Before the school year ended, my teaching partner, DJ, asked me how I was spending my summer vacation. I told her I’d be going to camp. She asked what I meant, and I said I’d be off to Dachau, Buchenwald, Majdanek, Treblinka and Auschwitz.
DJ nodded, gave me a puzzled look, and said, “Oh, sounds like fun.”
On my vacation, I would visit the Nazi death camps of Germany and Poland, and meet 40 of the “Rescuers” — elderly people who are the only living members of families who saved Jews from the Nazis.
The JFR has two goals: to train teachers to teach the Holocaust, and to provide pension-like payments to those individuals who risked their lives to rescue Jews during World War II.
The people who attend the week-long seminar are known as Alfred Lerner Fellows, and the seminar is a requirement to be included in the summer program. About 60 percent of trip expenses are paid by JFR.
Leading the group were Stanlee Stahl, executive director of JFR, and noted author and Holocaust historian Robert Jan van Pelt. We prepared by reading two books by Holocaust survivors, one a lengthy study of the town of Auschwitz from 1270 to the present, and several articles on the development of the Nazi Party and its policies.
July 17: Buchenwald.
At this concentration camp in Weimar, the slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will make you free”) did not frame the entrance to the camp as it did at Dachau and other camps. Over this gate, written in iron were the German words for “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t deserve it.”
Dachau meant imprisonment and terror with the possibility of release. Buchenwald meant death.
July 21-25: Treblinka, Majdanek, Birkenau.
These sites were not operated as internment camps or punishment centers. Their purpose was to kill people as effectively and efficiently as possible. Some Jews were worked to death. Others were murdered within hours of arriving.
In a building called the sauna, the men were taken to have their hair shaved off, tattoos put on and showered before being sent into the camp. Everything was taken from them. The man responsible for burning all the photos did not do it. They have put them up on all the walls in there. It takes your breath away …