Journey through the Holocaust

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Anne Frank House

Although we had heard that there was no photography allowed in the museum, we were hoping they were just rumors. Unfortunately, what we heard was true. So there are only a few pictures of us and the entrance to the building. The pictures below are the only ones we were able to take.

Entrance to Frank Otto's factory, where Anne and her family hid in the back in a secret annex. The wait time can be up to 3 hours to get in if you don't purchase your tickets ahead of time. 

View from across the canal. 

The church that Anne and her family would hear chiming. It sounds just like it does in the movie!
Proud teachers who are thankful for the opportunity to be on this journey. 

Statue of Anne just around the corner from the entrance. This is actually seen as soon as you get off the tram. 

Pictures from here on out are taken from the website. No matter what, we hope to convey how inspired we were after leaving this museum. Our hearts were heavy throughout the museum, but an 8-minute movie at the end renewed our spirit and affirmed to us why it is so important for us to share our experience.

When we first entered the museum, we each received individual audio devices that narrated the pictures, exhibits, and movies throughout the museum in our native language. This allowed us to move freely about the museum at our own pace, taking our time to process everything we read and saw. We learned about the lives of the Franks leading up to the war, and then their time in the secret annex. We also learned about those that helped them. 

Most of us have heard the name Miep Gies as the person responsible for helping them. But we learned about 3 other individuals that were essential to helping the Franks. Victor Kugler, Johannes Kleiman, and Bep Voskuijl were also workers in Otto Frank's factory, who, despite the threat to their lives, immediately agreed to help the Franks in hiding. During such a dark time it is important and uplifting to learn about individuals who are brave and willing to risk their lives to help others. We found ourselves contemplating something important: would we have so selflessly helped others in need? 

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Miep Gies

Bep Voskuijl

Jo Kleiman

Victor Kugler

Jan Gies

After touring most of the museum, we came to a small hallway at the back of the building. It was unassuming, with a small bookshelf on the "back wall". One could not tell there was an additional part of the building behind that wall - aka "The Secret Annex." The bookshelf was actually built by Bep's father to disguise the entrance to the secret annex. It swung open revealing a large step up to the entrance to a room and a steep, narrow staircase leading to the second floor. 

The bookcase that led to the Secret Annex.

We are hesitant to say this, but we all felt that the secret annex was not as small as we anticipated. It surprised some of us that it was two floors, plus an attic where Anne liked to escape for fresh air and to see outside. Don't get us wrong it was very small, but we all thought that is was going to be shockingly small and cramped. 

We realized that the real hardship about the annex was that it was shared by 8 people (who did not all know each other). They could never leave. Could never go outside. Never be alone. During the day they had to be absolutely silent - they could not talk, walk around, or even use the bathroom out of fear that someone working in the factory below would hear them. 

Anne Frank

Otto Frank

Edith Frank

Margot Frank

Hermann van Pels

Auguste van Pels

Peter van Pels

Fritz Pfeffer
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Anne's parent's room was first, it was long and narrow and contained two beds. Anne's sister Margot slept in here when Fritz Pfeffer joined them in hiding. Next was Anne's room that she initially shared with Margot and then with Pfeffer (who joined the Franks later). This room was difficult to see, but not because it was small. The walls were still covered with the pictures that Anne had torn out of magazines and glued to the wall herself. Pictures of movie stars, actors, and actresses that she idolized. Seeing this made her so much more real to us and reminded us that she was just a young girl, like so many other young girls, who wanted to grow up and be famous. We all plastered our walls with faces of our favorite movie stars! We all fantasized about meeting our crushes one day. We even wanted to be movie stars or singers - just like Anne did. Seeing the pictures glued to the wall, covered in a plexiglass to preserve them, brought tears to our eyes. We felt a connection to Anne in a way we did not expect.  

Anne's writing desk. You can see the pictures on the wall that Anne glued.

We walked through the bathroom that contained a sink, toilet, and tub. Then we climbed the stairs to the next level which contained a larger room. This room served as the Van Pels bedroom, as well as the kitchen. Their beds had to be put away every day to make this a communal living space. The Van Pels were a family of three who arrived shortly after the Frank's had been living there. Just outside of this room was another set of stairs that led to the attic. Under the stairs was a small nook where the Van Pels son, Peter, slept. We were not allowed to go up to the attic, but you could look up and see the window that Anne would sneak off to in order to get a look at the world outside. Her small escape.

Shared bathroom.

Kitchen/dining area/Van Pels bedroom.

Peter's bedroom. You can see the stairs that lead up to the attic. This was an area off limits for most of the day, but Anne would sneak up here to escape. 
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After exiting the Secret Annex, the museum tour continued. We read how the Nazis raided the annex and the fate of the people who hid there. Otto Frank was the only one to survive the camps. We saw the transport list of prisoners captured that fateful day. It was a long list full of names. How many Anne Frank's were out there? Anne is important, a historical figure if you will. But how many others were murdered and didn't get to tell their story? 

In one exhibit, we watched a video about when Otto was finally able to read Anne's diary. Miep Gies found it and held onto it until she could return it to Anne. Unfortunately, that wasn't in the cards. But she did give it to Otto, who couldn't bear to read it for quite some time. It was very emotional, particularly from the eyes of a parent. He said he saw a side of Anne through her writing that he never saw before. He said she was so smart and wise and had such deep thoughts. I cried when he said, "I never really knew my child." And while this was so terribly sad, there is also the silver lining that through her diary he did get to know his child, because there were millions of other parents that did not get that chance. 

Anne's diary.

A page from inside her diary. Anne also wrote many short stories. She wanted to be a writer one day.
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At the end of the museum, there are many family photos - Anne's precocious spirit is captured so well!! We found ourselves smiling through the tears at some family moments captured. Again, we connected with Anne on a level we didn't think we would. It's amazing that so many photographs were saved because most families did not get that same opportunity. 

Some family photos at the museum.

There is also an eight-minute movie about the impact of Anne's diary. It's a must see - it has many powerful messages from celebrities and visitors to the museum. This video is what left us feeling inspired. The message given and received was brilliant. One visitor's message that stuck with us was about racism. He said, "Racism should be nipped in the bud; we don't like to think something like this could happen again, but of course it's possible, it'll always be possible as long as racism exists." We need to stop it in its tracks! Promote tolerance, acceptance, kindness, love. We have something special in store for our students!

Another message was from John Green, author of "The Fault in Our Stars". In his book, it said, "The book (containing the names of 103,000 Dutch Jews killed during the Holocaust) was turned to the page with Anne Frank's name, but what got me about it was the fact that right beneath her name there were four Aron Franks. FOUR. Four Aron Franks without museums, without historical markers, without anyone to mourn them. I silently resolved to remember and pray for the four Aron Franks as long as I was around." This is the exact feeling we had looking at the transport list of all the Jews captured and sent away to concentration camps. 

Anne famously wrote in her diary, "I want to go on living even after my death!" It's heartbreaking to know that she got her wish, and it's haunting to think about. We celebrate her life and regret that she didn't live because of all the things she could have accomplished - but there were 6 million other Jews that lost their lives that also had a story and talents and "would haves" that we will sadly never know. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Jewish District/Schindler's Factory

"For some, war leaves no choice; for others, it makes choosing a must. A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences. It can either save a life or ruin it." (Unknown)

Friday was ian interesting day because not only did we gain information, but we saw evidence of the above quote in several places. We took a walking tour through the Jewish district, which was about a 15 minute walk from where we were staying. It was a rainy day so we made sure we had our umbrellas with us. The tour was private, so it was just the three of us with our guide. We were able to learn more about the Jewish culture in Krakow before, during, and after WWII.

Jewish District
We learned about someone new, who was important to the effort of stopping the Holocaust of Polish Jews. His name was Jan Karski. A statue dedicated to him is located next to the synagogue in the Jewish District of Krakow. He is definitely someone who we will research more about!


There was a dress code to enter the synagogue - no shorts or sleeveless tops. Thankfully, we read up on the tour beforehand and there was mention of that so we were prepared! Also, men had to wear a yarmulke. It was interesting to see that there was a separation of men and women inside the synagogue. Men sat in the front, while the women were in the back behind a screen. The attention to the artistic detail on the walls and ceiling was amazing. The architecture of the building was interesting - it seemed like a small space, but it was packed with details.

As we walked outside the door of the synagogue, we approached the cemetery. This was a particularly moving area. We had a strong sense of sadness as we looked out over the small, but packed cemetery. This was an extremely old cemetery holding graves of Jews, but these were not people who died during the war. The sadness came from looking out and seeing the cemetery in disarray. Some headstones were facing the synagogue, and some were facing the opposite way toward the old entrance. We learned that during WWII, the cemetery was destroyed by Nazis. Headstones were knocked over and broken, trash was thrown over the graves, it was just utter destruction and total lack of respect. After the war, the Jewish community tried to put it back together, but they had to make some changes. They were able to set up some headstones, but it was like piecing together a puzzle. Headstones were now set up in different directions because the entrance had to be changed. (Tradition says headstones should be facing the entrance). You may notice stones placed on top and around different headstones, and we learned that this is a Jewish tradition. Today, stones are placed on headstones as a way to pay respect.

Some headstones were just a total loss, so a beautiful wall was constructed of the pieces of headstones that were found.

The Empty Chairs
The rain was really coming down now. Luckily we had umbrellas but we felt bad for our guide who didn't have one. We followed him to what we thought was a place of refuge from the storm. As we stood there drying off, the silence began to be awkward. The guide wasn't speaking, he seemed to be waiting for something. Then we finally took note of our surroundings, and noticed we were next to a small town square that was empty, except for several dozen chairs, all facing the same direction. It dawned on us that we were looking at a Holocaust memorial which we had seen in pictures but didn't know was located in Poland. We had mixed emotions - we were pleasantly surprised to get to see this memorial, but it was also a very moving memorial, particularly in the pouring rain, evoking strong emotions in each of us. We asked our guide for some information about it. He told us it was called "The Empty Chairs"  and there were exactly 65 chairs to represent the 65,000 Jews from Krakow that died during the Holocaust. There are many stories about why chairs were used to create this memorial, but our guide believes that chairs were the only item the Jews were allowed to bring with them to the ghetto. The Square they were in was the same Square the Jews stood in while being relocated. When the rain finally let up we were able to walk amongst the chairs, silently saying we were sorry.

Schindler's Factory

Here is where we took leave of our guide. He has been a great guide who has helped us learn about the Jews as a people, not just as victims. The Schindler Museum is located in what was once Oskar Schindler's factory, through which he saved over 1,200 Jews by not only employing them but by saying they were vital to the success of his factory, and bribing Nazi officials. This was an excellent museum because it not only covered Schindler's efforts and the plight of the Jews but it showed the rise of Germany's  power and the progression of  WWII leading up to and including The Hocaust. 
What made this museum so moving were the firsthand accounts of individuals affected by the Holocaust. Walking through room after room and reading these testimonies gave voice to the millions of victims. 

Our students often ask "Why didn't they just escape?" Or "why didn't they just take the armbands or Jewish stars off?" 

The final room we visited was called "Room of Choices" and was created by an artist named Michal Urban. This exhibit left us speechless. We are now inspired to have our students create a similar project.

After visiting the factory, we did not want our tour to end! Our guide had explained earlier that there was an original section of the ghetto wall still erect. Of course we wanted to see that, so off went went in the direction he pointed!
For those who don't know, the ghetto was a place where Jews were confined to live in deplorable conditions.  In Krakow a wall about 12 feet high was literally built around 3 blocks to contain them. The area it surrounded already housed about 3,000 people, but once the Nazis created the ghetto, it became the home to about 17,000 Jews! Below is a short testimony from a prisoner inside the ghetto in Krakow.

To get to the original section of the wall, it was a quick walk from Schindler's Factory, but since we were alone it was still a bit nerve wracking wondering if we were going the right way. As we rounded a corner, still wondering if we were going in the right direction, we saw what we were looking for. We were able to see replicas of the wall inside Schindler's Factory. However, it's one thing to see replicas, but it's an entirely different experience to see the actual pieces that Jews saw, touched, and probably hated. It was only about 30 feet in length, but it was powerful. We could see how it was constructed to resemble tombstones, and even though we already knew that, it still gave us a sickening feeling to know that the Nazi's designed it purposely to look that way. It was crazy to see that today the wall was placed right between businesses and homes. This is a piece of history and should be preserved! But in a way it was good to see that life went on around the wall, as if taking the power away from the Nazis.

The plaque below was on the was and reads " Here they lived suffered, and died at the hands of the German torturers. From here they began their final journey to the death camp.

For all the horror we hear and learn about, we can't forget about the people who risked their lives to help. Tadeusz Pankiewicz is one such person. Despite not being Jewish, he decided to keep his pharmacy within the ghetto walls to help the Jewish community. He delivered messages back and forth and often gave out free medicine to the sick. His pharmacy was a place for the resistance to meet and hide Jews. The pharmacy museum was set up to be interactive. You could open cabinets and drawers to see pictures and read testimonials of Jews. There were old telephones you could pick up and hear the voice of someone giving their account of what was going on. You could even open bottles and smell the medicines that were once part of the pharmacy. Of course, it wasn't real medicine, but we were interested in figuring out the scents (mouthwash, cinnamon). He is one person we plan to add to our lessons. Learning about people like Tadeusz reminds us that no matter how bad things are, you always have a choice, which can make huge differences in the lives of others.