After about 28 hours in Sarajevo, my first impressions of this city are very positive. The hotel is great, the food is good, the people appear to be very friendly and hospitable, and the scenery is beautiful. I was quite surprised to see, in the hotel's bookstore, a copy of the Qur'an next to a book and magazines with pictures of scarcely clad women, and to notice that restaurants are open and alcohol is openly served while banners in the street wish us all Ramadan Mubarak (it is spelt slightly different, but my Bosnian is not as good as my Arabic, I am afraid).
Today was one of the most productive days so far. Already seven teachers (four from US public schools, three from European Jewish schools, one from a European public school, and one Israeli colleague) have expressed interest in working on the Kindertransport-Refugee project that I presented this morning. As soon as Lauren approves the lesson plan that I sent her yesterday I will forward all the material to those teachers who have told me they would like to see it and who might want to work on this subject.
We had another full day, though a large part of today was spent on the road. I highly admire the driving and parking skills of our bus driver. If only I know how to park my Suzuki Splash the way he parked our behemoth bus + trailer in front of our Vienna hotel.
Yesterday was a very productive and enjoyable day. The Leo Luster fllm, the lecture by Hannah Lessing, and the presentation on ephimeral films were all inspiring. I will try to bring Mr Luster to our school, and I am thinking about having some of my students work with the website of the Ephimeral Film Project: National Socialism in Austria. I very much enjoyed the shabbat service, which was quite different from what I am used to in Israel.
Please allow me (and maybe all of the Israeli participants, but I can only speak for myself) to apologize for having been and continuing to be a little bit preoccupied every now and then in the last couple of days. While we are here a war is going on in Israel and Gaza. My family and I live near Haifa, in the north of the country. In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, my wife was pregnant with our third child, and after a week we fled to Holland, where we stayed for five weeks. I constantly (wherever and whenever there is WIFI, that is) receive updates from home and follow the news.
Every life is unique, and virtually every person has a moving and often fascinating story to tell about his or her life and family, if you are just willing to listen and to ask the right questions. This is especially true for elderly people who survived the Holocaust. Today we were once again able to see and hear this with our own eyes and ears. Amy Vargas-Tonsi and I had the honor and pleasure to meet Julius Chaimowitz He told us the story of his family before, during, and after World War II.
Yesterday, when Ed spoke about how some intellectuals fled Nazi Germany and after I spoke with some of you about how European refugees contributed to the Allied victory, I was reminded of an article that I wrote for the Jerusalem Report years ago, when an Israeli professor won a Nobel Prize. I have written more about the contribution that em/immigrants can (and often do) make to a country, but those articles are in Dutch, and - unlike some of my students :-) - I do not rely on Google Translate.
Three years ago I wrote a posting on my weblog, which I thought of when I was at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe this afternoon. I will cut and paste it below. My daughter and one of my two sons (I., who was mentioned in my previous posting here) are mentioned. Today they are 14 and 6, respectively.
For some reason I am unable to upload the pictures of the Beem family that appeared in the original posting. You can see them here.
For years the motto of many Holocaust Memorial ceremonies in Israel has been "Every Person Has a Name". The name Yad Vashem also links remembering the Holocaust with naming its victims, and giving them a face, or rather many, many faces. As Ed said this afternoon, one of the aims of Centropa is also to give memory and history a face. At the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe the same approach is used, in what I think is a very powerful manner.