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Emotional Reactions to the Jewish Heritage Excursions on our River Cruise
Pam and I just returned from an awesome river cruise vacation in Europe. We were able to visit many of the churches, cathedrals, Christmas markets and other historical and cultural sites. The beauty and historical magnificence of so many of these legendary surroundings kept us awestruck.
The main attraction for us was certainly the famous European Christmas markets. However, my most emotional and memorable experiences occurred at the Jewish Heritage areas in Speyer, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands.
In Speyer, we went to the center of the original Jewish community. The Speyer community has magnificently preserved the remains of the original Jewish synagogue and Mikva (ceremonial bath). Descending the staircase to the actual bath area was very impactful. Learning and understanding the actual rules pertaining to its construction was very educational.
When we arrived in Amsterdam, we enjoyed a very extensive tour of the original Jewish area of the city. Our tour guide reminded that Amsterdam was one of the major cities in Europe that welcomed Jews and the Jewish culture pre-war. We visited a memorial center consisting of a portion of the building where Germans brought Jews before their transportation to concentration camps. The guide explained how the Germans would march the Jews down one side of the street where a child care center was located. This action presented the false aura of it being a pleasant and happy place to be. When they reached the daycare center, the Germans herded them across the street for documentation and transportation to the camps.
Once the Jews understood this deceptive practice, they realized an important fact. When the trolleys were running down the middle of the street, Germans on the building side could not observe the child care center side. There are many stories of mothers pushing their young children into the center ass the trolleys were blocking the view of the Germans. Because of the heroic actions of some child care workers, many of the young children were saved from certain death.
After the war, the people of Amsterdam built a memorial structure on the site of the reception building. A portion of the original structure remains on the site along with a new building housing many original memorabilia. The new building features a magnificent marble wall that has the inscribed surnames of thousands of Jews processed there. In the middle of that wall, the city has planted a tree of life. On the marble floor in front of the wall, they have installed a forever burning eternal flame. Both items constantly remind us of the critical need to commit to our ongoing survival!
While Pam was taking pictures of the memorial wall, I was reading over the list of inscribed names. When I located the surnames of both my mother’s and my father’s families, it had a very sobering and heart wrenching affect. This was truly a major and heavy emotional reaction that will remain with me for the rest of my life.
After leaving this special memorial building, we went to a nearby park and witnessed a magnificent in-ground, glass structured memorial. The artist very meaningfully named the monument: “Auschwitz – Never Again”!! The memorial itself contains six large panes of very thick glass. He purposefully constructed them to spontaneously shatter soon after their installation. The artist created the forever shattered glass to represent the destructiveness of the hatred and attempted genocide being memorialized there!!