On Holocaust Rememberance Day 2014, Andy Schulkind thinks it’s important to never forget.
Our MBA class traveled to the Czech Republic in 2005 for our international residency. We were to spend 10 days in the country using Prague as our base of operations. We took a red eye from Boston to Amsterdam, and then a connecting flight from Amsterdam to Prague. We used Saturday as a recovery day, and we receive a guided tour of most of the main sights of the city early on Sunday morning.
This would be our only Sunday to ourselves, so I wanted to tour the Jewish Quarter of Prague that day, since there would be no opportunity to do so the following Saturday because it would be Sabbath.
I was going to go alone, but three of my classmates found it would be interesting also. One of whom, I’ll call him Stan, was curious why I was so interested in exploring this part of town.
Stan, was a native of New Hampshire, a political conservative and a loyal Republican. Judaism, was an unknown to him, and apart from his Catholic upbringing didn’t know much about Jews other than what he heard in Church.
I provided a little historic background that Prague was home to the oldest Synagogue in Europe, the Alt-Neu or Old-New. It was new when it was built in 1270, and it continues to be used 740 years later.
While I’m not a practicing Jew, or a devout Jew, I am proud of my heritage and aware of the political and historical impact of being a Jew. While many synagogues were destroyed in Europe during the Nazi era, the Prague Jewish quarter was untouched. It’s been rumored that the Nazi’s (Heydrich) want to use Prague as sort of a Jewish museum, after all the Jews were exterminated, so it’s architecture and character was mainly untouched during the war.
One could not say the same for its Jewish population; Jews were transported to Terezin concentration camp for slave labor and extermination.
I explained that the Jewish quarter was consider a ghetto in the middle ages and the Jewish Cemetery held the remains of Prague Jews were stacked 12 layers high.
I wanted to go inside the Pinkas Synagogue, which was now a memorial the 77,297 Czechoslavik Jews who were Holocaust victims. while my other classmates were overwhelmed with what the all ready saw, Stan agree to go inside.
I wish I could have taken pictures inside, but photographs were not permitted. In neat black calligraphy on the walls of the Synagogue are the 77,297 names of the victims. Seeing this had the same effect on me as when I first saw the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in Washington. It was a very solemn moment.
We walked through and up to what must have been the Rabbi’s quarters. Displayed in glass cases were the drawings of children depicting life in the camps. Stark barbed wire drawings but also picture of flowers. Picture of children holding hands of sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers. Most of the pictures were drawn in pencil. Some of these drawings were in drawn in color with crayons. Except for the subject matter they would pass for any drawings made by 5 – 12 year olds. They were remarkably well preserved.
To which Stan said to me, “Is this a contemporary exhibition from a bunch of Jewish schoolchildren?” It hadn’t dawned on him what these pictures actually were.
Softly I told Stan that these were drawings were made by the children in the camps. I watched the color drain from his face. Now for him for the first time the holocaust was real. I projected that he thought about his 8 year old daughter in that moment, the horrors of this happening to her. He was emotionally overwhelmed. He ran from the room and out of the Synagogue.
I stayed on for several minutes, contemplating what I had been experiencing, and what I had seen Stan witness. Knowing that he would never forget. Never forget. Never Forget.
Originally published in 2010, Photos courtesy of author