Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I recently took a day-trip to Poland to see Auschwitz while staying in Berlin with a friend. I took a night train to Krakow. Poland's carrier, PKP, had a sale to Krakow (Krakow!) in a sleeping car for just 40 euro. The train is quite cozy. It's the convertable type with six bunks cramped into one compartment.

I shared a compartment with an older guy from Australia who was on a similar pilgrimage. His grandparents sent his mother on a children's refugee transport to Australia when she was nine. The parents didn't survive.

I slept comfortably until I was rudely awakened by border security for passport inspection. It's a bit harrowing when half-asleep to have security stomping through the train at 2am, accompanied by the thud of the stamps against the walls. But I scored "Poland" on my passport.

In the morning I could see the glimering mountains of coal. Poland's not much to look at. In fact, the train was a dump compared to Germany. The train arrived in Krakow around 9am, right on time. I accidentally went into Westfield Shoppingtown Krakow, but found my way to the main station. While booking my return ticket, a taxi driver approached me, apparently the most Jewish-looking person for miles, and asked "Auschwitz?" Much as I'd like to add Poland to my list of countries in which I've been driven by a Polish cabbie, I wasn't ready to drop 150 Zloty on the experience.

Here we go:

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From the main terminal I took a public bus (about $2, 1.5 hours, and smelled of the driver's armpit) directly to Oswiecim (Auschwitz is the German name).

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"Work will set you free"
(Literally, Work makes freedom)

This is the main gate to Auschwitz, originally a Polish army barracks. It was turned into a concentration camp for political prisoners, POW's, and later, "undesireables." The larger, more well-known Auschwitz-II/Birkenau camp was built later for mass exterminations. A third Auschwitz, Monowice, plus some 40 sub-camps also existed, mostly industry-related.

If you go alone, you can join a tour for about $10. While waiting for the tour, I took a look around for myself:

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Electified Fences

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This is the first operational gas chamber and crematorium, and the only one left intact. It was originally a munitions bunker, and after its use as a gas chamber it was dismantled and used as a bunker towards the end of the war. Afterwards, the cremation and gas equipment were found nearby and the chamber was reconstructed.

People are asked not to take pictures indoors throughout the camp.

My tour began around 1pm with a movie, and then a bus trip to Birkenau.

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The camp is surprisingly vast and quiet. It's nearly impossible to imagine what happened here.

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A few of the barracks are left intact. The weather was pretty awful that day.

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One of the most moving moments came when a large group of Israeli high school students entered the camp, flags unfurled and roses in hand.

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Throughout the camp, especially on the cremation beds, one can find memorial candles and flowers.

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This is the long walk to where the massive gas chambers used to be.

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As the Soviets advanced, the gas chambers as well as their meticulous records were destroyed by the Nazis. Now there is a stunning memorial instead:

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For ever let this place be
a cry of despair
and a warning to all humanity
where the Nazis murdered
about one and a half
Men, Women, and Children
mainly Jews
from various countries of Europe.

1940 - 1945

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We passed the few remains of the actual mass gas chambers, left untouched since the war.

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And then the skeletal remains of the Womens' quarters.

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We took the shuttle back to Auschwitz-I, and continued the tour. Sometimes the camp looks eerily like a quiet neighborhood:

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Now, these buildings have been renovated and are used as offices as well as various mini-museums. One of them outlined the war itself, one was about the impact on Poland. But several of them were particularly disturbing, as they contained "proof of extermination" in the form of huge room filled with a fraction of the human hair found at Auschwitz, shaved from womens' heads to be used in textiles. Another room was filled with shoes, another with suitcases. One room was filled with pots and pans, then glasses, shaving utensils. Every possesion was stripped and organized by the Nazis for reuse or recycling. There was also a scale model of the gas chamber with the walls cut out so with one glance you could see people being led underground, told to strip nude, then mounds of dead in the showers and finally in the crematorium. It was utterly horrific.

Again, we were asked not to take pictures.

Finally, we went to Block 11, a special barracks used as a camp jail. Yes, there was a jail.

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It was here the first tests of Zyklon-B took place, as well as inhumane imprisonment like cramming 40 men into one room until half suffocated, or cramming four people at a time into closet-spaced "standing cells" in which they were forced to sleep standing after a full day's work.

The whole visit took about 6 hours, and I left feeling I could've spent more time looking at the exhibits, and just walking around Birkenau by myself. All in all, the museum is very well done, and very respectful.

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So, since tonight is Passover, I don't want to finish on such a depressing note. Right now I'm in Israel, staying with my Aunt in Jerusalem. The center of her neighborhood has a plaza called Kirkat Denya (Denmark Square). It's a monument to the Danish people who saved nearly all the Jews in Denmark.

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"In October 1943 the Danish People and resistance movement defied the Nazi occupation of their country to rescue their Jewish fellow citizens. During ten nights, almost all Danish Jewry, over seven thousand people, were spirited across the Oeresund in fishing boats and other small craft to safety in Sweden. Danish courage and Swedish generosity gave indelible proof of human values in times of barbarism.

Israel and Jews everywhere will never forget."

Happy Passover!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ari's an ambitious guy. He wants to go outside and swim, even though it's low 60's, windy, and raining. We're in Ft. Myers Beach, FL for a week in his parents' timeshare. We drove down on Saturday morning and arrived 18 1/2 hours later around 4 am Sunday morning.

Ari did most of the driving:

I did most of the napping:

These guys were all about the Terps:

Most of the way down we saw RV after RV from Quebec, and when I started driving through Georgia, a huge pack of Maryland drivers caught up to us. We're pretty well represented here, I see a lot of Orioles hats.

Speaking of hats, South of the Border anyone?

These guys used to own every billboard for at least 100 miles north of the North/South Carolina border. Amazing signs, with moving cars, sheep, and weiners sticking out of them. They had a sign each mile which said how many signs are left, even one that said "The next sign was made by [some little girl], and sure enough the sign was written in crayon.

Now we have this shit:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Looks like I'm the last one to post this. I thought I was day 5 and today is day 4 but TONIGHT is day 5. I'm so confused. Anyway, this is a meme for the CHannnukahh Blog Tour for Amy Guth's book "Three Fallen Women." I consider myself a spiritual, unaffiliated Jew. Though I like to wave hello to the tribe on occasion :)

Here's a picture!

Here's a meme!

1. Quick! You must turn a plate of latkes into an upscale gourmet delight (as if they aren't already?). What would you add to them to dress them up, flavor and/or garnish them?

Add to them? How about take away? Just one latke on a plate, and a single cup of sour cream, in its own stand... on fire.

2. What is the dumbest thing you've ever heard anyone say about Chanukah?

Can't think of a single one. But I do love the look on peoples' faces when I tell them it's a minor holiday compared to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I was also taught that Shavuot is the third High Holiday, so it's like I'm teaching them about a super-secret holiday nobody knows about.

3. What's the best possible use for olive oil?

Israeli Salad. Here's the penultimate recipe:

1/2 head lettuce cut in thin strips. Your choice of lettuce - I like Romaine but iceberg is easier to cut.
• 1.5-2 large cucumbers. Peel and cut in cubes. It's easiest to cut in half lengthwise, then each half lengthwise into thirds, then cut across to cube.
• 2-3 medium tomatoes. Cut into cubes.
• 2 large green peppers. Cut out the center and cut into cubes.
• Spanish olives 1/3 jar or about 20-30 olives, cut in halves.
• 1/2 onion or scallions chopped (optional)
• 2-3 large carrots peeled and shredded (optional but good if you have time)
• lemon and olive oil (or mayo) to taste. This could be 1-2 lemons (be careful of pits) or the store bought lemon juice is good too. You should be able to taste the lemon but not too much because the olives will make it tart too.

Chop and mix all ingredients - that's it!

4. Settle it once and for all. Latkes or hammentaschen? Which to you prefer? What about pitting the winner of that contest against sufganiyot?

Latkes win in overtime, because they still taste great out of the fridge. Sufganiyot loses to Dunkin' Donuts in the pigtails.

5. What's the best way to mix up a game of dreidel?

Spin'em upside down.

6. My novel, Three Fallen Women, shockingly enough, is about the lives of three women. Which three women would you like to have over this year for latkes and why?

Linda Cardellini, Penelope Cruz, and Summer Glau because they're all beautiful and I could probably beat them in Mario Kart.

7. Other than Three Fallen Women (har har), what book do you think would make a great Chanukah gift this year? What book would you like to receive as a gift this year?

Hrm, tough call. I think "Blind Side" would make a great gift for a lot of guys. It's about the development of the Left Tackle in football, although I hear a lot of the book is essentially a biography of a player. I may get it for my brother. I wouldn't dare ask for a book, since I'm so backlogged in the books I have, but I'd love to get "In Cold Blood" as I just saw "Capote" and would love to read the source.

8. What bloggers didn't participate in Chanukah Blog Tour 5767 and you think should have?

Sadly, I'm a stub in the Jewish Blogosphere. But that's the reason I did this, so I hope to read more of everybody's blogs in the future.

Happy Chanukah!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Well, this thing tanked.

There needs to be a term for the act of completely disregarding a blog for a month or more, then apologetically calling yourself out on it in the next post:

It's been a blog blog time

So "Going to Berlin" is outdated. I'm off to Vegas for another one of these Samsung gigs in a few weeks.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Here are some fancy links I forgot to post:

IFA: IFA Internationale Funkausstellung

d'strict: www.dstrict.com (this is the PR company I'm doing this with... their web/flash design is pretty impressive.
No, not this Berlin

This one!


My old roommate Leah works at a PR firm in Chicago, and passed along this gig she found out through the grapevine. A Korean PR firm needed bloggers to cover the IFA in Berlin, and she urged me to apply. I sent in some materials last minute. Entries from a LiveJournal which I don't really use (I may migrate that stuff over to blogger), and some memo I wrote for a tech writing class. A few days later, Ilda (the Korean dude who I thought was a woman at first) asked if I could be a part of it.

His english wasn't great. It wasn't the worst I've heard from working at Motorola, but it was in the "all your base are belong to us" camp. I was sketched out by it since all I had was this guy's Hotmail account and didn't even know who he worked for. Keep in mind, I had just started this temp gig at Jenner & Block, and was pretty hesitant to leave that gig because it took me all summer to get one and I'd have to give it up for this trip: That's right, I was seriously considering not doing this... for a temp gig. Good thing I have friends to tell me when I'm being stoopid.

I talked to Leah who made it plain what my decision should be, and assured me I wouldn't be sold into the sex slave trade. Seriously, I wasn't the only one of her friends who questioned this guy.

So I'm writing a blog for Samsung to be shown on a part of their site specifically made for exhibitions. It's actually a pretty sweet lookin' site. I don't have the URL yet, I'm not even sure it's even up to tell you the truth, Seoul is 14 hours ahead and there are big gaps in communication. The blog itself is pretty tricky, because there's clearly a bias, and I'm not sure blogging is a prolific in Asia or Europe as it is here, because the thing is very very structured. I have a certain number of posts to make on certain topics, and the length they want is really long. Maybe it's their first time running a blog. So I apoligize if it's super super forced, because I'm rambling on paragraph after paragraph about how great some TV is. It's pretty insane.

On the flip side, I'm given a venue to express my inner Enginerd, who I've slowly let mingle with the outside world since leaving Motorola. It's ok to like computers... it's ok to have three computers... it's ok. Hey, I got a sweet new MacBook!

Here is a picture of me on my sweet new MacBook:

I'm very happy with it, and I'll be happier when I comes home safely from Euroville. It's super slow though, even running something simple like NeoOffice (a ripoff of OpenOffice (a ripoff of MS Office (a ripoff))). Anything else and the thing bogs down. So I need another stick of RAM, but overall the thing is solid.

Ok, back to Doichtenland. I leave this Monday the 28 and I'll be there for about ten days checking out the IFA, which is big consumer electronics fair. Sort of like a car show, but for gadgets. Then I'm rolling over to Amsterdam for two days to visit Brian Jack and Boom Chicago. Then I'm a-flyin' home.

I bought a German Phrasebook today, here is today's German Phrase:

Do you mind if I open/close the window?
Dar ich das Fenster öffnen/schließen?

Isn't that some crazy shit? Those words are gonna come out of my mouth, people!