Tag Archives: Holocaust

The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam – A Pilgrimage

Anne Frank Museum, Amsterdam
Source: Wikipedia

By Lakshmi

According to Wikipedia, the word pilgrimage is defined as “a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance.”  Most visitors to Amsterdam have this place listed on their “must do” experiences. So, how does a visit to this spot classify as a pilgrimage and not just a visit to a tourist destination?

On our first visit as a young couple with a tiny baby, we were eager to see Anne’s hiding place, we were curious to learn more about the family’s existence, see the church whose bells she heard ringing, look through her window and see the chestnut tree that satisfied Anne’s longing to be outdoors.  As we walked up the stairs and saw the swiveling bookcase behind which the family hid, it felt like Anne was taking us on a personal tour of her home.  Every page of her vivid prose appeared to come to life with the artifacts on display ably supporting that journey.  We entered the home with the lens of a tourist, a couple who wanted to be able to go back home and talk about having actually stood the ground that Anne lived in.  But as we neared the end, we set eyes on her diary, a personal journey now magnified by its presence in so many languages.  Was it foresight or sheer coincidence that Anne had opined, “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

We were numbed.  None of us said a word.  We had made plans for the afternoon but they were abandoned as we somberly made our way back to our hotel asking ourselves….Why?  Could it have been different?  Why not? Why did mankind have to do this to their brethren?  We termed the visit a pilgrimage, it made us ponder, it made us question, it made us reflect.

Every visit to Amsterdam featured a stop here and on our last one, we were accompanied by our daughters, the older one now the same age as Anne when she wrote her diary.  Each of our kids had read the diary, discussed it in class both individually and more broadly as part of discussions on the holocaust.  They too had reactions not too dissimilar to ours.  But here’s what was different.  We could now relate to what Otto Frank felt when he decided to protect his family.  We thought about our girls enduring something like this.  We imagined the arguments we had over little things and the door banging accompanying it and yet here were girls in the prime of their hormonal changes living in cramped space unable to express freely.  At times, it felt like the book had been a tale, but everything in front of us was a living witness to the reality that had taken place here.  A family had loved, laughed, faced adversity and met their end in the worst possible way…a tragedy created by man.

This time as we walked out, there was more disbelief and sadness expressed.  And a lot more questioning of the events in history.  Questions that sought to seek meaning and bring closure.  There are so many books written on Anne Frank’s life, her family’s journey, the direct and indirect meanings of her words.  And just like us, we believe that for many, this exploration has been a pilgrimage.

To learn more about Anne Frank’s house, please visit their excellent website at:

http://www.annefrank.org/

Holocaust Museum, Washington DC – A Grim, Thought Provoking Experience

By Lakshmi:

Who?  Anyone visiting the Washington DC area must plan a visit to this museum.

What? The Holocaust Museum is located at:

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW
Washington, DC 20024

How? You can take the Metro to the Smithsonian station and walk to the museum located a block away.  Parking is limited and driving is not recommended.  The museum is open every day except Yom Kippur (September 26, 2012) and Christmas Day (December 25).  From March through August, the museum’s busiest season, passes are required to enter the Permanent Exhibit (a must do if you are planning to visit).  The best way to visit is to pay the $1.00 convenience fee per ticket and get them ahead of time through http://www.extremetix.com/.  On occasion, when we have tried to wing it with a last-minute visit, the lines have been very long and sometimes we have had to walk away disappointed.  During the rest of the year, passes are not needed.  More details on visiting can be found on the Museum’s very comprehensive website at http://www.ushmm.org/.

Why?  The Holocaust Museum is one of the most comprehensive dedications and learning centers for anyone trying to better understand this incomprehensible period in history.  From the first exhibit that greets you, “Remember the Children”: Daniel’s story which provides a young German Jewish boy’s perspective on the holocaust, to the portion of the permanent exhibit that shows you actual remains of the gruesome acts inflicted on mankind, the museum manages to be a sensitive, poignant and gut wrenching dedication that moves you.   As you hear the video testimonials of survivors and watch footage from history, as you look at how tooth extractions were performed to remove gold fillings, as you look at how hordes of people were inhumanly pushed to their death, there is one word that resonates in your ear…WHY?  This is probably what goes through a lot of people’s minds as you watch visitors nod their heads in disbelief, some shielding their teens from some of the images, many eyes welling up with tears.

The museum does recommend that you be 11 years of age or older to view the permanent exhibits.  We have taken our kids when they were younger to the children’s exhibits, and for us, it felt appropriate to expose them to this part of history.

For me personally, each monument or place that I have visited to better understand the Holocaust be it the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague, the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam or  the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, has left its own indelible mark.  Some day I would like to visit Krakow, but cannot even begin to fathom what that visit would do to the soul.

Pinkas Synagogue, Prague – A Moving Tribute to Holocaust Victims

By Lakshmi:

Who?  Anyone who is visiting Prague and has an hour or more to spare and would like to understand the history of Jews in the area/pay tribute to victims of the holocaust.

What? The Pinkas Synagogue is a synagogue that has been turned into a memorial for holocaust victims.

How? The Pinkas Synagogue is located at

U Staré školy 1
110 00 Prague 1
phone:  +420 222 749 211

There is a variety of options and fees depending on whether you want to take in one or more sights in the Jewish Museum/Quarter.

Why?  I have to admit that prior to my visit to Prague, I had a vague picture of the Jewish communities that inhabited the area.  But close friends of mine  insisted that a visit to Prague would be incomplete without visiting the Jewish Museum/Pinkas Synagogue.  So one afternoon, a Jewish friend and I set forth to this area and spent several hours touring the museum and exhibits.  The most moving part of my visit was of course the Wall at the Pinkas Synagogue which was inscribed with the names of 80,000 or so residents of Bohemia and Moravia that perished in the holocaust.   Given that my visit to this memorial came many years before a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, this was the first full-scale impact of this chapter in history staring at me in the face.  Reading about a place like this does not prepare you in any way to the moving impact of seeing a wall filled with names of people and their origins and the sad end they met with.  I tried to follow the names, pausing to think about the untimely deaths of these individuals, all while gazing at my friend who was trying to trace family names with a tear in his eye.  If the wall moves you, then I cannot use any words to describe the impact of seeing the paintings left behind by the children who perished during this period as well.

A visit to the Pinkas Synagogue, just like visits to the Holocaust Museum in DC and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam is a grim reminder of what mankind should have never encountered and should never face again.

To learn more about the Pinkas Synagogue, click here:

http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/apinkas.htm