Remembering Those Lost In The Holocaust

Seeing as yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, it is only fitting that we take some time to remember those whose lives were so tragically taken away, all too soon. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to listen to Michael Marder, a Holocaust survivor, share his personal story yesterday afternoon. This incredible man was able to survive nine different concentration camps, but unfortunately, no one in his immediate family had such luck.

Hearing Michael Marder tell his story reminded me of just how important it is to continue to share such stories so that we never forget about the atrocities that took place not too long ago. And with that, I’d like to introduce you to part of the Gottheim family. The woman in the photo is my great aunt (my grandmother’s mother’s sister), and pictured alongside her is her husband and three children. Unfortunately, they were never given the opportunity to tell their names, so all I have is a last name to go off of.

The Gottheims lived in Poland, but upon hearing of a potential German invasion, they made the necessary plans to make the trip to America by boat. When they arrived to the docks, each member of the family was inspected to make sure that they were in good enough condition to travel. However, as it turns out, one of the children had an ear infection and wasn’t allowed to board the ship. The father told the mother to take the other two children to America, and he would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The mother refused, and instead suggested that the father take the other two children to America, and she would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The father also refused, and the general consensus was to wait it out together, and make the trip as a family, once the child got better.

Unfortunately for the Gottheims, the German invasion came sooner than they had expected, and the family was murdered in their home before they were able to escape to America.

11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, 1.1 million of whom were children. 6 million of these individuals were Jewish, and others who were targeted and murdered include persons with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Slavs, political opponents, and plenty others. So many of these people died without their stories being told, which means to us, they will sadly forever be nameless and faceless. Like the Gottheims, millions of lives were cut short, and who knows what kind of greatness these people could have gone on to achieve?

One would think that we have since learned from the Holocaust, but it was not the first act of genocide to take place in the world, and unfortunately, it was not the last. If we do not remember the atrocities that were carried out just a few decades ago, we will be bound to have history repeat itself. We must never forget the Holocaust, and we must always speak up whenever we see any one person or any group of people being targeted by others. We owe this to the Gottheims, to all of the people who perished during the Holocaust, and to the survivors like Michael Marder who have dedicated their lives to spreading the word about the inhumane treatment they endured.

Martin Neimöller, a well-known pastor once exclaimed:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Visiting the Western Wall In Jerusalem, Israel

Although it may seem as though we had been traveling for weeks, we only spent three days and two nights in Barcelona, since our final destination was Israel. The most memorable part of our trip to Israel (besides seeing family members and loved ones) was our excursion to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. There is so much history and an overwhelming sense of spirituality as you walk around.

It is absolutely beautiful to be able to go to a place and pray to a higher power (or whatever one may believe in) and know that a countless amount of individuals travel here to do the same. We were lucky enough to come on a day where members of a certain sector of the Israeli army had completed their training, and were officially becoming members of the Israeli Defense Force. And as we walked around, the view of the surrounding area was breathtaking.

We had such a great time touring Lisbon Portugal, exploring Barcelona, Spain, and visiting various cities in Israel, especially Jerusalem. We were sad to return home and get back to the “real world,” but we have since been left with a lingering and exciting feeling of knowing we’ll be back on a plane traveling again soon—although for now, the destination is unknown!

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The Western Wall In Jerusalem, Israel

Day 2 In Bogotá, Colombia

After eating breakfast in the morning, we hopped onto the tour bus and drove to La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in downtown Bogotá. It is said that Colombia is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, with 1,887 species of birds alone in the country. Besides for its bio-diversity, our tour guide explained that Colombia is also known for four major features— coffee, emeralds, flowers, beautiful women, and cocaine. The size of Bogotá, specifically, can be compared to that of New York or London, and is the one of the three largest cities in South America.

It rains in Bogotá 250 days of the year, so rainy season is practically year-long. During the 19th century in the 1800s, the British arrived in Bogotá to build railroads and neighborhoods, so the fact that so much architecture in the city is based around red brick is due to the English influence. Something interesting about the city is that it is divided by numbers, with each number representing the class of individuals who live there—1 being the lowest socioeconomic level of status and 6 being the highest. The city’s minimum wage comes out to $280 per month, and for apartments in the level 3 district for middle class citizens, apartments cost $290 per month.

The first site that we came across was Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a beautiful church in the city that has become a staple, followed by a church from the 1600’s that survived the Civil War nearly 60 years ago. From there, we walked to Palacio de Nariño, or Nariño’s Palace—the official home and workplace of the President of Colombia. Antonio Nariño was the first person to translate human rights from French to Spanish. He had these rights printed on pamphlets and began passing them out, but was soon imprisoned for doing so. The palace sits on the same location where Nariño was born, and the President lives on third floor, while the rest of the palace contains important artifacts from the country’s history.

Outside the palace stood various military guards, and upon inquiring more information, we learned that one year of military training is mandatory for everyone upon graduating high school unless you have money to get yourself out of the requirement or unless you go directly to college.

As we continued walking, we came across balconies from hundreds of years ago that were influenced by the Arabians. The balconies were designed for the women of the house with the purpose being that the women could look outside, but no one could see inside.

We then saw the first observatory in all of South America that was built in the 1800s. It was meant to be taller than the Catholic Church but the architect was told if he followed through with his plan, he would have his head cut off.

The next sight was a cloister where firstborn girls were sent to spend the rest of the their lives. Their bodies would be painted when they died to preserve them. The second girl in the family would be married off to a wealthy lord, and the third daughter, or the youngest in the family would have to stay with their parents until they died, which some say is a different type of imprisonment as opposed to being sent to the cloister.

Following the cloister, we came across Plaza de Bolívar, named after President Simón Bolívar. The Plaza is home to the National Capital, the Palace of Justice, and the Cathedral of Bogotá.

As we continued walking, we spotted a building where President Simón Bolívar lived. He had a close female friend who often hosted parties and purposely invited various guests—some of whom were known to like the President, and others who openly voiced their dislike towards him. After getting the guests drunk, she approached them and asked what they thought of him. It was in this way that she found out about an attempt to kill him. She told Bolívar about this plan to kill him right before it happened, and he jumped out the window (pictured below) to escape and run while the people who planned to kill him were entering his house.

Across from this building is a theater built in 1793 but completed in 1800 which is very similar to the one in France, with the only difference being that this one is a little smaller. Shortly after seeing the theater, we came across a house where the Colombian version of Dr. Seuss was born, as well as the Red Cross building in Bogotá. From here, we took a tour of Fernando Botero’s museum, but that will be discussed separately in an upcoming post.

A Day To Remember

It was September 11th, 2001 and I was in my first grade home-room class at school. For some reason our teacher was moving about frantically as another teacher came into our classroom and whispered something in her ear. We were told that school was going to be let early and that our parents, who were already notified, would be picking us up shortly. When asked what the reason was, we were told it was because of a flood that was about to hit our area.

Just the other day on the radio, they had mentioned that South Florida was experiencing a drought, so a flood didn’t exactly make much sense. But we believed our teacher, and began packing up our pencil cases and school supplies from our cubbies because we didn’t want anything to get destroyed by the flood. My mother picked me up from school shortly after, and explained the true story—there was no flood. Rather, our country had been attacked by terrorists. Upon arriving home, my mother and I turned on the television just as the second tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. We were left in awe.

My father was flying to Washington D.C. that morning and my grandparents were flying to Florida from New York. We hadn’t heard from anyone, and we, as well as the rest of country were left in a state of panic and disbelief. Luckily, my father’s flight ended up being cancelled and grandparents’ flight had an emergency landing, but not everyone was that lucky.

September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day in history for our country, but it was also one that taught us a few valuable lessons. We cannot take our loved ones for granted because we never know what will happen at any given moment. We must show appreciation for those who risk their lives to protect us on a daily basis because these are true heroes that help make our country as great as it is. And furthermore, our country is about as resilient as they come.

September 11th showed us how in a time of despair, American citizens came together and united as one. Fourteen years later, we are still a united country, and we are still just as resilient. May we never forget September 11th, 2001. May we never forget to say “I love you” and appreciate our loved ones. May we never forget those who lost their lives, and those who risked their lives helping others. And may we never how lucky we are to live in such an incredible country.

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Day 2 In Antigua, Guatemala

Our first morning in Antigua was spent at El Convento de las Capuchinas, the largest covenant in Antigua built solely by Capuchin nuns in the 1700’s. Unfortunately, after some destruction caused by an earthquake, the covenant was abandoned, but restored in the mid-1900’s for the pubic to see.

From there, we walked over to the Catedral de Santiago, which has ruins dating back to the 1500’s. Although the cathedral was destroyed twice by two different earthquakes, the ruins were still beautiful and it was a great sight to see with an abundance of history behind it.

Following our morning excursions, we took some time to walk around the city and explore a local market. While doing so, we came across a nice, small restaurant to have lunch at before beginning our afternoon explorations which will be continued in an upcoming post.

Misioneros Del Camino: Thirty Years of Pure Miracles

This outpour of support we have received throughout the past month while sharing the inspiring history of Misioneros Del Camino has been incredible, to say the least. Mami Leo’s legacy of unconditional love is something that has and forever will continue to change a countless number of lives for the better. The following video beautifully summarizes nearly thirty years of miracles, all thanks to one selfless woman’s dedication and persistence to make a difference in the world. Mami Leo has left us with her labor of love, and it is our job to help continue this worthy mission. There is no better way to conclude this past month’s Misioneros Del Camino’s awareness campaign than by sharing the history of Misioneros Del Camino with you, as told by Mami Leo herself.

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April 25th

Mami Leo, A Remarkable Hero

Day 5 In Costa Rica Continued- Coffee and Chocolate Farm Tour In Monteverde

Seeing as Costa Rica is known for its delicious Coffee, and of course its successful coffee exportation, we had to stop by and tour a local coffee farm. But to make things even better, the farm also produces and manufactures chocolate. And right when we thought our luck couldn’t get any better, we were even provided traditional Costa Rican food for lunch before the tour even started!

We began with the coffee part of the tour which began with a brief history lesson about the start of Costa Rican coffee and its importance in helping boost Costa Rica’s economy. We started by looking at the beginning stages, which of course are the coffee seeds. We then saw how the coffee cherries are picked, and how the pulp of the cherries are removed. From there, the coffee beans must be washed and dried under the sun. They are then stored in large, fiber sacks which helps with the breathing and aging process. Selection, roasting, and packaging of the coffee beans are all completed on site. And any brave volunteers were given the opportunity to ride in a traditional ox cart which showed how the coffee beans were transported years ago.

From there, we were given some historical background into the fascinating world of chocolate. We learned how the cocoa beans are roasted and ground, once the husks of the seeds had been separated. We then tried the fruit of the cacao, and made our own chocolate too! Although the experience was incredible, I have to admit, buying pre-made chocolate is a much easier process! And as an additional treat, we were shown how sugarcane is traditionally extracted to make sugarcane juice, which was also delicious!

We had a great time touring Don Juan’s Coffee and Chocolate Farm, and much to our surprise, we had the chance to meet Mr. Don Juan Cruz at the end of the tour. Born in 1937 to one of the first pioneering farming families in Monteverde area, Don Juan was a true gentleman with delicious coffee and chocolate! (http://donjuancr.com).

As our tour came to a close, it was time for us to return back to the hotel to enjoy our last night in Monteverde. Our group went out to a local restaurant and enjoyed the evening together before having to make our way back to San José the following morning.

Days 23 and 30 in Spain: Exploring Madrid

In an attempt to spare everyone from various posts each time I travel to Madrid, I decided to combine two different trips into one post. Last Tuesday, a few of my friends and I went on a field trip with our program director to see the Museo del Prado in Madrid. We walked around the city for a bit at first, but as you’ll notice, I won’t be posting any pictures of that since most of my pictures are the same as ones I have previously posted. We started our trip off by passing the National Library which is closed off to those who don’t have a specific library pass, and made our way over to a local brewery. I was one of “those” people who ordered a soda at the beer factory so try not to judge me too much. The reason why we held off on going to the museum until later in the afternoon was because most big tourist attractions in Madrid as well as throughout Spain have free visiting hours (which is definitely something to look into before making plans when traveling around Spain) and it just so happens that the Del Prado Museum’s free hours are in the late afternoon. By the time 6 o’clock in the evening came around, we stood in line and got in for free. (Something you’ll quickly realize when traveling abroad is that anything free is a huge perk!).  Seeing as the Del Prado Museum has over 7,000 paintings and is known to be one of the biggest and most famous museums in the world, it was jam-packed everywhere we turned. Our professor walked us around and showed us the main paintings and gave us a history lesson on each one and unfortunately, the museum prohibits picture taking, but I was lucky enough to get one picture in before finding out that I wasn’t allowed to do so. We saw paintings by famous artists including El Greco, Murillo, Goya, and Velazquez, and each one was more interesting than the next! It was truly amazing to see what kind of history and in-depth background information each and every painting has. Museo Del Prado is definitely a “Must” on any to-do list in Madrid, and it was really a great, culturing experience as well!

This past Tuesday, one of my classes took an excursion to Madrid as well, and we went to el Barrio de Letras, a quarter in Madrid dedicated to famous authors and poets from back in the day. As we walked around the quarter, we saw where certain authors grew up, where they gained inspiration for novels and stories, and even a famous cathedral where a lot of them got married. I had to write a paper on our trip so I’m pretty much just going to translate it into English and use it here. (Hey at least I’m honest).

Before the excursion officially began, we saw the House of Congress, surrounded by police officers (which was definitely a cool sight to see). Our trip to el Barrio de las Letras commenced at a statue of Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was the one who wrote Don Quijote de la Mancha, the second most translated book in the world (after the Bible). We then walked over to Lope de Vega’s house which is also a museum. Cervantes and Lope de Vega didn’t exactly see eye to eye, and Cervantes even referred to him as a “monster” because Lope de Vega wrote over 3,000 plays during his lifetime, an incredible number of works! (And most of us find it hard to find enough days in the week to keep up with our blogging). Not to mention, Vega was recognized for them while he was still alive, whereas Cervantes was recognized after he died.

After learning about the rivalry between the two authors, we walked along a street famous for providing inspiration to Cervantes. He was known to write various scenes of Don Quijote on this particular street, so it was pretty cool to see where he gained some of his inspiration from. We progressed on and saw yet another famous author’s house, Don Francesco de Ovedo Villegas. Not too far from here was a street dedicated to gossiping. Since works from this time period were known to criticize society, authors had the actors of their plays gossip as a means of getting the critizing across. So it was only suitable to have a street dedicated to gossiping and criticizing society and the lives of others, right?

Back to Cervantes, he had requested to be buried in the Convent of the Trinity (el convento de las trinitarias) and was in fact buried there, but his tomb was removed a few years later to an unknown location. Finally, we concluded our trip with la iglesia de San Sebastian (a church) where Cervantes had his funeral (not burial) and where many authors of this time were baptized or had their weddings and/or other processions. Unfortunately, the museums and the cathedral were closed by the time we got there, but it was still neat to be able to walk through “literary history” in Madrid.