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Seeing the Sites of Nuremberg

The remnants from the original Congress Hall of the Nazi Party Rallies, adjacent to the Documentation Center

We continued on to Nuremberg, which is a critical place to visit in order to understand The Third Reich and the Nazis’ rise to power.  Nuremberg is known not only for its infamous anti-Semitic laws, the Nuremberg Laws, but also for the Zeppelin field, where Hitler held massive party rallies.   Nuremberg is also known for the 1946 Nuremberg trials, where the city once viewed as a symbol Nazi power became a symbol of the downfall of Nazism. 

Our first stop in Nuremberg was at the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, formerly the Congress Hall of the Nazi Party Rallies, which is now a museum that educates about Nazism and the Holocaust.   We attended a presentation that helped us review and learn more about the Nuremberg trials.  The presentation reviewed which Nazis were tried, their indictments, which judges and lawyers presided over the trial, and the verdict.  

After attending this fascinating presentation, we had the opportunity to walk through the temporary exhibition on railroads and the Holocaust.  We learned about how the train tickets were often paid for by the Jews who themselves were being deported.  It was also made clear that many working for the railroad companies knew about the atrocities being committed against the Jews, but refused to acknowledge this in the aftermath of the Holocaust.  Part of this exhibit includes a camera that shows live feed from the concentration camp sites.  We later saw this video camera on our visit to Treblinka. 

From the Railroads Exhibition at the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds

Also on view at the Documentation Center is the permanent exhibition which contains the original copies of the Nuremberg Laws.  It was chilling to see these documents that had the power to make life unbearable for Jews in Germany.  

We then stepped outside and headed over to the Zeppelin Field, where Professor van Pelt gave an amazing lecture on how Nazism morphed from being a political party into a fervent religious ideology in Germany.  This change occurred after the “Night of the Long Knives” (June 30 – July 2, 1934) when the Sturmabteilung (SA), known as the Brown Shirts, were eliminated from the Nazi Party.  The SA had been the symbol of the Nazi party on a local level, and their removal caused Germans to seek a new embodiment of the party, which they found solely in Hitler.  The fact that Nazism was an ideology so closely intertwined with the idea of a “pure” German spirit allowed Hitler to also become the embodiment of Germany itself.  In this way, Nazism in Germany went a step beyond being an extremist and fanatical political party; it became a religious ideology embodied by a single man and followed wholly by a nation. 

The Main Tribune at Zeppelin Field

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Visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Following our day in Munich we traveled to Dachau where we were met by Waltraud Burger, Head of the Education Department, and Nicole Schneider who was to be our guide.  Very few structures exist from the original camp.  Instead replicas of the buildings in the camp have been constructed, although many of the structures that once existed in Dachau have not been rebuilt.   The memorial site exists as an educational tool, as a means for helping people to understand the horrors endured at the camp.  The camp memorial site is kept immaculately clean like a park, which is ironic given that when the camp was operational prisoners were demanded to keep the camp sterile, despite filthy conditions and the lack of means to do so. 

The gate at Dachau, with the inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" or "work sets you free."

Nicole took us through the reconstructed gate which has the inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei”, or “work sets you free.”  We also walked through the recreated barracks, gas chambers and crematoria, while Nicole explained the terrors faced by inmates.  Given that this is the first Camp we visited as a group, this was a moving experience for all.

Additionally we learned about the history of Dachau from its inception to its liberation.  The camp was liberated by Americans, an event well-documented by photographer Lee Miller.  Just before walking through the gate of the camp, we stopped at the plaques of the 42nd Rainbow Division, the 45th Thunderbird Division and the 20th Armored Division of the U.S. Seventh Army that liberated the camp.  We owe a great deal of respect and honor for these Americans who risked or lost their lives to liberate camp inmates.  

Plaque in honor of the 20th Armored Division of the U.S. 7th Army.

One of the major issues, according to our guide, about having the reconstructed site of Dachau is that visiting the site changes your perception of the camp.  The camp is not as it was, but when you visit it with its building replicas, you begin to think that this is what the camp was like.  In reality we cannot even begin to imagine what life was like for the inmates of Dachau, nor can we imagine what it really looked like.  This is countered by the fact that the memorial site is a constant reminder of the atrocities of Dachau, and its presence helps people remember history.  Groups of German school children visit the memorial in order to learn about the Holocaust, although according to our guide, this is often in lieu of classroom Holocaust education.

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Exploring the Roots of National Socialism

Our study program began in Munich, which is an apt place to start given that Nazism has its roots in the city.  We started off with a lecture in a park, where Professor Robert Jan van Pelt set the historic tone by explaining the excessive inflation in Germany’s post-World War I economy.  He also gave us each a one billion Reichsmark, which we learned could not even buy an egg in interwar Germany! We then visited German World War I memorials where Professor van Pelt explained to us how anti-Semitism rose during the interwar time.  This occurred for a number of reasons, namely, Germans felt that Jews had shirked military duty in World War I.  There was also the false idea that it was Jews who had been responsible for the humiliating war reparations and stipulations inflicted on Germany after World War I.  Jews, it seemed, had “stabbed Germany in the back.”  These myths, taken with the distraught interwar economy, set Jews up as a target in Germany, and laid the foundation for Jews being viewed as outsiders in German society.  

Robert Jan van Pelt giving his lecture about money and inflation in interwar Germany.

Following this we visited and learned about sites and monuments especially important to the rise of Nazism.  These included the Feldherrnhalle, where the November 9, 1923 attempted Nazi takeover (the Putsch) was halted in a bloody clash with the police, initiating the idea of Nazi martyrdom which was later used to indoctrinate Germans.  We also visited Koeningsplatz, site of the still-existing building of the former Nazi headquarters.  Our sunny tour of this modern and beautiful city was inexorably shadowed by Munich’s tainted history, and it is difficult to see the city afresh without also remembering that it harbored one of the most monstrous regimes known to humanity.      

 In addition to visiting sites from the former National Socialist government our group also visited the site of the old synagogue of Munich, which we were saddened to learn is now an upscale department store.  We found a glimmer of hope, however, when we traveled to Munich’s new synagogue.  A sparkling building modeled after a tabernacle in the desert, the building seems truly fitting as a Jewish oasis. 

The new synagogue in Munich, modeled after a tabernacle in the desert.

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Studying and Traveling with our Teachers

  

2010 Alfred Lerner Fellows

What a fantastic summer it has been!  We began it with our annual Summer Institute for Teachers, where we welcomed 37 new Alfred Lerner Fellows into The JFR family.  After five days of hearing world-class scholars and participating in intensive learning our Lerner Fellows left Columbia with new perspectives on how to teach the Holocaust to their students.  

Days later we left for Europe for our European Study Program in Germany and Poland with 16 participants.  We had a sobering and insightful two weeks traveling to Munich, Nuremberg, Weimar, Berlin then Warsaw, Krakow and Oswiecim.  Through the program itinerary and Professor Robert Jan van Pelt’s invaluable synthesis and knowledge, our group was able to unfold history and gain a deeper understanding of the rise of Nazism and the tragedy of the Holocaust.  Although we had hoped to blog about these unforgettable two weeks while in Europe, we were not able to because of difficulties with internet access.  Over the next several days, however, we intend to post about some of the highlights from this very meaningful journey.  Please check back.

European Study participants at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin
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Meeting Our Colleagues

JFR Centers of Excellence staff meet at AHO Annual Meeting, June 2010 in Skokie, IL

What a fantastic few days it’s been!  I’m at the 25th annual conference of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, which is being hosted by the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.  This meeting has been a great opportunity to connect with colleagues, including those from the JFR’s sixteen Holocaust Centers of Excellence.  In addition to meeting with staff from our Centers of Excellence, here are some of the highlights of the conference:

  • Hearing Dr. James Young’s session on “The Stages of Holocaust Memory and the Contemporary Monument”
  • Visiting the recently opened new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which is one of the JFR’s Centers of Excellence
  • Hearing Dr. Stephen Smith talk about the exciting new work happening with testimonies at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute
  • Hearing Dr. Robert Skloot speak about “The Holocaust and Theatre of Choice”
  • Learning about “Current Issues in Antisemitism and the Persecution of the Roma” from our European colleagues, Norbert Hinterleitner of the OSCE and Karel Fracapane of the Shoah Memorial in Paris
  • Listening to Dr. Michael Berenbaum and Richard Hirschhaut speak about “The Holocaust, Israel and Palestine – The Issues of Values and Politics”

Tomorrow we’ll hear from Dr. Peter Hayes of Northwestern University and Reverend John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Seminary.  Having the opportunity to meet with like-minded individuals who are dedicated to the study of Holocaust history and the importance of Holocaust education is always an inspiring and energizing experience!

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Remembering Those who Gave their Lives for our Freedom

This Memorial Day let us take time from our family gatherings, trips to the beach, and community activities to reflect on the sacrifices made over the generations by the men and women who so nobly served in our armed forces and to those who gave their lives for our country.  

Today, May 31, 2010, I remember my uncle, the man for whom I am named, Stanley Goldblum.  My uncle Stanley served in the U.S. Army and was killed on May 28, 1944 in the battle of Rome.  He is buried at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery located in the town of Nettuno, Italy, which is immediately east of Anzio –  a major beachhead for the Italian campaign, and south of Rome.  He was from Queens, New York City – he loved his country, believed that we had to stop the Germans, he loved his family (I have been reading his letters to my mom), and he loved life.

The sacrifices of our servicemen and women can never be fully understood by those of us who have never served – we owe them our respect and gratitude.

May this Memorial Day find the members of our armed forces both here at home and around the world safe.

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Honoring Hungarian Rescuer Guido de Gorgey

Validus Prep students, teacher Erika Plumey, and JFR staff with rescuer Guido de Gorgey

On Wednesday, May 26th, New York City teacher Erika Plumey and 15 of her students from Validus Preparatory Academy visited with Hungarian rescuer Guido de Gorgey.  The visit, which the JFR helped to organize, was part of the students’ three-day Holocaust history expeditionary learning project.

Erika, who has attended several of the JFR’s Holocaust education programs for New York City teachers (click here to learn more about our programs), wanted to provide her students with an intensive, out-of-school Holocaust education program, so she reached out to the JFR for help.  Though there are no authentic Holocaust sites in NYC, Erika will expose her students to the history of the Holocaust through a visit to the NYC Anne Frank Center and a tour of the Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey exhibit at The Jewish Museum, in addition to their visit with Guido de Gorgey.

It’s not often that we get the chance to work directly with students, so we thank Erika and the Validus Prep students for this opportunity, and Guido for sharing his story with them!

Pictures of Guido telling the students his story

From left to right: teacher Erika Plumey, JFR program associate Agnieszka Perzan, JFR program associate Kristen Lefebvre, and rescuer Guido de Gorgey

 

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Celebrating

It has been a great few months here at the JFR!  We have been fortunate enough to celebrate milestone birthdays with many of our rescuers.  In this posting, we’d like to highlight the birthdays of two of those rescuers:  Knud Dyby and Frieda Adam.

This March, Knud Dyby, a Danish rescuer who lives in California, celebrated his 95th birthday.  Knud’s family and friends recently threw a birthday party for him to celebrate this milestone.  Knud has been a loyal friend of the JFR for years, and he even asked his friends and family to make donations to the JFR in lieu of birthday gifts.  Thank you, Knud, for your generosity!  Visit our website to read Knud’s story of rescue.

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Frieda Adam, a German rescuer from Berlin, turned 91 years old this May.  Frieda still lives in the same home in Berlin where she hid her Jewish friend Erna and Erna’s brother from 1942 to 1944.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Frieda every other summer during the JFR’s European Study Program in Germany and Poland.  While in Berlin, the participants and I attend Shabbat services and then meet Frieda for dinner.  Visit our website to read Frieda’s story of rescue.

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