25 May 2006

A quick note from Prague

Quote of the day from Jerry, Amy's dad:

"Remember when mom and dad said they walked 'five miles uphill both ways in two feet of snow' to get to school? Well, I'm here to tell you, we walk 10 miles up stairs both ways every day, no matter where we go!"

(apparently, Dad doesn't dig stairs...)

We are sitting at a computer in our hotel in Prague now. Except for our "Trail of Tears" on the train today, the day has been pretty good. (We didn't even know we had assigned seats until we got to Dresden, where a bunch of American kids told us that we had to move. Between getting on a full car to begin with and then getting kicked out of our seats, we basically wandered the whole length of the train while carrying luggage. Not fun.) On the bright side, getting kicked out of our first set of seats worked out better than expected because a really noisy group of adults with whistles filled up half of that car after we left.

Berlin was great, except for a lack of good customer service from Original Berlin Walks. (Don't use this company!) We saw a lot of the major sites in the city, and took a day trip out to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp about 45 minutes north of the city. One thing we've learned is that a concentration camp is actually a work camp, i.e. the prisoners had to do hard labor and weren't necessarily put to death. Of course, a lot of them died from the brutal conditions, but they weren't marched into gas chambers in large groups like we've all heard about. That type of stuff happened at Auschwitz in Poland. (They still had an execution building, but most of the men who stayed in that camp died from beatings, torture, starvation, exposure, overwork, being shot for following one order while breaking another, etc.)

There is MUCH more to come, including pictures, of course. Right now, I just want to wash the cigarette smoke smell out of my hair and get a good night's sleep. Cheers!


At 26/5/06 20:51, Anonymous Muriel said...

Happy to read that you are having a good time (when you're not actually travelling!).

Concentration camps were indeed camps where prisoners served as forced labor. The Nazis had also established extermination camps and it's in those that prisoners were automatically put to death.

Say hi to your mom and dad!

At 27/5/06 03:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't mean to quibble or argue about the meaning of the term 'concentration camp' but the Simon Wiesenthal Center defines a concentration camp as a place where prisoners were concentrated in one place and seems to lump labor camps and extermination camps together under this definition. So wouldn't it be more appropriate to say that concentration camps weren't SOLELY extermination camps? What did you read or learn that distiguished between concentration camps and extermination camps?

I am extremely interested in this now because Lisa's father just told me the story of his mother and father and their time at one of the labor camps. Of course I had 1.78 million questions for him, but it was fascinating. One interesting fact I learned is that Lisa's grandfather only survived his experience in the camp because each night, local Germans would sneak down to the camp and throw food to him over the fences (of course at the risk of death for everyone involved). In the end Lisa's grandfather had a certain amount of respect and admiration for the German people and always made a clear distinction between Germans and Nazis.


At 27/5/06 11:04, Blogger croust said...

Wow, Ryan, that's an incredible story! Another one you might be interested in is a book by Martin Goldsmith called The Inextinguishable Symphony about his family's experience in Nazi Germany. Both his parents were Jewish musicians that played in the Judische Kulturbund and the book does a great job of portraying the day-to-day challenges faced by Jews at the time.

My take on the concentration vs. extermination camps is that there was a distinction made between the two, but then that distinction got blurred around 1943, when pretty much every camp became an extermination one.

It's worth noting that Amy and her parents visited Sachsenhausen, the original concentration camp, which was first intended as a forced labor camp (later the story there turned much grimmer). They were also talking about visiting Therezin (aka Theresienstadt) outside Prague--this would be an interesting camp to see, since it was the model camp that the Nazi's allowed international observers to visit. It was always a forced labor camp and many artists and musicians were sent there and allowed to create a really vibrant cultural life, even in the oppression of a concentration camp. The one camp I've visited, Dachau, is another story. It's smaller than the other two, mainly since that's where the gas chamber was invented. The visit is chilling and moving, and I've never forgotten it.

At 30/5/06 12:36, Blogger amy7252 said...

Our guide at Sachsenhausen said that the distinction between concentration camps and death camps got blurred because Auchwitz ended up being both. (i.e. If you could work, you went to the work part of the camp; if you couldn't, or if you were female or a child, you went straight to the gas chamber). But, she said that most camps were originally built *either* as work camps or as death camps. Of course, people died in both. Toward the end of the war, when the Germans realized that they weren't going to win and they wouldn't be able to use the people in the labor camps as slaves to build the dream state of Germania, they started doing mass executions while still using a lot of the prisoners for hard labor.

I'll try to do a post only on Sachsenhausen once I get my pictures sorted out, so that I can explain in more depth. It was the "model" labor camp, not a mass extermination camp.



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