Saturday, June 30, 2012

Tidbits from supper

Ate supper with three teachers from Florida, one from CA and the other Houston representative. We walked over to a restaurant in Georgetown. 2 movies that the FL and CA teachers show for the Holocaust are : (1). An Island on Bird Street and (2) The Wave --made in 1981.

Pics of the neighborhood

Various embassies around the corner from the hotel. Going to look for Woodrow Wilson's home. The one with the George Washington statue is the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnatus This association was started by Washington and continues to honor those with ancestors that fought in the American Revolution.

Hotel Palomar and the neighborhood

Flew in from Chicago to DC. There were many trees down from the storm last night. At the hotel, there were lots of dogs as many locals will be out of electricity until Tuesday and since this is a pet friendly hotel, many are checking in here with their pets. Temp here is hovering around 98 and they are predicting another storm tonight. My roommate from TN texted she is delayed in Nashville due to lack of AC on her plane. Thankfully my flight was in uneventful. The Phoenix Mercury WBNA team sat right in front of me. They defeated Chicago last night and will play DC tomorrow. The only one I recognized was Samantha Prahilis the point guard that just graduated from Ohio State. I wonder if they have to go through security every time they fly.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts

The NY Times best seller "In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American family in Hitler's Berlin" by Erik Larson was recommended by Susan Myers of the Holocaust Museum Houston to read before our trip. He also wrote "Devil in the White City" which I assigned to my AP students to read this summer. Though he writes non- fiction works, it reads like a fictional story. This was an easy read, enjoyable and very insightful, detailing the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany while the US stood by.
The book centers around William Dodd, appointed by FDR in 1933 to serve as American ambassador to Germany. A University of Chicago history professor and biographer (and friend) of Woodrow Wilson, he had advised FDR on several matters. The focus of Dodd's mission was to recoup the $1.2 billion Germany had borrowed. Dodd, his wife,son, and free-spirited daughter moved to Germany at the same time the Nazis were rising to power. Dodd's daughter,Martha, was friends (and alleged lover) of Carl Sandburg, Thornton Wilder, Rudold Diels (chief of the Gestapo) and Boris, a Russian diplomat. She also attended functions with many of the Nazi higher-ups, such as Goebbels and Goering and on one occasion - Hitler who kissed her hand.
Though Dodd remained in Germany for 4 1/2 years, the book focuses on the first year-detailing the changes taking place in Germany. As Dodd began to fulfill his diplomatic duties, he was warned by Gen. Messersmith, vice consul general, that "the frontiers of civilization have been crossed.". Americans were severely beaten and arrested for not showing the proper respect to the Nazi flag or soldiers. Many people were placed "in protective custody" in places like Dachau.
Laws began to be passed, isolating the Jews, even though they made up 1% of Germany's 65 million people. American Jews were divided-- some wanted to strongly protest while others feared such protests would make things worse. The general feeling in America was (1) reports were exaggerated (2) the feeling that Jews held too much power and (3) a strong isolationist attitude following WWII that America should stay out of other countries' business. All this with the backdrop that American businessmen wanted their money repaid while in the midst of the Great Depression.
"of course you know our Government cannot intervene in such domestic matters. All one can do is to present the American point of view and stress the unhappy consequences of such a policy as has been pursued. ...fundamentally, I believe a people have a right to govern itself and that other peoples must exercise patience even when cruelties and injustices are done. Give men a chance to try their schemes."
Things suddenly changed when Germany pulled out of the Leaguebof Nations. A national referendum went 95% in favor of Hitler's leadership, with even 96% of the people in Dachau agreeing. Germany was openly rearming in violation of the Treatybof Versailles. "I discovered outside of Berlin on nearly every road leaving the city new large military establishments, including training fields, airports, barracks, proving grounds, anti-aircraft stations and the like...I was astonished to learn that the young daughter of a friend was required to spend every Wednesday afternoon practicing the art of throwing hand grenades."
Hitler then went after his opponents. The book does a nice job of showing how the Nazis had no loyalty to each other or to the German people. After the purge, Hitler announced to the German people "only a ferocious and bloody repression could nip the revolt in the bud...I ordered the leaders of the guilty shot. I also ordered the abscesses caused by our internal and external poisons cauterized until the living flesh was burned. I also ordered that any rebel attempting to resist arrest should be killed immediately. The nation must know that it's existence cannot be menaced with impunity by anyone, and that whoever lifts his hand against the State shall die of it... That you have found me...among so many millions is the miracle of our time. And that I have found you, that is Germany's fortune."
Dodd was recalled thanks to opponents in the US government. But he along with other believed that WWII could have been prevented. "That the allies at this time could easily have overwhelmed Germany is as certain as it is that's such an action would have brought an end to the Third Reich in the very year of its birth. But Hitler knew the mettle of his foreign adversaries as expertly and as uncannily as he had sized up that of his opponents at home." May we learn from our history.

Tom Hanks planning on movie with this book

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

One of the books we were asked to read prior to our trip was "On Both Sides of the Wall" by Vladka Meed.  She is one of the founders of this teachers' seminar and some of the places we will visit were alluded to in her book.  She spent the war, passing as an Aryan (non-Jew), literally climbing over the wall between Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto- helping as many Jews as she could to survive the war. Several times she would be on top of the wall, about to go over, when the Germans would appear and she just had to hope that they wouldn't notice her there.   You understand the stress of what they went through as you read this book- fear of the Nazis finding you out,  fear of someone turning you in, fear of someone close to you turning informant, fear of losing your family through deportation to the death camps and finally fear that all the work you were doing would be for nothing.  As someone in the book cried "Dear God.  Put an end to this misery!"

In 1940, after Germany conquered Poland, Vladka and her family were forced to move into the Warsaw Ghetto.  There she witnessed the deportations (from Umschlagplatz) of most of the Jews in the ghetto, including her family; instances of blackmail, where German soldiers would take money or other valuable possessions from the Jews under the guise of saving them, only to be shipped out anyway and brutal beatings and killings of the Jews right there in the ghetto. For each of these instances, the people had to decide - do you go with the Germans, go into hiding or trust your children with strangers that promise to save them from the camps. Vladka and others were able to save themselves for a while as they were valued workers (seamstresses) for the German military.  One day she was approached by leaders of the Jewish underground and asked if she would be willing to help as she could pass as an Aryan (non-Jew).  For the rest of the war, she pretended to be the average Polish citizen, working to help Jews escape the ghetto, supply those in hiding with food, save the children by getting them to churches and orphanages and provide weapons (revolvers, grenades and material for Molotov cocktails) for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  The most famous of the Jewish resistance attempts, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising lasted for 2 weeks with many deaths on both the German and Jewish sides.  While the ghetto was aflame, "on the balcony of the second floor of a burning house stood a woman, wringing her hands.  She disappeared into the building and a moment later returned carrying a child and dragging a featherbed, which she flung to the sidewalk.  Obviously, she meant to jump, or perhaps to drop the child, hoping the featherbed would break the fall.  Clutching the child, she started to climb over the railing.  Amid the spray of bullets she slumped.  The child dropped to the street.  The woman's lifeless body remained draped over the railing."  (144)  The 70 or so survivors fled into the surrounding woods, where Vladka continued to supply them with food and news.  

Toward the end, as the Russians were battling the Germans over control of Poland, Vladka and her future husband, Benjamin Meed were able to escape and thus survive the war.  However, when they returned to Warsaw in 1978, she was distressed to see that nothing was there to commemorate what happened to the Warsaw Jews or to relate the story of those who courageously resisted the Nazis.  "Nothing.  Nothing was left me of my past, of my life in the ghetto--not even the grave of my father."  With that insight came her lifelong passion of teaching others about the resistance efforts of some.  For me, this part of the Holocaust is sorely missing as students often ask why didn't they do more to stop it?  With this book and the summer seminar, we will learn that they did resist and did so valiantly.
Here's the website - with an overview of the teacher's program that I will be participating:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tuesday, July 3 (my birthday), there will be a program at the hotel in the morning.  After which, we leave for Dulles Airport for the flight to Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Haifa, Israel.  Since this is my first overseas flight, it should be an interesting experience.  Our "home base" in Haifa is the Hotel Dan Panorama, pictured above.  Haifa is the 3rd largest city in Israel and located in the northern part of the country on the Mediterranean Sea.  Arriving there at 3 in the afternoon, I'm hoping that we are given time to adjust.  
This Saturday, I travel to Chicago O'Hare airport to fly to Washington DC to begin this fantastic trip.  The teachers will be checking into the Hotel Palomar, downtown DC in Dupont Circle.  My room mate in this stay is a teacher from Tennessee.  We begin the seminars on July 1 at 1:00 with an orientation meeting for the trip.  After dinner at the hotel, a Holocaust survivor, Roman Kent, will be speaking to the group.  The next day will be spent at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Again after dinner at the hotel, we will hear from another survivor, Henry Greenbaum.  Below is a link to the US Holocaust Museum:  

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Met some wonderful people from the Holocaust Museum Houston for dinner last night--Patrick Le Blanc -fellow traveler from Houston, Lili Gordon and Susan Myers -both who work with the museum and have been on this teacher seminar trip. They gave us great advice and insights about the trip. 2 more books were recommended that we read before leaving on our trip. In the Gardens of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larsen Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. By Timothy Snyder. If last night is any indication of what is in store for us, it will be an amazing trip. What a delightful group of people and I look forward to meeting with them more.