Saturday, April 7, 2012

Traveling from Anne's first home in Germany, to her place of death in Bergen-Belsen, I wrote this poem. . .

That's What Faith Can Do

Give you hope to go on
Move you to step forward,
when others laugh.

Help you get out of bed in the morning
(or in the afternoon).

That's what faith can do. . .

Be fanatically radical,
blindly devoted,
help you stay married, 
be a friend, 
and believe the unbelievable.

That's what faith can do. . .

Press through pain, 
love others who are unloveable,
see beauty in what's not beautiful.

That's what faith has done.
In the summer of 2012, I spent 7 weeks traveling, retracing Anne Frank's footsteps.  I departed on the same day as Anne Frank's birthday - June 12.  Due to my budget, I didn't follow her footsteps in exactly the order she lived.  Doing that would have cost me almost two times as much. 

So. . .here's how I started.  

I first visited Frankfurt Am Main in Germany.  Anne was born in Frankfurt Am Main.  Frankfurt am Main is so called because it is located on the Main River. It is one of Germany's biggest cities. "Frankfurt" is a smaller city and is located about 50 miles east of Berlin on the Oder River.  

Frankfurt Am Main is a beautiful city.

We found the house where Anne lived at 3:30 pm, after plugging the address into the GPS on our rental car,  307 Marbachweg.  For all I knew we'd end up at a museum or an empty lot.  We didn't!!  We pulled up right in front of the house and it looked exactly like the pictures I've seen!

Anne was born on June 12, 1929 in Frankfurt Am Main.  She was the second daughter of Otto Frank (1889 - 1980) and Edith Frank-Hollander (1900 - 1945).  Anne had one sister, Margot, four years her elder.  The Frank family lived at 307 Marbachweg in an assimilated community of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of various religions.  

The house is a three-story, off-white, stucco home with shutters.  It's in a pretty, quite part of Frankfurt Am Main.  There is a gate surrounding it.  The yard is well kept and there's a small garden in the back.  There are two huge trees in the front yard (I'm sure they must have been there when Anne lived in the house).  One of them is a cherry tree.  The Frank family lived in a flat in the house.  Someone else lives there now, so I didn't go inside.

There was a sign on the street corner - a small sign.  It was written in German, but had pictures of Anne, her sister, Margot, and one other girl, so I'm sure it was talking about these three girls living in the house.  There is no other indication that anyone special lived in this place.  

Anne lived at 307 Marbachweg for the first four years of her life.  In 1933 the ballot box changed everything.  Adolf Hitler was elected to power in a democratic election.  In 1933, after the Nazi party won the elections, the Franks began to fear what would happen to them if they remained in Germany.  Six weeks after the elections, Edith, Anne, and Margot temporarily moved to Aachen, Germany where they stayed with Edith's mother - Rosa Hollander.  

Otto Frank headed to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to move forward in relocating his family. 

"Those years on Marbachweg were among our best times."  - Edith Frank

After spending time walking around, taking pictures, and just taking in everything in the surroundings I walked across the street to a little restaurant.  I sat outside on their patio, with Anne's house still in full view.  The waitress didn't speak English, so the got the owner of the restaurant.  He was very kind.  Others outside were completely preoccupied watching the world cup soccer game.  I was preoccupied with the view.  

As the owner/waiter asked about where I lived in Indiana, I told him I had come to the city to specifically see the house across the street.  His reply was interesting. . .

"Not many people know this, but a writer used to live in that house.  She was deported and died shortly after that."  

I thought to myself how Anne wasn't deported, at least not from this place that she lived.  Maybe he just got the story confused.

"Why was the girl deported?" I asked.

"She was Jewish."  He replied.  "She died in a concet.  I'm not sure how you say it in English."

"Concentration camp," I told him. "Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Reminiscing is time well spent.  I love memories.

Five years ago I visited the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.  I spent ten hours there.  I soaked in everything possible.  As I carried around a pamphlet with the map of  the museum, I noticed on the back, in very small print, a notation saying, "Visit our guest services desk to meet a Holocaust survivor."  I went directly toward trying to locate that guest services desk!  I had lost must husband about an hour prior to this and it didn't worry be in the least.  I was too busy learning. 

As I walked toward the desk, it seemed as if a beam of light was coming down from the ceiling and shining on an angel.  A very small woman, elderly - but modern looking and beautiful, sat alone.  Her petite frame looked small in the chair.

I walked up and introduced myself.

"Hello, I'm Estelle," she replied in a very thick accent.  I discovered later it was an Eastern European accent.  She was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland.

Estelle has had a tremendous impact on my life.  She has said numerous times, "Memory is what shapes us, memory is what teaches us."  She knows the power of memory. 

Due to Estelle's simple comment about memory, I have learned so much about the power of symbols in the Jewish faith.  Memory is so important to Jewish custom.  These people truly believe that God requires remembrance on behalf of His people.  I revel in the beauty of Jewish custom and the importance of their symbols.  I, too, believe that God requires us to remember because that's how we continue living in faith.  So, Estelle has helped me realize Jewish people are probably the only organized group who have raised the level of remembering to a religious requirement; what beautiful, rich, uniquness this brings to them!  On some of my future blogs I look forward to writing about how I've learned the powerful symbolism of matzah bread, the Star of David, the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the lion (for the tribe of Judah), the unicorn (for the tribe of Manasseh) and the list goes on.   

Back to Estelle's story. . . Estelle, her sister, mother, and father were arrested in 1940 Poland because they were Jewish.  Estelle was eleven years old and spent the next five years living in concentration camps.

After being arrested, her family was taken to Majdanek, a camp in west central Poland; just on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland.  Estelle's father met his fate immediately after arriving at Majdanek, taken directly to the gas chamber. Estelle remained, for the next five years, with her mother and sister, being transferred to seven different camps.

They ended up back at Madenjeck in 1945. 

As Estelle was telling me her story that day, my husband finally joined me at the guest services desk.  She went on to tell us both that, in 1945, Madenjeck was liberated by the Russian Army.  She vividly recalled the day.  I vivdly remember looking into Estelle's twinkling eyes as she relayed her story to us.  Although her face was delicate and beautiful, I could definitely see the seriousness and sadness of her memory, her reminiscing, right then and there.   

"It was winter, very cold.  We had learned not to cry because crying did us no good.  It just displayed weakness.  My mother, sister, and I decided to keep each other strong.  On this day of liberation we were wearing rag dresses.  We wore clogs on our feet.  We had no scarves, no hats, no underwear.  We RAN to the liberators, so happy that freedom was within our grasp.  We held out our hands.  The soldiers said, 'You are free to go, but we have a war to fight,' not wanting anything to do with the malnourished and dying prisoners."

Pat asked Estelle, "How in the world did you ever resume a normal life?"

"We knew that we had relatives in a nearby village.  We knew if we made it to the village they would help us.  We were so weak and hungry.  We were filthy and covered with lice and scabs.  My mother knew that we would need food.  Mother remembered that there had been a pickle factory in the town of Lublin.  We walked and walked.  No one wanted anything to do with us.  People turned away, acted embarrassed, and offered no help.  We found the pickle factory that very day.  It was abandoned, no longer in business.  Mother broke a window, we crawled through.  There were jars and jars of pickles on the shelves, dirty and dust-covered.  My mother, sister, and I opened those jars of pickles.  We ate, and ate, and ate. . . so happy to have a full stomach.  We spent the night there, eating more pickles and took some with us the next morning." 

Estelle's story transitions.  She and her mother as well as her sister all made it to the village where they had cousins.  They got back on their feet there.  Three years later they moved to Israel.  Estelle married and moved with her husband to Washington, D.C. where she still resides today. 

The whole time we spoke with Estelle she had her cell phone on the desk top.  She told Pat and me, "I don't want to be rude.  My grandson is calling me today and I answer the phone whenever my grandson calls.  It's very important."

I thought about how she must feel after having lived through that horrible event.  Now she has a grandson and I would imagine she belived at some point that she would never go on to have a family, much less a grandson.  It was our pleasure to pause and wait as she sweetly spoke to her grandson who called four or five times during the conversation.  Every time before Estelle hung up she said, "I love you," and usually more than one time she repeated it. 

"How beautiful,"  I thought.

My students LOVE the story about the pickles.  I love telling it.  I will never forget that day in the Holocaust museum, meeting Estelle.  It made our entire vaction that summer worth the effort. 

Estelle has corresponded with me and my students ever since.  She does not have a bitter bone in her body, she understands forgiveness.  She continues to teach me about the power of memory.  I thank God for Estelle's life and that it has intertwined with mine. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This is my first entry.  I'm nervous and excited.  I wonder whose mind and eyes will read and think about my writing. . . I hope someone's!! 

I remember, as a sophomore in high school, sitting in English class at Warsaw High School.  The assignment - to read The Diary of Anne Frank.  I had heard of the Holocaust, but didn't know too much about it.  I definitely learned that semester in sophomore English.  From that time on I dreamed of going to Anne Frank's secret annex. . . to see where she slept, and wrote, and dreamed, and planned.  I can still remember where I sat in that high school English class. I was a young girl, who had no clue.

Thirty years later, I made it to the Anne Frank House.  Not only was it a dream come true, my love, respect, and passion for what so many people endured has grown by leaps and bounds.  My own life experience has grown by leaps and bounds as well - I'm hoping bringing some wisdom with it. 

So, I'm beginning my blog - now almost thirty-two years after that Anne Frank seed was planted in my heart.  I hope to share my thoughts, my passion, with some fellow readers and writers.