Fallen Leaves is definitely an emotional experience because, unlike other memorials, you are an active participant. Without your footsteps creating the effect that Kasandra spoke of, the memorial is just a hallway full of steel faces. This why I think it has such a profound effect on some people. I have spoken to participants from prior trips who have experienced the same feeling of guilt because,”it was the sound of peoples' spirits being stepped upon,” who felt so strongly that they couldn’t stand upon the faces. They chose instead to stand on the sidelines and experience the memorial in a different way. Each person reacts to this memorial differently which, in my opinion, makes it all the more interesting when put up for discussion. Enjoy Prague! It is the most beautiful city in the world!Meredith McCann

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  2. The Jewish Museum looks very interesting and makes me wonder what is inside the building. I'm sure there is tons of great artifacts. Its looks like such a learning experience. You guys are so privileged to see something like this! And that restaurant looks even more amazing, It looks like you guys had a lot of fun. I wish i could've joined!

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  3. Again such contrasting images..The clanking of the steel faces in the museum (which I was so glad you posted a video of…I wanted to try to experience that sound) and the funny , happy music during meal time. Along with the seriousness of this trip I'm glad you're able to see the cultures of present day Prague. It was Fantastic to see everyone and hear your comments while Skyping tonight!!

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  4. I was soooo disappointed I could not join the skype session tonight due to my job. I feel a void myself because I missed this opportunity. Well at least I have this blog to keep me up to date. The faces exhibit seems very poignant because as you will soon see as you visit the concentration camps, unfortunately it is not so far, if at all, from the physical reality of what occurred.

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  5. I didn't really understand the Falling Leaves exhibit when we heard all of you speak about it on Skype. THEN I had the opportunity to watch the video above. Oh my God… I cried watching those of you gingerly walk over the faces. I understood, then, completely. I too heard a different sound (in addition to the loud, nearly offensive clangs in the video).. I felt pain. Hurt. Humiliation. And fear. I am moved to be able to experience this through a video.As if that didn't move me enough, the dinner touched a deeper place. It reminded me of a long-ago trip to once-Yugoslavia. It brought back so many memories of that country. One that was of great beauty–all lost to a horrendous civil war.. also with MANY human atrocities…I cried until I laughed watching the \”fist pumping\” to traditional Czech music. I am honestly thrilled to see the happy, laughing, singing faces. This part has made my day.Love and miss you all (ok Frankie the most)… please bring me along further, deeper, into this journey. And THANK YOU all for being there, and allowing US to learn from you.Love always,Celeste

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  6. Wow, what more can be said. While watching the video of the students walking, i to felt the sadness and cries of the lost souls. The remarks of Kasandra's were so similar to my own thoughts , that tears were a natural action. What a bond. On a happier note, you all looked like you were having a good time at dinner. Again Missing You All… ENJOY your journey and be safe.Love,Delia

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  7. Technology is AMAZING. To think, you're on the other side of the world and we talked to eachother on Skype. Very cool. Thanks from all of us for staying up late, including you Mrs. T! Your comments and stories taught us all alot. The falling leaves memorial in the video really showed what you were talking about. A picture alone wouldn't have let us experience what you did, with how carefully you walked and the sounds with each step. Loved the Czech restaurant video as well. I felt the culture, and loved seeing the happy, laughing faces as you clapped and fist pumped. What lucky people you are . Learn and have fun! Ashley keep your eye out for relatives in Prague!!

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  8. You are all so very fortunate to have Shalmi as your Holocaust Historian. From what I have been reading and watching, he is telling you the true story of how the Holocaust was created, implemented, and celebrated throughout Europe. Seeing the Memorial to slain homosexuals reminded me that the Nazis perfected their killing techniques on people who were effectively invisible or unwanted members of a poor and struggling Society — such as the Gypsies, homosexuals and the mentally ill who had no one to advocate for them — before tackling \”The Jewish Question.\”By ridding Society of these so-called burdens, the Nazis brilliantly and effectively planted the seeds of antisemism that blossomed into the belief that sending a Jew to the Death Camps was an act of Patriotism! I applaud you all (especially Frankie) for having the courage to undertake such a difficult journey back in time, and my sincere congratulations to Shalmi on his superb tutelage. I look forward to learning more from all of you.Warm regards,Betsy SpaethApril 15, 2011 4:22 PM

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  9. I really like the video feature on the blog – the Falling Leaves video was eerie – just hearing the noise as one walks and knowing every one of those represents someone who died. I did notice the contrast as someone highlighted here of the horror of the Fallen leaves then the video of the party atmosphere … it reminds me that as a party is happening, somewhere, at the same time, people are suffering. It sounds like an amazing trip with much food for thought.

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  10. It is an interesting question to think about whether or not modern German society even notices the absents of Jewish culture. It is sad that a complete culture was almost completely erased from the world because one man's decisions. The suffering that the Jewish population not only in Germany but in all of Europe faced is not comparable to anything else seen in history. It is good that the museum addresses the void of Jewish culture in Germany because future generations will need make sure that Jewish people and their culture can be integrated back into the country. I hope i can one day visit that museum to experience all of the exhibits.

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  11. The Fallen Leaves exhibit seems so emotional. Literally walking over the pain and suffering of others and hearing how every single footstep evokes a sound is such a beautiful yet tragic depiction. The description of Germany and the Jews being in an unrequited love situation was an excellent way to describe it. The loss of a culture is always damaging to a community and the reintegration of the Jewish culture in Germany would be best.

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  12. Watching the video of Fallen Leaves instantly brought me back to the year I went on the Holocaust Study Tour. I'm very proud of all of you for taking part in such an important tour and writing such interesting responses each day.

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  13. The video of the Fallen Leaves really makes you sick to your stomach. You are stepping on people's faces and it makes such a loud sound. It looks like the people's faces are all slightly different colors and the walls are plain. I would be in a hurry to walk through there because it seems very scary. Is the room just what is pictured in the video? That room doesn't look that big. It was a great idea for an exhibit because I'm sure it was very powerful to walk over those faces.-Dashawn Harden

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  14. The symbolism in the architecture of the Jewish museum was very powerful. Not only did it effectively represent the missing void of Jews and their culture in Germany, but to me, it also seemed to comment on the major lack of assistance to the Jewish people from the world during World War II. Additionally, the Fallen Leaves exhibit was effectual as well. Symbolism seems to be prevalent among most Holocaust exhibits, as it is impossible to truly emphasize the pain and suffering that was faced during that time period. -Lauren Lewellyn

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  15. I had a chance to view the videos from today and the student reflections. As I watched the \”Fallen Leaves\” video I myself had a very uneasy feeling and I could only imagine what it was like being there! Keep learning from this wonderful educational experience. I look forward to hearing more from all of you while on your journey!

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  16. It's amazing with all that we know about the holocaust, there is still so much we don't know. To see the photo's and video's of all these memorials and monuments, and to read about them on this blog is chilling. The Youtube video was incredible. The expression on the student's faces and the emotion in their voices when discussing the \”Fallen Leaves\” exhibit was raw, real and spine tingling. This trip is very special indeed . I can't wait to read what's next. Stay safe, look after each other, and keep experiencing.Steve and Kris Venechanos

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  17. It's amazing with all that we know about the holocaust, there is still so much we don't know. To see the photo's and video's of all these memorials and monuments, and to read about them on this blog is chilling. The Youtube video was incredible. The expression on the student's faces and the emotion in their voices when discussing the \”Fallen Leaves\” exhibit was raw, real and spine tingling. This trip is very special indeed . I can't wait to read what's next. Stay safe, look after each other, and keep experiencing.Steve and Kris Venechanos

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