Phil-  Well we have finally made it down here in Guatemala this are good as of now.  On the plane I met with a man who was from here who told us his story about his grandfather and how he was shot on his farm, it was nice to see him open up so easy about his story.  I wish we could have had more time to talk.

Ryan- We have arrived in Guatemala City.  The city is dark and I’m itching for daylight to see the mountains.  We’ve had a nice late night snack and I’m ready for some sleep and a busy day tomorrow!

Sara- Flight was long, but so excited to finally be here! The weather is perfect and the girls are throwing a party in the room of bunks! :)

 

Currently Guatemala is in the beginning stages of the rainy season. While we expect precipitation, we are not anticipating torrental downpours for the duration of our travels (generally it rains in the afternoon times).

Today we fly from Kansas City (417pm) via Houston and arrive into Guatemala City at 917pm. As Guatemala is on “Mountain Time”, we’ll lose an hour going there.

Our first stop for about 16 hours is at SEMILLA, a Mennonite Seminary that hosts many groups with Connecting Peoples, for biblical study and for language study through CASAS. Given the long history of relationships between Catholics and Catholic institutions and Mennonites and common work on issues of social justice, we are excited to be lead and hosted by Mennonite Central Committee in Guatemala (who have been working in Guatemala for 36 years).

In case you’d like to contact the group at any point during our travels, this would be a clear contact that would be able to reach us wherever we are:

SEMILLA

Dirección física/Street Address
26 calle 15-56 zona 11, Colonia Las Charcas
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala

Dirección Postal/Postal Adress
Apdo. 11, Periférico, zona 11
Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala

Teléfono/Phone: (502) 2485-7620
Fax: (502) 2485-7617

Our final full day in Berlin began with some gorgeous weather and a short walk from the subway station to Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). We spent the morning walking through the underground exhibit and then spent some time outside walking around the stone memorial area (which covers a square city block). This is a national memorial to this genocide and, as such, is of immense importance to reconciliation and remembrance.

After our visit here, many began shopping that lasted through the afternoon and extended into the evening. Bergmannstraße and Nikolaiviertel were both popular spots to get gifts at for ourselves, our friends and families.

Our trip then back to Kansas City was relatively uneventful. Thankfully we procured a fleet of taxi vans to take us (and our increased amount of stuff) to the airport. We thus avoided the two subway trains and express bus ride.

Today we visited Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in Fürstenberg, about 1 1/2 hours north of Berlin. We took the Regional Express Train (a double-decker with a great view of the windmills, farms, and architecture) to the Bahnhof (the actual station prisoners came through en route to the camp).

This was a women’s camp, predominantly for political prisoners and “asocial” people. Though it is much like Sachsenhausen’s population, we are now visiting a women’s forced labor camp instead of a men’s forced labor camp. Here more than 132,000 women were prisoners and over 10,000 were murdered, in particular over 6,000 died in the gas chamber (no longer standing) within a month before the Red Army liberated the camp on April 30, 1945. Many survivors provided sketched testimonies of their experiences and we were able to view these in the camp prison’s cells.

Unlike Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück has chosen not to reconstruct buildings in order to create an experience of what the camp was like. Rather, the goal is to preserve the state of buildings as they are. Thus, all of the structures are original to the camp (including the crematorium we visited at the end of our tour).

We thank our wonderful guide for his expertise, compassion and sensitivity to the testimonies of the victims and the survivors.

Please pardon the camera work on some of these videos. While I was a bit shaky, I was doing my best to avoid photographing our guide, as he could experience repercussions from hate groups.

Here is the group walking down the road up to the camp, in fact, on a cobble-stone road constructed by the prisoners:

In this video you see the main administrative building for the camp’s operations as well as the homes of the SS officials (1/2 of whom were women officers):

We had the chance to view a special part of the camp – pictures and a manuscript which cataloged all those who were murdered at Ravensbrück:

Here we are in the main are of the camp right near where the kitchen was located (standing where roll call happened and punishment by standing occurred). The barracks are no longer standing, so in the second clip you can see what the camp looked like previously (the first taken around 1944 & the second around 1958):


This is inside the camp prison, where many survivors & countries were given cell space to display memorials to those who were murdered:

We finally took a day off from our busy schedule to allow ourselves to explore Berlin’s many museums, cafes, shops, etc. Small groups visited a variety of sites:

We also experienced a spontaneous performance in the Zoologischer Garten area of Berlin. Here is a sample:

Tuesday was spent at the first of two concentration camps we will be visiting, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We traveled 50 minutes north by S-bahn (street train) to the small town of Oranienburg, the central headquarters for all Nazi concentration camps in Germany and the occupied territories (i.e. Poland, Austria, etc).

This camp was a model forced labor camp, designed in part by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. It housed political prisoners (e.g. Communists, Social Democrats), homosexual men, criminals, Roma, Sinti – that is, those who were deemed “socially undesirable” – and, after 1938, many Jews. After 1945, the camp was used by the Soviets to house and kill prisoners and POWs. We had a top rate 2-hour tour in English of the whole camp – the massive outdoor roll call area, the barracks where prisoners slept and ate, the infirmary where medical experiments and tortures took place, and, the small gas chamber and crematoria areas. It put it in perspective for all of us when we saw the charred ceiling in Barracks 38, where in 1992, Neo-Nazis attempted to burn down the barracks to erase this portion of the site. After the tour, we took some time to reflect on what we were seeing in the exhibition center and watched a short documentary on Sachsenhausen and the larger context of World-War II and Nazi Germany. We thoroughly thank our guide, as it was an immensely meaningful experience.



After some money exchanging, we visited the Topographie of Terrors. Here is the entrance:

We then walked down the path, looking at the outdoor exhibit, before heading to the north side of this block to see a section of the wall. Before lunch we spent a bit of time at Checkpoint Charlie and found a spot in Berlin with lots of souvenir shops. In the afternoon, we went to Die Pergamonmuseum (The Pergamon Museum) and Die Neues Museum (The New Museum). Finally, in the evening a large group of us went to continental Europe’s largest department store, KaDeWe, where we feasted our eyes (and mouths and stomachs) on some tasty cheese, pastas, chocolates and more.

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