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4 posts categorized "History"

05/18/2018

Spring 2018 Issue III

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Two Overnight excursions to Terezín&Auschwitz and Munich&Dachau - The Holocaust in the Films and Literature of Arnošt Lustig

Students of The Holocaust in the Films and Literature of Arnošt Lustig course, along with their Professor Josef (Pepi) Lustig, had a unique opportunity to travel and participate in specially designed overnight class excursions. Some of them have shared their trip experience with us.

'The best experience of Pepi Lustig’s class was the excursion in Munich, to the Dachau Concentration Camp. This experience was the most touching because it was the first trip we went on as a group, so we really got to bond as a class and with Professor Lustig. His knowledge about the history of the Holocaust is unlimited, and it was an honor to listen to him speak about Dachau and the atrocities committed there. All excursions were especially touching because our class truly got a different view of the Holocaust and the camps, which is why I think this class is so special and important.' - Gabriella Hagedorn, DePauw University

The first overnight excursion was to Munich and Dachau. The group of students visited Munich as the first stop of the excursion and had a guided tour of the historical Nazi parts of the city. The guide was very well prepared with multiple documents, pictures and maps which all helped students have an even better experience of visiting the historical places. A part of the excursion was also a visit of the Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism documenting and addressing the crimes of the Nazi dictatorship and their origins, manifestations and consequences right up to the present day. On the following day, the group led by professor Lustig visited the first concentration camp at Dachau. The Nazi government started the first concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, in March of 1933. It has been renovated and preserved as a memorial to those who suffered and died there between 1933 and its liberation in 1945. Dachau initially housed political prisoners; however, it eventually evolved into a death camp where thousands of Jews died from malnutrition, disease and overwork or were executed.

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Upon arriving in Dachau, the group was faced with weather that was all too fitting for the events that took place there in the past: with a fog so thick you could not see the building the group was walking to, cool breeze and sky so gloomy one could not help but feel the despair that still lingered in the air. Nevertheless, the students appreciated this weather even more since it gave them a very real glimpse into the suffering of the inmates that were once imprisoned there.

The second overnight excursion to Terezín and Auschwitz was pretty impressive as well. Students gained even more in depth knowledge about the Terezín work camp during a discussion with the Professor and also his aunt (on the day following the excursion). The next day in Auschwitz was full of moving adventures, from a visit of the Auschwitz concentration camp (where Professor Lustig's father himself was imprisoned for several years), walking around the Nazi Party headquarters to the visit of the concentration/extermination camp at Birkenau.

As students have said, visiting Dachau, Terezín and Auschwitz was an eye-opening experience in so many ways. For instance, Mrs. Hanna (Professor Lustig's aunt) provided our students with countless invaluable insights into what life in the camp was actually like since she had to endure the horrors of life in the camp herself. It is indispensable to visit the sites where these crimes against humanity were committed in order to understand the full extent of the Holocaust. All excursions with professor Lustig were a powerful experience.

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02/27/2018

SPRING 2018 Issue I

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Getting to know the Czech Republic

During the first weeks of Spring 2018 students' stay in the Czech Republic, CIEE Prague staff organized various different activities which enabled students to familiarize themselves with Czech culture, as it is crucial for students to learn about their host country so that they feel and can adapt better in terms of the culture shock.

Students had the opportunity to learn more about the Czech Republic in two lectures delivered by CIEE professors which were held during the on-site Orientation - Czech History Intro and Czech Republic Inside Out. Both of these lectures provided our students with the necessary background information in terms of Czech history and culture. For many students it was actually their very first time hearing about the creation of our country and our unique traditions and customs.

CIEE Prague staff also prepared an exceptional interactive competition for its students, as part of which they had the chance to test their knowledge related to the Czech Republic. An online orientation quiz was published at the end of the first week and students could compete against each other in terms of the facts covered during the Orientation. The winners received unique goodie bags full of Czech sweets and souvenirs.

Klea

1st place – Klea Kalia (Barnard College)

Mary

2nd place – Mary Koontz (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

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3rd place – Sam Rosenthal (Ursinus College)

Another way of introducing students to the Czech Republic was through an active exploration. At the end of the second week of the on-site Orientation day excursions outside Prague, as part of which students visited other regions of the country, were organized. The Czech Republic is often called the "land of castles" since it has the most castles and chateaus per square mile in the world. It is something that Czechs are very proud of and they enjoy spending their free time visiting these spectacular buildings. On the other hand, breweries and beer industry in general are key constituents of the Czech economy and beer itself plays an important part in Czech culture as well. During the day excursions students thus visited one of our beautiful castles and also had a tour of a local brewery. During the castle tours, they learned how the aristocrats lived in the past and also discovered how beer is made and what role it plays in the Czech economy. There were two different destinations students could choose from - the Sychrov Castle and the Svijany Brewery or the Křivoklát Castle and the Krušovice Brewery.

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A lot more activities enabling students to learn more about the Czech Republic will be organized during the semester and CIEE Prague truly believes that students will consider the Czech Republic to be their second home by the end of their study abroad adventure.

 

04/03/2017

Spring 2017, Issue II

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Faculty-led and Custom programs are becoming increasingly popular and Prague has become one of the top travel destinations. In 2014, CIEE Study Centre in Prague hosted its first and only faculty let program of that year. The number of these short term programs has rapidly grown over the past two years and twelve programs are scheduled to take place in the capital of the Czech Republic in 2017.

The Faculty-led programs season of 2017 kicked off at the beginning of March with a one week program called “Macroeconomics and the legacy of Communism in the Czech Republic” for Marymount University. 18 students and 2 faculty members participated in the program.

As the group had only one week in Prague, the agenda was carefully planned to ensure they could see, learn and experience as much as possible. The entire group had the opportunity to visit unique organizations as well as to meet interesting members of the Czech society.  Among the organizations our group visited was Libri Prohibiti, a library which has a unique collection of samizdat literature. During this site visit the group also met Jiří Guntorád, who is the founding member of this organization and who used to publish books that were forbidden by communist authorities and supported local writers during communism in the Czech Republic.

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A big part of the program were guest lectures with local professors and scholars. The topics of these lectures mainly concentrated on political, historical and economical aspects of the Czechoslovakia during the communist era. Nonetheless, the guest lectures also included current topics, such as the Brexit.

The group also travelled outside of Prague to the small town of Příbram, where they visited the Vojna Lešetice Memorial – a former labor camp. They learned about the dark side of Czech history, when political prisoners were forced to work in uranium mines during the communist era. At the end of the trip the group also visited Svatá Hora, a beautiful Baroque monastery where pilgrims from all around the Czech Republic travel to as it is believed to have magical healing powers.

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CIEE team also planned various extracurricular activities for Marymount students. One of them was a high culture event at the National Theatre. Students dressed up for the cultural evening and attended an opera performance, Die Kluge/Der Mond, which was based on the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers.

Another extracurricular activity which proved to be a great success was a cooking lesson. The event took place in the Study Center and all students, who were divided into smaller groups, learned to cook some of the traditional Czech meals. On the menu were delicious potato pancakes, potato salad, rum balls and open sandwiches. The group was joined by a local student from the Charles University who taught them to cook like a local. Students could not only learn to cook Czech specialties, but they also had the opportunity to interact with locals of their age.

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The first faculty let program of 2017 has proven to be a great success and the Prague team is now preparing for a busy summer, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next group of students.

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11/26/2013

Terezín

Written by Kathy Shield (Tufts University)

To write this post, I really have to start a few years ago: the last time I was in Prague. My grandparents brought our whole family here to explore the city they had been born in, to learn a bit of the family history, to visit Europe, and to have a fun family vacation. Although I was old enough to understand some of why we came, I think I missed a lot of the family history they wanted to share with us, and that is one of the many many reasons I decided to come to Prague.

When we were here, we went all over the city, visiting typical tourist spots, but also Babi’s high school and the house Deda was born in and the park they both played in. We also visited the Pinkas Synagogue, which is famous for the names written on the walls. Not just any names, but names of the 80,000 Czech Jews lost during the war. The Synagogue is dedicated to these people whose lives were lost. Some were lost in the sense that they were killed; some were lost in the sense that the last written record of them are the Nazi deportation lists these names are copied off of. I remember the wall of Prague Jews, the red last names and the gold stars separating families. And I remember Deda standing there, staring at the wall for what seemed like an eternity. I remember the single tear that rolled down his cheek before he hustled us out, saying we’d spent enough time with him showing us around the city, and that we deserved an ice cream.

My grandparents said that they’d always wanted to take the family to Prague and had just been waiting for all us grandkids to be old enough. Maybe that was true. But I can’t help but think that they knew they were reaching the end of their ability to travel across the ocean. They were old enough that crossing the city was a long, slow process, but they were determined to share some history with us. I respect them immensely for that. But I also realize that I witnessed something unique that day. Not just the tear, though it was the only tear I’ve ever seen on Deda’s face. But also that I got to see the last time my grandfather ever visited his mother and brother. Because, when there is no body to be buried, the closest thing family gets to a grave is the name written on the wall in memorandum.

Back to present day. My Jewish history class took a trip to Lidice and Terezin. Lidice is the town completely destroyed by the Nazis in revenge for the assassination by Czechs of SS Officer Heidrich. The Nazis killed every man, and sent every woman and child to concentration camps. They bombed and burned the town to the ground, and even dug up every body in the cemetery. Not a single Jew lived in the town. Terezin is the fortress town the Nazis turned into a Jewish ghetto/concentration camp/transport camp. Nearly every Czech Jew was sent through Terezin on his way to concentration and work camps.

Needless to say, it was an emotional day for everyone that went. Its hard to face the reality of what happened. Even when you know the facts, the emotion of actually being there always hits harder than you expect.

Ever since the aforementioned trip to the Pinkas Synagogue a few years ago, I’ve always looked for my grandfather’s immediate family’s names in lists of names. It doesn’t matter where I am. (even if the list has nothing to do with the Holocaust, I look at the names.) And, honestly, I’ve stopped expecting to see any names I know.

We were walking around a museum in Terezin, filled with stories and pictures the kids drew while they lived in the town. Parents and other adults did the best they could to make life in Terezin as normal as possible, giving children an education and the ability to express themselves and a soccer field to play on when they had the strength. I walked into another room, and am surrounded on all four sides by off-white walls covered in names and dates. The names of children sent to Terezin and their birthdates.

Like any other list, I scan for the names. Like any other list, I expect to see absolutely nothing.

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Knocked the wind right out of me, and I literally doubled over. There it was, the name I’d been always looking for but desperately hoping to never see. I was sliding down the wall, gasping for breath, and I heard a comforting voice, but I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t care and I couldn’t think.

 

The next five minutes are a blur. I don’t know what anyone said, I don’t know what really happened. Then we were watching a propaganda movie filmed by the Nazis near the end of the war, as an attempt to convince the Allies that the camps were good for the Jews. There were young boys playing soccer, watering plants in the garden, reading books, playing cards.

May 31, 1928.

He was somewhere around 13, 14, 15 years old when he is in Terezin.

The Rabbi says children were sent at age 14 to Auschwitz; children under 16 were killed upon arrival. Was this his fate?

Young boys of that age were involved in producing plays and publishing magazines filled with poems and stories and drawings. Did he help with one of the many magazines we have seen over the course of the days, on walls of museums?

The able bodied were forced to do hard labor – digging trenches to redirect the river, building Nazi weaponry in underground mines, digging mass graves for their friends and family. Is this how he finished his life?

Thousands of men, women, and children never made it out of Terezin because of the deplorable living conditions and high disease rates?Did he die in his mother’s arms? His father’s? Did they die in his arms?

Did they ever see each other in Terezin?

A few hundred children survived. A tree stands in the Terezin cemetery where the descendants of these children meet annually. We don’t actually know what happened. Would I find distant relatives of mine there?

Since our trip to Terezin, our class has had the opportunity to listen to two Holocaust survivors. One, Pavel Stransky, defied fate multiple times and managed to survive for almost three years in Auschwitz. Both he and the artist Helga Weiss-Hošková went through Terezin. Both survivors had phenomenal stories. They were, quite simply, lucky to survive – neither could truly explain why or how it happened. It seemed, honestly, like neither had even managed to figure out why they had been allowed to live while their friends and family survived. And both told their stories as if it wasn’t something that had actually happened to them, as if they had no personal experience with it at all. I can only assume that they have put their emotions in a box, separate from their memories, in order to share their memories and stories with us.

And yet, somehow, I am hit by the emotion of it while they sit stoic. It is as if they have passed the emotion onwards, in order that the next generation may remember. In fact, Pavel explicitly said that his main job now, as a survivor, is to pass his story on to the next generation so that the stories and memories may live on forever in our collective memory. I only wish that my grandfather could have added his story too. I don’t even know if he knew the story himself; it is possible that he never found out at all.

And even if I do find out someday, I know there is no way to really understand what my family went through. The reality of the history of the Holocaust is incomprehensible, but I know that it is a part of my history that I know nothing about. I don’t know if I want to know, and that’s an issue I’m going to be struggling with for at least the next few months; maybe the rest of my life.