Friday, July 30, 2010


Berlin from here

After flying through the early morning hours from Tel Aviv, we landed in Berlin Sunday, July 11. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday were full of people to meet and places to go.

Sunday evening, Program Coordinator Stephen Feinberg gave us a quick tour and history lesson of some of the important locales of Nazi operations in central Berlin.

Oddly, on the day we arrived, a huge outdoor tent housing a Berlin fashion show covered the site of the famous book burning of May 1933. We managed to make our way to the memorial to that event, however, a well-lit, starkly white underground bookcase that holds no books.

That event, by the way, was generated not by the Nazi government, but by the German Student Association as a way of attacking what they called, "un-German spirit." They saw it as patriotic, an expression of love and devotion for their nation.

My favorite part of the Pledge of Allegiance we observe at school is the ending, "with liberty and justice for all." For all. The Nazi definition of "nation" did not include "all." Also, the German pledge was to Adolph Hitler as the embodiment of "German-ness" and did not locate the nation "under God." I know the inclusion of "God" in our pledge is controversial, but for me, as a suggestion that the "nation" is subservient to an ideal, and not the other way around, it works.

I've already included video and comments here on the Gruenewald train depot and Wannsee, but I want to add what I can on our visit to Bergen-Belsen, the former Gestapo Headquarters known as the "Topography of Terror," and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


From home

The window of my room in Jerusalem

From July 7 to July 10 we were in Israel, mostly Jerusalem. The bag that contained my computer arrived on July 9 from Frankfort, via Lufthansa, so I did not exactly hit the ground running on my plan to post video and text to my blog so I could share my experience with you.

Some of the video I am going over only now, and I intend to share segments from Israel, Berlin, and Lublin with you. It's fun to discover some of the things I had already forgotten. One of them is a segment of around 30 seconds recorded through my open hotel window during a long, hot, and un-air conditioned night in Zamosc. It's an outdoor performance of "Let the Sunshine In" from Hair, with a Polish accent.

My final product will be to put all of these segments together into one extended video that I intend to share with my trip mates. It's a labor of love: for my colleagues, guides and directors; for the program; and, of course, for the spirit of the survivors and the memory of the departed.

I turned 57 years old today. Judy is surprising me with dinner at a secret location this evening. My mother's health took a turn for the worse while I was gone; I visited her yesterday and attended an assessment meeting with my sister, Linda, and the staff of the rehabilitation center where she is being treated. Her strength is faltering.

Next week, I will be filling in for Tony Krabill at WVPE, during All Things Considered. The local host of Morning Edition, Michael Linville, and I talked about the trip yesterday and he suggested that some sort of interview might be in order. I will let you know about that.

Jim Messina and I spoke on the phone yesterday. He suggested that a recording of any interview would be a great thing to send along to our colleagues. I agree. I told Jim that I thought briefly Wednesday, while at the grocery store, that I saw Program Director Elaine Culbertson in one of the aisles ahead of me. Then, when I got home, a quick glimpse of our letter carrier fooled me into thinking that our mailman is, in fact, colleague Nick Hart.

I wait for myself to arrive.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


.............I am home.

This post runs the risk of being incoherent. My thoughts are too new to coalesce.

Everything changed for me at Auschwitz.

As Agnes, our guide, told us that, "The hair had value; the Lives had no value," I walked into a room filled to overflowing with protheses ....

"Never- will I forget this night, the first night in the camp, it will remain with me as being the longest night in my life. Never- will I forget the smoke. Never- will I forget the small faces of the children before my eyes, whose bodies rose up like coils of smoke, into the blue heavens. Never- will I forget the flames, that consumed my faith forever. Never- will I forget the silence in the night, that took my lust for life away- for all eternity. Never- will I forget the moment that killed my God, and my soul and my dreams- which took on the face of the depraved. Never- will I forget even if I am sentenced to live as long as God: Never!!“ ~Elie Wiesel

..protheses ....

It has occurred to me that my breakdown happened at the place where we were not allowed to take pictures.

Without thinking my body seized and I bolted from the, I can not look at that. My brain became my the impulse that grabs my arm when my finger touches the stove.

The image I ran from, however, is the image that I will never forget. I had a picture. No camera needed.

The hair had value, the people did not.


I had my picture.

My brain told my body that I had to leave. I snapped a picture.

My video project had had the effect of separating me from the direct experience.At Auschwitz I was not afforded that luxury. It's ironic because I generally don't take pictures much. On this trip I was constantly looking at our experience through the shield of a camera. Until someone told me I couldn't do that here.

Hair had value...lives did not. A room filled to overflowing with protheses.

That's where I was. That's what I shared with my colleagues and with my guides: Elaine Culbertson, Stephen Feinberg, Margret Atkinson, Armando Banchs, Mary Ann Bolinger, Linda Christensen, Susan Davis, Erin DeHart, Rebecca Elmore, Nick Hart, Brian Hurd, Laron Johnson, Rosa Lamb, Debra Maller-Natoli, Carrie McCarthy, Megan McCuiston, James Messina, Stephanie Murdock, LaVonne Napier, Cassie Nodine, Mitch Polay, Lynn Ringle, Brad Sims, Teresa Starkey, Maribel Villalva, Brian Woodward, and Waclaw Wojciechowski.

Now I am home.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Returning home

Travel has been the largest part of the last two days.

Friday morning we bussed from Lodz to Treblinka to commemorate the 850,000 people who were murdered there between July 1942 and October 1943. Along with Sobibor and Belzec, Treblinka was one of the Aktion Reinhard extermination camps set up by the SS in the area of Poland that was not annexed to Germany proper after the invasion in September 1939. Occupied, but not annexed.

Around 25 German and Austrian bosses and 120 mostly Ukranian guards murdered 850,000 (800,000 Jews) in 16 months. They used diesel engine exhaust to fill the gas chambers and asphyxiate their victims, hundreds of thousands from Warsaw. Treblinka closed after an inmate revolt in which 600 inmates escaped and the Germans destroyed most of it before the Russians captured the area.

Around the site of the gas chamber and the crematorium the memorial sweeps across the surrounding acreage where the barracks were, individual markers for the communities that were destroyed, and one marker for an individual. That is Janusz Korczak, the teacher who boarded the death train in Warsaw with his students bound for Treblinka.

We then road the bus to Warsaw and in the evening after dinner enjoyed a light-hearted closing ceremony that included singing "Que Sera Sera," a tradition begun by program founder and Holocaust survivor Vladka Meed.

My colleagues on the trip are among the finest people I have ever met.

We said goodbye to our wonderful Polish guide Waclaw Wojciechowski, for whom I really should devote an entire post.

Yesterday was a fly day. The context of our journey makes complaining inappropriate. While the most important leg of this journey remains, I can already say it is great to be back in the United States. After dinner last night Elaine Culbertson, our program director, warned us that there is a bit of an adjustment to life at home after this trip. Having you with me on this blog should help me with that, I think. You know where I've been.

Today and tomorrow morning we debrief at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I have some more interviews to do for my movie. I hope to be back in South Bend around 6:00 P.M. Monday.

The blog will continue for a while after I get home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010



My idea for the film was to let the participants in the program tell the story of the program as it happens, with the images of a particular segment speaking for themselves. The unexpected bonus has been the narration provided by the guides and the program directors. Since the stories are so compelling, all I have to do is get out of the way.

Shoot, look at it, trim, and sequence.



The story of Lodz may seem familiar, but for every ghetto in every Polish city and town, there are many many individuals and many many stories: heartache, separation, hunger, destruction, depravity, forced removal, and death. Every story is as unique as you and me. Every single story is significant. Every person had a name. Being here makes that clear. Not six million divided by the individual story....The individual story. Times six million.

We are not entitled to fatigue.

I remember that Prof. Yehuda Bauer told us at Yad Vashem that study of the Holocaust takes us to a greater awareness of issues of human rights. He said study of the greatest cruelty awakens us to the greatest empathy.

Look. It's the least we can do.

We are not entitled to fatigue.

Open our hearts and open our minds and simply look.

Today we looked around Lodz, Poland, a city that contained the second largest Jewish community in pre-war Poland. After the Germans conquered Poland in September, 1939, they established a Jewish ghetto for Lodz. Around a third of the city's population was Jewish, and they were forced into the ghetto starting in February of 1940. Of that Jewish population of around 160,000, less than 900 remained alive after the war. About 20 per cent died in the ghetto, from sickness and starvation and torture and random acts of violence. The Lodz ghetto had no running water and no sewers. In addition to the natives, the Germans shipped Jews into the Lodz ghetto, from Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, and the Protecctorate of Bohemia and Monravia.

When we toss around numbers like six million and one-and-a-half-million, 160 thousand may seem small, but a city of 160 thousand would be near in size to South Bend and Mishawaka combined. When we visit the destruction of the Jewish community in Lodz we visit that kind of devastation. Nine hundred left out of 160,ooo.

Today in Lodz we looked at the old ghetto area, the old Jewish cemetery and the railroad station from which Jews were deported. What I noticed most were children playing across the street from these sites, in parks, in backyards, and in fountains. Today was a hot day.

Tomorrow we ride the bus to Treblinka and then Warsaw, from where we began our trip back to the United States on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010



Many of the Jews fortunate to survive the Holocaust who returned to their pre-war homes in Poland discovered they were not welcome.

This was the case in Kielce, where on July 4, 1946, a mob of local Poles, police and soldiers attacked a building housing around 150 re-settlement Jews in Kielce, killing 42. Many of those killed were children. Along with other instances of Polish resentment and attacks toward Jews, who were in some cases reclaiming property stolen during the war, the Kielce massacre convinced many that Jews would have to restart their lives in another country. For many that country was Israel and for many that country was the United States.

Today we visited the building where the attack occurred and the cemetery where the victims are buried. We gained admittance to the cemetery through a caretaker with a key to a gate that is kept locked in order to prevent vandalism.

This afternoon as we entered nearby Lodz, our guide explained that the fans of two rival soccer teams each use graffiti that depicts their opponents as "Jewish" as a way of demeaning their rivals.

It is important to note, however, that in recent years both locally and nationally, Poles have been more forthcoming in acknowledging what happened in Kielce in particular and the damages of antisemitism in general. We saw a tribute to the victims of the Kielce massacre at the cemetery from children in a local elementary school.

Tomorrow we tour Lodz and Friday we go to Treblinka.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010



Today we visited some of the Jewish history of Krakow, a history that goes back to the ninth century.

We visited sites of an extensive Jewish culture that existed prior to WWII and we saw locations that suggest the city and the country are making genuine efforts to reconnect with Judaism today.

The Oskar Schindler factory has been given a facelift to encourage tourism and a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust has been constructed at the place where Jews were gathered in the Krakow ghetto for deportation. Today we toured streets where Schindler's List was filmed.

A pharmacy in the ghetto, owned and operated by a non-Jewish Pole, Taduusz Pankiewicz became a of center of resistance during the war and has now become a small museum and commemorative site. Pankiewicz is recognized on the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem. The number of Poles among the rescuers there is the greatest of any country.

Krakow is a city of around 750, 000, Poland's second largest. The old city remains alive with business, commerce, and entertainment activity.

Tomorrow we travel to Kielce, site of a pogrom against around 200 Holocaust survivor Jews that took place a year after the end of WWII. Forty-two were killed and many Jews were convinced that a return to their homes in Poland after the war was not possible. We move then to Lodz, where we will spend Wednesday and Thursday nights.


Monday, July 19, 2010



Today we stood on the train platform at Auschwitz-Birkenau where trains unloaded prisoners for "selection."


Building #5, "Material Proof of Crimes" on the Auschwitz campus is open for viewing, as is the building that housed Gestapo interrogation. We visited Auschwitz today.

The first Auschwitz facility was initially a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners and later added gas chambers and a crematorium for the purpose of murdering mostly Jews. This is the facility with the iron Arbeit Macht Frei sign above the entrance that you have probably seen pictured.

A few kilometers away is the Birkanau death factory, with the guard tower at the entrance which you have also probably seen. It was constructed because the capacity for murder of the first facility, 700 men, women, and children in 40 minutes, did not meet German needs. Birkenau could murder 2,000 men, women, and children in 25 minutes.

On their way into the gas chambers the men, women, and children took off their clothes in the undressing area and hung them on numbered hooks. The SS told them to remember the number of their hooks so they could pick up their clothes afterward. After they were slowly suffocated by the Zyclon B gas that arrived in pellets in cans from the IG Farben company, the bodies of the men, women, and children were checked for and removed from any gold teeth and shaved. The lives had no value. The gold teeth and hair had value.

The SS sold the hair to German companies to make mattresses, pillows, blankets, and clothes, including German military uniforms.

After we toured the first facility and had lunch we were bussed to within about a half-mile of the Birkenau camp, to a point where Jews would have disembarked and then we walked the remaining way into the camp. From my memory of growing up in Green Township, Grant County, Indiana, I guess that Birkenau is around a mile long and a mile wide.

One million Jews, 75,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 14,000 Soviet POWs, and 10-15,000 others were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They arrived on trains from all over Europe. The longest journey was for Greek Jews, nine days, 100 men, women, and children per box car without water or food. Nine days.

The Holocaust was the systematic and bureaucratic implementation of Nazi ideology by the Germans and their collaborators who assisted in every country from which victims of the Holocaust came, with knowing assistance from manufacturers and transporters who profited from the slave labor the Nazis provided and from the products the slaves produced. A few people helped the Jews resist. They are heroes and prove by their actions that other choices were available.

This evening we met with Polish educators to discuss teaching the Holocaust in our respective countries. Because of the official government ideology controlling the instruction of history during the cold war, Poles are still early in the process of reconciling their role in the Holocaust. An honest accounting began only around 10 years ago, one instructor told us.

Tomorrow, we visit Jewish and Holocaust related sites around Krakow, including Oskar Schindler's factory.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kazimierz Dolny

Majdanek and Belzec

We visted Majdanek yesterday and Belzec today. Both are known for being among the six German death factories that were used to murder Jews.

Majdanek, on the outskirts of Lublin, began as a POW camp for Russian prisoners of war, became a center for slave labor, and then became an extermination camp that used carbon monoxide and Zyclon B in gas chambers to murder 80,000 Jews. Because the Germans did not have time to destroy Majdanek before it was liberated by the Soviet army, it remains largely intact. A gas chamber, a creamatorium, and some barracks within the original barbed wire are available for viewing.

Belzec was built solely for the purpose of mass murder. Along with Sobibor and Treblinka, Belzec was part of the Akton Reinhardt pogrom that murdered 1.7 million Jews in the area of Poland that was seized by the Germans but not annexed into the Third Reich. Of the original facility, only the railroad tracks remain at Belzec; the Germans destroyed it when they fled the Russian army. However, a mammoth memorial covering many acres has been constructed on the site.

We are now in Cracow, Poland's second largest city. Tomorrow we visit Auschwitz.

Friday, July 16, 2010


The Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Memorial

Following a tradition of the program, we lay flowers at the monument to the heroes of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising resistance Thursday, July 15, 2010.

Jewish Life in Poland Before the War

A major emphasis of the trip is that of considering the lives the victims left behind, the societies that were lost in the Holocaust. Today we visited a small rural Polish town called Kazimierz Dolny, a town that had been a shtetl, a thriving center of life for Jews before the war. The town remains, but the Jews are gone. We visited a nearby momument to Kazimierz Dolny Jews at the location of a former Jewish cemetery. From that cemetery, the German army and area Poles stole headstones to use as construction material. The bodies remained, but the headstones were stolen. Recently some area residents constructed a walled memorial from some damaged headstones that were returned to the site.

Then we drove to Lublin, where the buildings of the ghetto where Jews were held for deportation remain much like they were before the war. Only around 25 Jews live in Lublin today. Before the war there were around 35,000 which was a third of Lublin's population. Walking informally around the city this afternoon, we saw and heard that antisemitism remains today in Lublin.

In the evening after dinner in the hotel, we gathered to reflect on our experiences so far and some tears fell.

Tomorrow we visit the nearby concentration camp at Majdanek and then drive on to Zamosc.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wannsee Conference Villa

The Jews of Warsaw, the Ghetto, the Resistance

Today we stood inside the Jewish cemetery of Warsaw, overgrown and ill kept, that includes a sunken mass unmarked grave where Jews were brought who perished in The Warsaw Ghetto. Mitch Polay of Yonkers said Kaddish. For me, the most significant moment came when we stood before a marker for Janusz Korczak, a man who accompanied the orphans in his charge from Warsaw to Treblinka, even though he could have saved himself.

We visited the only synagogue remaining in Warsaw, the Nosyk Synagogue, and had a group picture taken after we offered flowers at the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Memorial.

Because the Warsaw Ghetto was leveled by the Germans during the Uprising, there is not a lot to see that remains from the war, but we saw bits and pieces of the ghetto wall and noted the locations of events that were significant in the armed Jewish resistance, including the small area (Umschalgplatz) where Jews were brought to be collected by the Nazis and their collaborators. The ghetto walls enclosed 350,000 people in an area of two-and-one-half square miles until there were not any people left.

That is where we were today.

Tonight we attend a private Chopin recital.

The hotel we are in is called the Bristol; below my window is the courtyard of the presidential palace.

Tomorrow we leave here for the site of the pre-war shtetl of Kazimierz Dolny, the Majdanek concentration camp, and Lublin.

My computer and internet problems have followed me to Poland. I have a short film about our visit to Wannsee to share, but the internet pipe here is narrow and so far has not been able to carry it to you.

I have a lot of footage in the can, but I spend my time getting things to work rather than creating.

I will stay on it, however.

I hope you are well, and again, thank you for joining me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Tonight we're in Warsaw, Poland. It was a day on the bus, good because I have a blister on my foot. I completed the Wannsee video on the bus.

Yesterday we visited the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, about four hours west of Berlin. In addition to touring the grounds and a commemorative museum, we met with German teachers from the Bergen-Belsen area in small groups. I was very impressed with the sincere effort Germans are making to honestly and straightforwardly deal with their past. These weren't bureaucrats or functionaries, they were teachers like us. I saw some social studies textbooks for high school students that go into great depth about the Holocaust and connect that history to social issues in contemporary German society.

Tomorrow we visit the area of the Warsaw Ghetto and attend a Chopin concert.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Gruenewald Station Platform 17

Monday in Berlin

There were four locations on the Berlin itinerary today: the memorial at Gruenewald station, platform 17, the House of the Wannsee Conference, the home of the offices of the SS, the SA, the Gestapo, and the Reich Security Main Office, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe near Hitler's bunker in the government offices section of the city.

The railroad station and the surrounding neighborhood struck me the most, the place where Jews were assembled to be shipped by train for murder at death camps in Poland. It's in mixed upper middle class neighborhood where many affluent Jews lived.

It was my second visit to Wannsee and the Memorial; Judy, Lily and I visited 3 1/2 years ago when Lily was studying in Holland and we visited over Christmas break and then drove to Berlin. Today, Dr. Thomas Lutz spoke to us at the documentation center of the site for the German state police apparatus, a site that is adjacent to the remnants of the Berlin Wall by the way.

Tomorrow we travel by bus to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwest Germany.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wilco plays Masada; Last stop before the Cove

Mitchell Polay of Yonkers, New York; Brian Woodward of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Laron Johnson of Rigby, Idaho wait to board the flight from Tel Aviv to Frankfort, around 4:00 A.M., Sunday morning, July 10, 2010.

The author at Masada July 9, 2010.

American Gathering

The Yad Vashem experience

A long night again with little sleep. After changing planes in Frankfurt we arrived this afternoon in Berlin around 1:00 P.M. which is six hours ahead of EST. Nothing is planned for the rest of the day except dinner at seven.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Down among the reeds and rushes

I touched upon Mara's point in my last post, by coincidence. Prof. Bauer said it better than I can. First, he noted, the Holocaust is unprecedented, and not because of the numbers. It is unprecedented because it was Nazi ideology to kill all the Jews, not to kill them in the course of taking their property or to seize power, or for any other reason. The idea was to kill them all, every single one.
He added, however, that we should indeed be teaching about other genocides and other matters of social justice. He said creating an identification with the Holocaust is a good place to start because it is so compelling. We use it to create empathy. He said we should start with the Holocaust as a way of getting to human rights.

As educators we have to respect the perspective of our students, especially when it creates responses that run counter to our own perspectives. What I'm hearing here is that we need also not to overgeneralize or offer up false analogies. Teachers are guilty of that, too, sometimes you know. Stick to the facts. That's what I'm hearing. We need to know what we are talking about.

I put together a movie today about our visit to Yad Vashem. I had to leave off the ending I wanted to use because YouTube said I was taking up too much of their space, but in any case I thinks it's pretty good and I hope I can get it posted tonight. It's 11:44 P.M. and the porter is coming for our bags at 12:30. We're getting on the bus at 1:00 for an hour ride to Tel Aviv so we can be at the airport three hours early for Israeli security. Sunday we arrive in Berlin for a new phase of the tour. It's already amazing and I think you'll get a sense of that from the movie.

Today we visited Mosada and the Dead Sea. I floated, swam is the wrong word, in the Dead Sea today and I can still feel the oil on my skin after two showers. It was 120 degrees at the Dead Sea today. Mosada was also great and I enjoyed seeing the countryside on the way there. I'll have more later on the tourist stuff.

I'm really getting a lot out of this trip and I've met some wonderful people and I appreciate you following along. I would love to hear from everyone.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Yad Vashem & Old Jerusalem

Yad Vashem is a campus with 21 buildings and memorial sites, including the Holocaust History Museum. There is also a children's memorial, a garden commemorating the non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews, a synagogue, and a "Hall of Remembrance." Today as our last act before we left Yad Vashen I had the honor of reading a poem called "A Mountain of Shoes" by Moishe Shulstein at the dais of the Hall of Remembrance. I will not forget it.

We also heard from our last instructor, Irena Steinfeldt, the director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations. Like the other three teachers for our program, Irena emphasized the importance of establishing context, and addressing free will and individuality in our teaching. She also said that we should avoid self-righteousness with our students, something I know I need to be more careful about. She was a great speaker, making her points by using the stories of two rescuers. Two thousand rescuers have been honored so far on the site. Steinfeldt said it is impossible to profile them; that no matter what characteristic each one has, it is possible to find a perpetrator with the same characteristics.

Professor Yehuda Bauer told us yesterday that the Holocaust is unprecedented, and that the study of it enhances the study and awareness of other genocides. What makes it unprecedented? They were killed for no reason other than that they were Jews. Killing Jews was not incidental, killing every Jew was an aspect of the Nazi ideology.

Of course the subject matter is compelling in and of itself, but I must say the instructors we have been provided here are truly outstanding.

You should check out the Yad Vashem website it's one of the buttons there to your left.

Yesterday evening we ate dinner with two Israeli high school teachers of the Holocaust and then discussed our respective challenges.

Also today, we visited old Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, and many other significant Jewish and Christian sites including the Garden of Gethsemane.

Well, it looks like my technical problems have been solved. My technical problem was that first both and then one of my bags had been lost in the Frankfort airport since Wednesday. The second one just arrived so I hope I can start uploading some pictures soon.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is the Holocaust museum of Israel. More precisely it is the Holocaust museum of the world. I am writing this post from a classroom where this morning our group heard a powerful lecture from the Pedagogical Director of the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Shulamit Imber. She talked about our paradox as teachers, making sense out of "trauma," giving a face where a face has been taken away,

She told us to teach what was lost, not numbers but things significant to the individual, like music, art, and sports. Things with meaning to children.

She talked about our ability to find and give meaning. She talked about dilemma and about how by nature the moral question makes for humanness. A sense of humanity in the Holocaust is a form of resistance.

Complexity. She said. Acknowledge in our teaching, make the students understand that the Holocaust is not one story.

We have choice.

Then we toured the museum. Then we heard from Prof. Guy Meron on 19th & 20th century Jewish and non-Jewish Europe.

Next is Prof. Yehuda Bauer followed by a discusion with Israeli teachers.

Still having some technical difficulties, but I am collecting video & pictures to send later.

I can't proofread this so for if I have erred I will fix that later.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 1

Today I met my fellow travelers, we of the 2010 Holocaust & Jewish Resistance Teachers' Program, also known as the American Gathering.

We assembled at 2:00 P.M. in a classroom at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to become acquainted, go over procedure for the trip, and begin our study.

Elaine Culbertson and Steve Feinberg are trip coordinators and will accompany 25 teachers from around the United States.

We focused today on artifacts and photographs in the permanent exhibit, making notes on those that made the greatest impression on us as we toured, and then discussed them as a group in the classroom and after dinner.

The biggest impressions seemed to be from those exhibits that tell a personal story: one rail car, shoes, a pair of eyes connecting to our souls from a photograph. I made a comment about the exhibits that illustrate the frightening rationality of the Third Reich, for example, official government posters that illustrated racial identity.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, is a travel day. A long travel day. After meeting again in the morning at the museum, we assemble at 1:00 P.M. in the hotel lobby for the ride to the airport. From Dulles we fly to Frankfurt, lay over for a bit, and then go on to Tel Aviv, where we arrive at 3:00 P.M. local time Wednesday. There is a seven hour time difference between E.S.T. and the time in Israel.

So far, so good. You may not hear from me for a couple of days.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Importance of Precision in Language

When we use the word "love" or "evil" indiscriminately, we diminish our ability to express what we sincerely mean when sincerity is intended. Among the most valuable words in the language are those that we reserve for special occasions. The effect of diminishing the value of the word is to diminish the nature of what the word represents. Diminishing the nature of "love" or "evil" is not a good idea.

This column was in the South Bend Tribune this morning.

Marvin Hier: Nothing since can (or should) be called a Holocaust

July 1, 2010

Political discourse in the United States has been saturated with opponents accusing each other of Nazi-like behavior. Recently, California Attorney General Jerry Brown likened the attack ads of Meg Whitman, his Republican opponent in the race for governor, to the tactics employed by Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels.

Last week, Sarah Palin criticized President Obama's handling of the BP crisis in a tweet to followers recommending they read an article by Thomas Sowell that compared Adolph Hitler's use of a financial crisis to give himself dictatorial powers to Obama's role in creating the BP escrow fund.

A few months ago, speaking about the controversial Arizona immigration bill, Lillian Rodriguez Lopez of the Hispanic Federation reportedly compared the measure to tactics used by the Nazis in Germany.

The Holocaust was a watershed event in the history of mankind, in which 6 million Jews were exterminated -- one-third of the world's Jewish population. But today the word is used in ways that cheapen it.

Last fall, Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida spoke on the House floor about the need for universal health care, saying that Americans die every year because they lack insurance. "I apologize," he said, "that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America."

In 2007, former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee used the word in speaking out against abortion -- "the holocaust of liberalized abortions under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973."

And syndicated columnist David Sirota recently applied the term to the BP gulf oil disaster, saying, "Every American who uses oil is incriminated in this ecological holocaust."

The continued trivialization of the word prompted Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and chronicler of the Holocaust, to discontinue using it.

There are many injustices in our world, even in our own country. Standing up to them is our obligation. But that obligation does not include demeaning the word that has come to stand for the great evil that was the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was a total eclipse of humanity. It was not about going to the back of the line or eating in a different part of the restaurant or being escorted to the border without recourse.

The Holocaust was the story of ordinary Germans: students, doctors, men and women of culture, who were not demented, who listened to Bach and Beethoven, who loved their families, who were not diagnosed as psychopaths, but who nonetheless for six years rounded up men, women and children and escorted them to the gas chambers.

That was the Holocaust. It is not the BP oil disaster, it is not health care, it is not the Arizona law, it is not the attack ads of Meg Whitman, it is not abortion, and it is not even horrific violations of civil rights.

If you were to try to call out 2,000 of the names every day of the 6 million who perished, it would take more than eight years to complete the task.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.