Hidden Childhood

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Hidden Childhood

OFMARIAANTONIA’s 2019 Photography Challenge called for one photo to be on the theme of “hidden.”  At the National Holocaust Centre and Museum (Beth Shalom), near Laxton, Nottinghamshire has several thought provoking and/or moving sculpture pieces.  One of these is “Hidden Children.”  While Anne Frank is known by many as a child hidden during the Holocaust, she was by no means alone in this.   Thousands of children were successfully (and sadly unsuccessfully) hidden from the Nazis and their collaborators.   Some were secreted away to attics, false walls, or basements; while others sought refuge in forests or remote farmsteads.  But they were nonetheless “hidden.”

This photo is of the statue, and the artist has done an amazing job in capturing the feels.  Look at the hyper-vigilant gaze on the face of the figure on the left, and the sadness (almost weeping quality) of the one on the right.  This was not simple childhood “hide and seek,” because in this hiding the outcome was a matter of life and death.

Padre

 

Unremembered

Horse, Cob, Piebald, Animal, Equestrian, Equine, Mane

Image by Penstones from Pixabay 

It was late summer and a refreshing summer breeze gently blew. The Roma family sat near a clearing at the roadside, their piebald pony munching grass as they themselves ate breakfast.  They did not hear the approach of the SS patrol from the forest, nor expect the burst of automatic fire.  They could not know of the burning of their wagon home, or that their precious pony would become the property of a Ukrainian peasant after the beast had bolted. No more laughter or music would flow from their campfires, nor would any ever again lovingly call their names.

(99 Words)

Padre

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge

The Chocolate of Leime

 

Image result for The mascot Mark Kurzem

npr.org

The trucks were gathered near the clock tower in Riga.  Entire families, men, women, and children, stood with the meagre belongings which they were allowed to carry awaiting their turn to board.  Some of the children were unsettled and began the fuss and cry.  A Latvian SS officer called over his unit’s mascot, a uniformed boy of less than ten.  He was given chocolates to distribute to the doomed children, with the intent of calming them.  What could be more comforting than another child sharing sweets?  The gesture worked and the “transportation” continued.

(94 words)

Padre

Based on a true event in Riga during the Holocaust.  While there is still uncertainty as to Alex Kurzem’s heritage, the fact remains that he was the mascot of Battalion 18 of the Latvian SS, and was later made a corporal.  He was also the subject of a Nazi propaganda film.

WHAT PEGMAN SAW – Riga, Latvia

Not All Darkness Is Night

 

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Buda Castle At Night

Not All Darkness Is Night

Night for many is full of terrors,

Things that go bump – you can’t see,

At night we escape under our blankets,

Awaiting a new morn to see.

 

Some darkness, however, exists in daylight,

Terrors threatening before your very face,

The darkness of hearts – the “night” of hate,

Sheds a gloom – that even the sun cannot erase.

 

Padre

'Shoes on the Danube Bank' (5)

Shoes Memorial © Padre’s Ramblings

The poem above is inspired by two photos I took on a visit to Budapest.  The moon over the Buda Castle was beautiful, and night for all of its risks and childhood terrors, can nonetheless be beautiful.  The second image is of the memorial to the Jews of Budapest killed on the banks of the Danube.  It remembers the  800 Jews, who were shot, and their bodies dumped into the Danube by the Arrow Cross Militia.  It is one of the sad reminders of the collaboration of non-Germans in the horror of the Holocaust.

OFMARIAANTONIA Prompt: Nighttime

 

 

The Spoon: A Life

Image result for heart-shaped spoon handle

It was summer’s day in 1740, and a beautiful day for a wedding. Anna Skłodowska scanned the array of presents which had been brought to start her off in married life.  One piece stood out to her, a pewter spoon which shone a brilliant silver.  It was a little smaller than a soup spoon, and while it matched none of the others that would serve in her kitchen, it would take pride of place both as one made especially for her wedding day, and also because of the beautiful handle which ended in a stylised heart.

 

It was crisp autumn’s day in 1790, Katrina Kowalczyk with sorrow, but some measure of joy opened the small parcel sent as her inheritance on the death of her “Babciu.”  It contained a small hand written recipe book, and a heart-handled pewter spoon, which many of the culinary formulas were measured in.  It would make for many happy meal, and even happier memories.

 

It was a harsh winter in 1812.  Napoleon’s armies had ravaged the lands, and food was short.  Many had barely enough to live on.  Katrina opened her door to a feeble knock, and found a young man collapsed in the snow before her threshold.  She dragged him into the house and placed him before the fire.  He was far too weak to lift his head, much less a cup.  She did her best to prop him up and devotedly lifted sips of warm broth to her grandson’s lips from a heart-pommeled spoon.

 

It was in May of 1870 that eight-year-old Jan Piotrowski made a discovery while playing with his toy soldiers at the roots of the old apple tree.  He was digging a small trench for his men when he found that he was not the first to have done so at the place.  There, only a few centimetres down, were five lead soldiers in Russian uniform.  They must have been forty or fifty years old, and along with them was a tarnished grey spoon with a heart on its end, which must have been used as a kind of shovel.

 

It was May 1940 and the family was told to pack their belongings quickly, as they were to be relocated to the East.  Precious family photos, a few personal mementos, and the silver-ware, including an odd little pewter spoon, were place in a case which marked with the family name.  They then placed the case in the row with the others, and clambered up into the waiting truck.

 

It was November 1943, and Novak Staszek, number 23xxx, a carpenter in the camp was given a gift by his friends in the metal-workers hut.  It was a small ring baring the initials N. S. made from a piece of spoon handle.  “The stylised heart motif between the letters”, they said, “meant life.”  And it was to him life, he was no number, he was a man.  He was alive, and would remain so long after the Nazi terror had passed.

Padre

Sunday Writing Prompt “Everyday Objects”

Inspired by the true story of Czesław Ludwiczak’s ring from Auschwitz see “I’m not a number”

This Seat Has Been Taken

 

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Oslo Chair image by Padre’s Ramblings

This Seat Has Been Taken

Has this seat been taken?

May I please take a chair?

Are you sitting alone?

Is anyone else there?

 

No the seat is vacant,

Its occupant no longer there,

Gone the lively chatter,

Now only their empty chair.

 

Has this seat been taken?

It seems nobody’s there.

But this seat has been taken,

By the memory of those who care.

 

Maria Antonia posted a list of 52 prompts for weekly photos for the year.   I have tried to link this not just with a picture but with a poem.  This weeks prompt is: “Take a seat.”

The photo from Oslo, Norway is of a memorial sculpture in the city’s port.  It commemorates the empty places or “seats” left in Norway’s society by the deportation of the Jewish community during the Nazi occupation.

Padre

For a fuller more prosaic discussion of the memorial see: Empty Chairs

MARIA ANTONIA 2019 Photography Challenge

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

 

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image: Padre

Reflections on the Birkenau Sky

I stand alone.

Above me -rich blue of heaven

Below – a place

Of horror I could but feign imagine

 

For Wiesel – this place was night

Even with the blueness of its sky

The darkness of its past

I cannot, nor should any, deny

 

I stand alone.

Above me – rich blue of sky

Below – I offer a tear and a prayer

In memory of those who died

***

For the last decade or more, I have been a Holocaust educator. My training and research has taken me to many of the darkest places in human history. On one such study trip I had the opportunity to wander the perimeter fence at the Birkenau site at Auschwitz. As I did, I remembered Elie Wiesel’s poem, Night.  

“Never shall I forget that night,
that first night in the camp,
which has turned my life into one long night,
seven times cursed and seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the faces of the children,
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky.

Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever.
Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me,
for all eternity, of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God
and my soul and turned my dreams to dust.
Never shall I forget those things,
even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself.
Never.”

I was there seventy years later under the same sky.  The place itself, no longer a killing centre, but a museum of its evil past.  It was the idea of a silent sky which I pondered. Wiesel, I believe was using dual meaning here. The sky was silent, serene even, despite the horror below; but also God did not act.  Heaven was quiet.

It is here that I beg to differ with the late professor. I do not, and cannot believe God was unaffected by the scenes below. Even such unspeakable evil, was of man’s making not His. We are our own worst enemies when we abuse free will.

My poem is an honest reflection of my own powerlessness in the face of the above. All I have to offer is prayers and tears.  And these continue to go out, not just to those who perished there, but to their surviving loved ones as well.

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image: Padre

 

Padre

A Visit to Breendonk, Belgium

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I have noted before that I am a Holocaust educator. As part of my ongoing researches, I have visited many of the sites associated with the dark events of the Nazi era. One of these is the Belgian fortress of Breendonk.

Breendonk was constructed as a military fortification in the years immediately before the First World War. But it is more notable as a Nazi prison during the Second. Over three and a half thousand people were imprisoned, or transported through the facility.  Many of these later died in concentration camps deeper within the Reich.

On visiting the fortress today, it is notable that it is an official Belgian memorial and museum. It is imposing, and as one approaches the main gates over the moat, you are met with the eerie sign which translated says anyone passing that point will be shot.

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The inner gates are thick, and one moves through a tunnel to the inner precincts. Here rows of cells can be found, along with latrine blocks and dining facilities.  There is a solitary cell section, and it is a moving memorial marking out the suffering committed there.imageedit_3_7980646651 (1).jpg

The guard’s dining area is troubling.  In Holocaust education, it is accepted practice to not glorify the perpetrators in any way.  But the mess hall still bears the death head ans swastika logo on the wall, prominent over the head table.

The outer quarters in inner wall area are bordered by the moat. This area while peaceful, and somewhat beautiful today still have their tragic past as a backdrop.  The watchtowers along the moat are reminders of this.

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It was a moving few hours as I explored the facility.  The town surrounding has some cafes, and things to do, but the real thing to see is the museum and grounds.

Padre

Vilnius Day 2: Holocaust Links

 

Paneriai Memorial (ww2mus)

Paneriai (Ponar) Memorial

On my second day in Vilnius, I did research into the Holocaust, and visited sites associated with it.  First stop was Ponary Wood, the site of the killing of an estimated 100,000 people.  Paneriai is easy to access from the main train station in Vilnius and the rail journey is very brief.  There is then a short walk from the village into to woods and the memorial site.

There are multiple monuments and memorials here marking the deaths of Jews, Lithuanians, Poles, and Soviets.  Many of these are from the Soviet era, and make more of a political statement than a religious one.  This does not mean there is no acknowledgement of the 70,000 + Jews who died here.

Ponary Pit

One of the many grave pits in Ponary

 

There is a small museum on the site, and the rail which winds through the memorial park, takes visitors past the large pits, and the various memorials.  This is a moving place to visit, and the grey monuments, and the darker history, stand in contrast to the peaceful woodland surroundings.

 

After several hours visiting the woods and memorials, I made my way back to Vilnius. On arriving at the station, taxis became my mode of transport. My objectives were the Holocaust Museum (The Green House), and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum.  Along the route I saw the KGB Museum, the same building had also been used as the Gestapo Headquarters.

Vilnius Gestapo (and later KGB) Headquarters

Vilnius Gestapo (and Later KGB) Headquarters

The Jewish Museum has exhibits detailing the rich Jewish culture of “The Jerusalem of the North” as Napoleon dubbed it.  It is a really useful resource in understanding the scope of the events of the Holocaust, and “what was lost.”

Chijune Sugihara Memorial (2)

Chijune Sugihara Memorial

The Green House Museum is a small but information packed venue. It has exhibits, but also really important documents about the ghettoisation, and later killing of the Jewish population of the city.  I read several really interesting documents and articles, one of which was a testimony to the doctors and officials of the ghetto, as it illustrated that the public health provision within the ghetto was superior to that of the city as a whole.

Outside the green House is the memorial to the Japanese diplomat Chijune Sugihara.  This man took it upon himself to issue exit visas to as many Jews as he could, before he was relieved of his post.  Thousands of Lithuanian and Polish Jews managed to flee with his assistance.

Vilnius proved to be a really great place to visit.  I enjoyed the Baltic culture, architecture and food.  I managed to do one of my favourite travel activities and visited beautiful churches and shrines.  And, I was able to continue my research into the Holocaust, and to become even more familiar to the richness of the Jewish culture of the region.

Padre

Jewish Museum link

Yad Vashem

I had the honour of studying at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  This is an evocative campus to study in.  The bright white and honey coloured stones, and the brilliant Israeli sunshine stand in contrast to what is remembered and taught there.

The central memorial and museum is one of the world’s great collections of archival history and artifacts of the Holocaust.  The millions of visitors are given heartrending and thought provoking testimonies by the survivors and in the legacy words of the victims.  These latter accounts left via diaries and letters are all the more powerful because of their authors’ absences.

The surrounding campus is dotted with memorials, from the Warsaw Square to the Children’s Memorial.  The Valley of the Communities in its honeyed stone records the locations of Jewish communities lost in the Shoah.  In some cases all that remains of these communities is the name written in Hebrew and in the native language of the locality.

The Avenue of the Righteous (and garden) commemorates the non-Jewish heroes, who risked lives and livelihoods to hid, aid, and rescue Jews in those terrible days.  Many know of Oscar Schindler, and Corrie ten Boom, but there are so many more Righteous Among the Nations remembered here.

                           Museum                           Valley of Communities               Ave of the Righteous

This truly is a place to visit, contemplate, and remember.

Padre