Chandler man and son explore The Holocaust’s horrors SanTan Sun News

Chandler man and son explore The Holocaust’s horrors

June 19th, 2018 | by SanTan Sun News
Chandler man and son explore The Holocaust’s horrors
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By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

 

As a Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn during World War II, Bill Stone heard many stories about the Holocaust.

But a trip to Poland with his son, Daniel, in April gave Chandler man a clearer view of its horrors.

A previous trip many years ago to Israel with his wife, Cathy, had prepared Bill for the Poland visit. While in Israel, the couple had visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

In Poland, Bill and Daniel toured former concentration and death camps, as well as Jewish burial sites during the International March of the Living – an annual educational program that brings people from around the world together to Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust, as well as to review the roots of prejudice, hatred and intolerance.

A retired attorney, Bill, 80, and Daniel, 29, a student pursuing a master’s degree in finance at London Business School, said the trip was emotional and meaningful. Daniel lived in Chandler for almost 15 years and graduated from Basha High School.

“I knew pretty much that it was going to center on a lot of those camps, death camps,” Bill said. “You see a lot of gruesome kind of things. You can’t deny that they did exist. The whole point is to make sure what happened during the world war doesn’t happen again. Being in Israel gave me some insight into what kind of experience Poland was going to be.”

He and Daniel toured the sites in Warsaw, Kraków and other cities with a United Kingdom delegation of about 260 people spread out into many buses for the travel over several days.

The program culminated in a huge group walking about 3 kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day — Yom Hashoah.

Initially, Auschwitz was a detention center for political prisoners but it transformed into a network of camps where Jewish people and others thought to be enemies of the Nazi state were killed, often in gas chambers, or they were used as slave labor.

Holocaust survivors accompanied the visitors on the tours in Poland and shared their stories of survival.

Bill said visiting Auschwitz provided the “most gory kind of feeling.” At the site, he said about 40,000 pairs of shoes from concentration camp prisoners were displayed.

“You just shake your head in amazement,” Bill said. “We were actually in parts of the camp where people were gassed to death. Auschwitz had a reputation for being one of the worst camps people found themselves in.”

Walking through the gas chambers, where prisoners at Auschwitz had died was “overwhelming,” Daniel said, adding:

“It’s very difficult to see what you’re seeing. I think everybody on this trip kind of tried to not think about what they were seeing and compartmentalize what they were seeing as a way of sort of protecting yourself from the horror of what you are seeing.

“It’s hard to understand how this happened…as my dad mentioned when we were there that it’s now sacred ground. I think he’s right that it’s a place…where hundreds of thousands, millions of Jewish people lost their lives. You’re also looking at where these people, where their final moments were.”

While many of the structures and artifacts were “well-maintained” at Auschwitz, it was a different story at the Belzec death camp, Daniel said.

“All that’s there is the memorial that was built,” he said. “It’s a very sad reason why there’s nothing there.

“Essentially, the Nazis considered themselves to be successful in exterminating all of the Jewish people in the part of Poland that they had set out to murder. They destroyed it, built the farm to cover up what had happened there.”

Besides visiting the death and concentration camps, the March of the Living participants also visited the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery.

Jewish people who died before World War II and victims of the Warsaw Ghetto are buried there. The Germans decreed the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, requiring all Jewish residents in Warsaw to move into a designated area.

German officials forced ghetto residents to live in an area of 1.3 square miles with many people residing in each room. The Warsaw Ghetto residents were not rationed enough food and from 1940 to mid-1942, more than 83,000 Jews died from starvation and disease, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery has some mass graves “because the sheer number of people who died in the ghetto, it was overwhelming for the Jewish people to give them a proper burial,” Daniel said.

“That’s one of the things that stood out to me,” he said. “You think about how the Nazis basically didn’t honor anybody’s human rights when they were alive, but none of the human rights that we expect were given to Jewish people on their death because they weren’t given a proper burial. The Jewish people weren’t able to bury their deceased according to the religious customs.”

Bill, Daniel and the delegation also visited Zbylitowska Góra, a forest with mass graves where the Nazis murdered and buried Jewish people, as well as the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

That museum revealed what life was like for Jewish people starting from before the Holocaust and during the Holocaust.

Daniel said a highlight of the trip for him was visiting the Warsaw Zoo, a scientific operation where the zookeepers saved many Jewish people by letting them hide there. The contributions of the zookeepers were the subject of the movie and book “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”

The group also visited another place tied to a couple who helped Jewish people during World War II. The tourists went to the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II in Markowa.

The museum was named for Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, who gave shelter to eight Jewish people. The Nazis discovered they were hiding them and killed the Jewish people, as well as Józef and Wiktoria and their children.

The Ulmas were posthumously given the “Righteous Among the Nations” title in 1995.

The main goal of the museum is to show the heroism of Poles who helped the Jews during German occupation, risking their lives and their families’ lives.

“We didn’t spend much time there but I think it was one place where I wish we had more time to spend because I think it’s a very important part of the story of the Holocaust,” Daniel said. “It was a very interesting museum.”

He said on the last day of tour, during the walk, he felt a “mixture of emotions.”

“On the day of the march, everyone is in very good spirits but it’s almost a discomforting feeling to be happy in Auschwitz, a place of death. You have discomfort…at the same time, the march at least for me, personally it was a very uplifting feeling,” Daniel said.

“You recognize when you’re there, the fact that all these people are here, it represents that the Nazis weren’t successful and ultimately failed at what they were attempting to do. It represents the fact that the Jewish people are still here; not only are they still here, they’re thriving.”

Daniel said he met people from Los Angeles, as well as other parts of Europe and Japan during the walk on the tour’s last day. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Israel’s President Reuven “Ruvi” Rivlin also took part in the walk.

Bill said he does not believe any of his relatives were victims of the Holocaust, though relatives on his father’s side had lived in Russia before immigrating to the United States.

“When I was born, the world war was maybe two years old,” Bill said. “I heard a lot about it. It’s certainly something you wouldn’t want to go through. Treating people in a racist fashion is just not acceptable.”

He and his wife, Cathy, who is Catholic, and their family moved to Arizona 14 years ago. Bill said he finds people friendly and accepting of different cultures in Chandler, too.

“We’re just one of the happy people transferred to Arizona,” he said. “Everybody seems to be on the same page — friendship and good relations.”

Cathy is pleased her husband and son visited Poland for the Holocaust commemoration.

“I thought it was a great thing for the two of them to do together as father and son,” she said. “I saw some research and half the millennials do not even know about the Holocaust.”

Cathy said she hopes to attend the march in the future but couldn’t this year because of work.

While in Poland, Daniel and Bill had a chance to talk to Holocaust survivor Arie Shilansky, who had been in at least one concentration camp and sent on a death march. He was originally from Lithuania.

“We were able to talk with Arie throughout the entire week and learn from what he went through,” Daniel said. “He was a very important part of the educational experience.”

He added when asked how he survived the atrocities of the Holocaust, Shilansky said “there was no question about whether or not you would continue to fight for your life; you would.”

“Everybody asked him questions,” Bill said. “He was happy to do it. It was very impactful. He was there with his grandson.”

Bill, Daniel and other experts say it is important to hear stories about the Holocaust from survivors as they get older before they pass on.

Ensuring future generations are told details about what happened during the Holocaust is critical, Tim Langille, Arizona State University lecturer in Jewish studies and religious studies, said.

“With survivors dying off, they’re getting older…education is what’s going to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive,” Langille said. “That’s what we’re going to have. That’s why people like Steven Spielberg have tried to gather as many memories as possible.

“Obviously, we’re living in kind of bizarre times with a lot of conspiracy theories and denial over many different kind of social phenomena. We’re seeing a noticeable spike in anti-Semitism again. Remembering the Holocaust is particularly important right now.”

Langille, co-chairman of the American Academy of Religion’s Religion, Memory, History Group, added the March of the Living is also in reaction to Jewish people being forced onto death marches during the Holocaust.

“It’s in response to the death marches when they emptied out the death camps and people were starving and dying from the conditions or too sick or too slow and being shot on the spot,” he said. “Having people do a March of the Living is kind of in response to these death marches. “

Visits to Poland for the March of the Living and other historically significant locations are important for establishing identity, Langille said.

“Memory is important,” he said. “There’s obviously ritual associated with these kind of visits. The March of the Living is a response to not only the destruction of the European Jews but also the death marches in that it represents the perseverance and survival of Jews, Jewish culture, and Jewish identities.”

Dr. Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D., with Sun Lakes Jewish Congregation and National Chaplain of Jewish War Veterans-USA, said, “None of us will ever comprehend the horrific chapter in humanities history referred to as the Holocaust.”

“Even those who lived through this nightmare cannot understand how human beings can be brought to such a level of monstrous proportions,” Wiener said, adding:

“Each year we stand and remember those who have no candles lit for them on the anniversary of their death, or prayers recited as their names are not mentioned because no one really knows all the names.

“There are no monuments erected to mark the spot where once lived people who were sacrificed for the sake of hatred.  Their unmarked graves bear witness to the disgrace that is the legacy of man’s darkest hour. All of this happened because to be different in any way, was the mortal sin of depravity.”

He said everyone must remember the Holocaust so nothing like it will happen again.

“More than sixty-million people from all walks of life, all corners of the globe, were also sacrificed on the altar of indifference,” he continued.

“That is why, we should always and forever, remember the blood soaked earth, the stench from the ovens of mass destruction, and the cries of the helpless. Each time we remember, we resurrect a soul, which symbolizes the re-birth of values and benevolence and blessing.”

A 2013 Pew Research Center study revealed 73 percent of U.S. Jews surveyed said “remembering the Holocaust” is “essential to being Jewish.”

Visiting places where trauma and death occurred has become a type of tourism, Langille said.

He said a book called “Death Tourism: Disaster Sites as Recreational Landscape” talks about how Auschwitz, Hiroshima in Japan, the Cambodian Killing Fields, mass graves of Rwanda and the World Trade Center in New York City, places of violent deaths, have become part of tourism.

“That’s been an issue: what’s the best way to represent a trauma” Langille said. “How do you do it, what’s appropriate. There is a commercial aspect to these sites, which is actually quite interesting. How is memory and trauma mediated by tourism, travel agents and guide books?”

Since it started in 1988, more than 260,000 alumni from 52 countries have walked from Auschwitz to Birkenau as part of the International March of the Living. Information: motl.org.

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