Sobibór Extermination Camp

Sobibór extermination camp was built in a marshy forest area by 80 Jewish forced laborers who were murdered immediately following the completion of their work. During the construction process, the German’s put into practice lessons learned in Bełżec. The infrastructure of the murder facilities was improved, particularly the sealing of the gas chamber doors. Transporting Jews to the facility was better organized, based on meticulous planning for the regional population. It was also decided to create a permanent core of Jewish prisoners as “skilled” staff, in order to make camp maintenance and the extermination process more efficient.

The camp at Sobibór occupied an area of 400 600 meters. Here, some 250,000 Jews were killed. The camp at Sobibór was in operation for 18 months — much longer than its two sister camps Bełżec (which operated for eight months) and Treblinka (which operated for 13 months). The extermination camps in the Lublin District were initially intended to exterminate Polish Jewry alone, while the more sophisticated gas chambers at Birkenau, which began operating in the late summer of 1942, were meant primarily for the extermination of Jews from the other countries of Europe.

Beginning in the early spring of 1943, in accordance with regional planning, dozens of long trains moved back and forth across Poland, picking up human cargo, transporting it to the death camps, and making additional runs. The camp at Bełżec was closed after it completed its task of murdering the Jews of the Lublin District and Galicia. Treblinka began operating as the extermination camp for the Warsaw ghetto, which had a Jewish population that outnumbered that of most of the occupied countries. When the number of transports dwindled toward mid-summer 1943, it appeared increasingly possible that the camp would soon be closed.

At Sobibór, located at the heart of the regional network of forced labor camps, labor selections for the various camps took place regularly, in contrast to Bełżec and Treblinka. For this reason, and despite its relatively long period of operation, far fewer people were murdered at Sobibór than at the two other camps. On July 5, 1943, after Bełżec had already been closed and when Treblinka was about to be closed, Himmler ordered the conversion of Sobibór into a concentration camp. Prisoners in the camp, who were of course unaware of this changed function, feared that the construction of the new wing, the mining of the area (aimed at defending the future concentration camp from partisan attacks), and the less frequent transports reflected an intention on the part of the Germans to close the camp and murder the hundreds of Jews it still held.

Evidence of this fear can be found in the notes in the clothes of the final 300 prisoners who arrived from Bełżec and were murdered at Sobibór in the early summer of 1943, after the camp was dismantled. The moment the sealed car doors were opened in Sobibór, the prisoners sprang from the cars and ran in all directions. All of them were shot and killed before they were able to leave the ramp. The notes found in their clothing reveal that they had made a firm decision not to enter the gas chambers.

This is the general background for the crystallization of a Jewish underground in Sobibór. Prisoners tried to escape throughout its entire period of operation, and some attempts were successful. However, most escapees were caught, and in reprisal the Germans carried out public executions of dozens of Jewish prisoners. In this context, the Jewish underground resolved to organize a rebellion during which all the prisoners would escape, making it impossible to inflict collective punishment on prisoners who remained in the camp.

Most of the plans considered were rejected by the underground due to their lack of military expertise. But in September 1943, the transports of Jews from Vilna, Lida, and Minsk included Jewish prisoners of war from the Red Army who supplied the underground with the operational knowledge they lacked. Eventually, the underground produced a daring plan for an uprising that would involve killing the SS soldiers, securing weapons, and breaching the camp fence in battle in an area that was not mined, to enable all the prisoners to escape. Although the plan encountered serious difficulties as a result of unanticipated developments, the uprising was carried out, resulting in the death of 11 SS soldiers and a few Ukrainians. Some 600 camp prisoners began to escape, but approximately half were killed in the minefields or by German fire. Some of the prisoners did not even try to escape, in some cases due to physical exhaustion and in other cases — mostly non-Poles — because they were unfamiliar with the surrounding area and did not know the language.

Prisoners who worked in the camp’s extermination area did not participate in the uprising because the other Jews in the camp had no way of contacting them, and they knew nothing about the plan. Despite the problems encountered, approximately 300 prisoners succeeded in reaching the woods, though most were subsequently killed during the chase. The few who survived were killed after the war in pogroms that took place in Poland. Of all the prisoners of Sobibór, only 50 survived. After the uprising, it was decided to close the camp. The last Jews to work dismantling the camp — particularly those who worked in the extermination area and covering the traces of the extermination process — were shot when their work was completed.

By July 1944, the Germans were using the facilities in the proximity of the ramp and huts that remained standing as a construction services camp. Between 1945 and 1947, the ramp served as a major railway junction for the transport of Poles from the east in preparation for their resettlement in western Poland, and the transport of Ukrainians from Poland for “resettlement” in the Ukraine. At times, large masses of displaced persons had to stay at Sobibór for a few days, and the camp’s remaining huts provided them with wood to burn for heating and cooking. The forester’s watchtower and the kommandant’s building were eventually returned to their rightful owners. The train station in Sobibór operated regularly until 1999.

80th Anniversary of the Murder of the Jews at Babi Yar

Marking 80 years to the Murder of the Jews at Babi Yar:

On 29-30 September 1941, approximately 33,771 Jewish men, women and children from Kiev and the surrounding areas were murdered at Babi Yar by Einsatzgruppe soldiers (mobile killing units) with the assistance of local collaborators. Jews who managed to escape the massacre in September but were discovered in the ensuing months, were also brought to Babi Yar and murdered.

Yad Vashem (Israel Holocaust Museum & Memorial) has 80 photos and stories of the Jews murdered at Babi Yar and now an online special exhibit on their website.

The photos were submitted to Yad Vashem together with Pages of Testimony containing the names and brief biographical information of the victims. Each Page is a mute testament to the persecution of an entire Jewish community: Rabbis, teachers and pupils, traders and artisans, philosophers and scientists- and in many cases entire families.

In this moving exhibit we can see the faces and explore the stories of 80 of the Jewish men, women and children who were murdered 80 years ago at a ravine called Babi Yar.

Sources: Yad Vashem

Treblinka Extermination Camp

Treblinka was one of the three death camps that were part of “Operation Reinhard”. It was built as the place of execution for the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and its surroundings. It was located near Malkinia, about 80 kilometers north-east of Warsaw. Malkinia was a station on the main Warsaw-Bialystok railroad line in a densely populated area and hidden among deep woods. Jewish and Polish prisoners worked in a punishment camp called Treblinka 1 built as early as 1941. When the extermination camp was built in 1942, the railroad line was extended into it.

“Operation Reinhard” was the code name for “the final solution to the Jewish question” (the extermination of all the Jews) in the areas in Poland under the jurisdiction of the General Gouvernment in the Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka camps. Several months after work began, the name was suggested in memory of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the SD (The Security Police of the SS) and one of the architects of the “final solution to the Jewish question”, who was shot to death by Czech Underground fighters in May of 1942.

The camp was built in the shape of a polygon, 400 x 600 meters. It had a double barbed wire fence. The inner fence was entwined with branches designed to hide the camp and what was happening there. There were 8 meter high guard towers in each corner and all along the fences.

The living quarters, which included those of the staff (Germans and Ukrainians), offices, the infirmary, storage buildings and workshops. A separate fenced-in area housed the Jewish prisoners’ barracks, sewing shops, a shoemaker and a carpentry shop.

The reception area included the train platform and tracks for shipments, two huts in a fenced-in area where the victims were ordered to undress, and two buildings where the victims’ possessions were kept and sorted. The extermination area was small, only 200 x 250 meters, with a white building which held three gas chambers. There was a diesel motor housed in a building nearby. The victims were executed by carbon monoxide gas that was forced into the chambers through a pipe connected to the roof and into regular shower heads, in order to sustain the illusion of a real shower. One hundred and fifty yards away to the east, were large pits for burying the victims. Between the “reception area” and the “extermination area” there was a narrow path surrounded by wire and intertwined with branches, called “the Pipe,” or “The Way to Heaven”, used by the staff and prisoners (“Himmelfahrtstrasse”). The naked victims were led along here from the undressing huts into the gas chambers.

There were 20-30 SS guards in positions of command and organization and about 90-120 Ukrainians. These were Soviet prisoners of war who volunteered to serve the Germans. They acted as guards and assisted in operating the gas chambers. The 700-1,000 Jewish prisoners did all the work in the camp. They were divided into work groups or “Kommandos”. The uniforms of each Kommando unit had a stripe of a designated color which distinguished them from one another. The exterminations began on July 23, 1942 and continued until April 1943.

From the spring of 1943 only a few transports arrived and then began the burning of the bodies that had been buried in mass graves. Hundreds tried to escape from the trains, most of whom were murdered by the guards. In the early years, before stringent guarding arrangements were established, a few Jews managed to escape from the camp. From time to time there were incidents of Jewish uprisings and from early 1943, an underground existed comprised of prisoners from all parts of the camp.

Uprising:

There was an uprising on August 2,1943, when the last of the bodies had been burned and the camp destroyed, indicating that soon the remaining prisoners would be executed. During the uprising most of the camp burned. The remaining prisoners were ordered to take the buildings and fences apart and try to erase signs of the crimes committed there. When the work was done, everyone was shot. The camp was plowed over, and trees were planted. A farm was established and Ukrainians settled there. About 70 of those who managed to escape from the camp during the uprising survived until the end of the war. 800,000 people were murdered at Treblinka; 2000 of them were Gypsies and most of the rest were Jews. The Jews came from Warsaw, Bialystok, Grodno, Radom, Czenstochowa and even Lublin. Jews from Theresienstadt were also executed there. As the Red Army approached, even the farm that had been established on the camp site was plowed over.

Memorial:

In 1964 the Polish authorities established a stone memorial site, built on the camp ground. A stone pathway leads up to a stone gate on the spot where it is believed that the entrance to the camp stood. The story of the camp is told in several languages on stone plaques. A series of flat stones indicate the railway line that led into the camp and stone pillars mark the camp boundaries. A stone monument at the left of the path which leads to the center of the monument shows the victims last walk – “the Pipe”, the “Shlauch” – of the Jews to the gas chambers. To the right of the path, memorialized in stone, are the names of the places from which the Jews arrived in the transports.

At the heart of the memorial site stands an enormous stone gate that resembles a raised sarcophagus. On one side, the martyrs’ story is told and on the other side there is a menorah, symbol of the Jewish people. Black granite stones symbolize the pits where the victims’ bodies were burned. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, obliterating the Jewish way of life that had existed for hundreds of years in Europe. Seventeen thousand stones are strewn around the area to symbolize the final resting place of the Jewish world that perished.

Hebrew Alphabet

Hebrew uses a different alphabet than English. The picture above illustrates the Hebrew alphabet, in Hebrew alphabetical order. Note that Hebrew is written from right to left, rather than left to right as in English, so Alef is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and Tav is the last. The Hebrew alphabet is often called the “alef-bet,” because of its first two letters.

There are two versions of some letters. Kaf, Mem, Nun, Peh and Tzadeh all are written differently when they appear at the end of a word than when they appear in the beginning or middle of the word. The version used at the end of a word is referred to as Final Kaf, Final Mem, etc. The version of the letter on the left is the final version. In all cases except Final Mem, the final version has a long tail.

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.

If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self‑sufficient. If we lose our original self‑sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves.

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self‑centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen‑zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen (meditation), you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”

~ Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Who Were The Puritans?

The roots of Puritanism are to be found in the beginnings of the English Reformation. The name “Puritans” (they were sometimes called “precisionists”) was a term of contempt assigned to the movement by its enemies. Although the epithet first emerged in the 1560s, the movement began in the 1530s, when King Henry VIII repudiated papal authority and transformed the Church of Rome into a state Church of England. To Puritans, the Church of England retained too much of the liturgy and ritual of Roman Catholicism.

Well into the 16th century, many priests were barely literate and often very poor. Employment by more than one parish was common, so they moved often, preventing them from forming deep roots in their communities. Priests were immune to certain penalties of the civil law, further feeding anticlerical hostility and contributing to their isolation from the spiritual needs of the people.

In the early decades of the 17th century, some groups of worshipers began to separate themselves from the main body of their local parish church where preaching was inadequate and to engage an energetic “lecturer,” typically a young man with a fresh Cambridge degree, who was a lively speaker and steeped in reform theology. Some congregations went further, declared themselves separated from the national church, and remade themselves into communities of “visible saints,” withdrawn from the English City of Man into a self-proclaimed City of God.

One such faction was a group of separatist believers in the Yorkshire village of Scrooby, who, fearing for their safety, moved to Holland in 1608 and then, in 1620, to the place they called Plymouth in New England. We know them now as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock. A decade later, a larger, better-financed group, mostly from East Anglia, migrated to Massachusetts Bay. There, they set up gathered churches on much the same model as the transplanted church at Plymouth (with deacons, preaching elders, and, though not right away, a communion restricted to full church members, or “saints”).

The main difference between the Pilgrims and the Puritans is that the Puritans did not consider themselves separatists. They called themselves “nonseparating congregationalists,” by which they meant that they had not repudiated the Church of England as a false church. But in practice they acted–from the point of view of Episcopalians and even Presbyterians at home–exactly as the separatists were acting. 

By the 1640s, their enterprise at Massachusetts Bay had grown to about 10,000 people. They soon outgrew the bounds of the original settlement and spread into what would become Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine, and eventually beyond the limits of New England.

The Puritan migration was overwhelmingly a migration of families (unlike other migrations to early America, which were composed largely of young unattached men). The literacy rate was high, and the intensity of devotional life, as recorded in the many surviving diaries, sermon notes, poems, and letters, was seldom to be matched in American life.

The Puritans’ ecclesiastical order was as intolerant as the one they had fled. Yet, as a loosely confederated collection of gathered churches, Puritanism contained within itself the seed of its own fragmentation. Following hard upon the arrival in New England, dissident groups within the Puritan sect began to proliferate–Quakers, Antinomians, Baptists–fierce believers who carried the essential Puritan idea of the aloneness of each believer with an inscrutable God so far that even the ministry became an obstruction to faith.

Puritanism gave Americans a sense of history as a progressive drama under the direction of God, in which they played a role akin to, if not prophetically aligned with, that of the Old Testament Jews as a new chosen people.

Perhaps most important, as Max Weber profoundly understood, was the strength of Puritanism as a way of coping with the contradictory requirements of Christian ethics in a world on the verge of modernity. It supplied an ethics that somehow balanced charity and self-discipline. It counseled moderation within a psychology that saw worldly prosperity as a sign of divine favor. Such ethics were particularly urgent in a New World where opportunity was rich, but the source of moral authority obscure.

Source: history.com

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

This cathedral contains two medieval marvels: a chained library of rare books and one of the earliest maps of the world.

In the Middle Ages, before the availability of the printing press, volumes on law and religion were quite rare and valuable. To protect against theft, the books at Hereford Cathedral were chained to desks, pulpits, and study tables.

The chained library was created in 1611 when a collection of hand-transcribed, hand-bound books was moved into the Lady Chapel. Most of the volumes in the collection are acquisitions dating back to the 1100s, although the oldest book in the collection, the Hereford Gospels, dates to about the year 800.

The medieval world map stored at Hereford Cathedral depicts three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. On the as-yet-unexplored periphery of these lands roam fire-breathing dragons, dog-faced men, people who survive on only the scent of apples, and the Monocoli, a race of mythical beings who take shade under their giant feet when the sun becomes too bright.

The 5 × 4.5-foot map (1.5 × 1.4 m), created around 1300, is part geography, part history, and part religious teaching aid. A lack of confirmed information on Asian and African geography presented no obstacle for the mapmaker, who used hearsay, mythology, and imagination to fill in the gaps—which explains the four-eyed Ethiopians.

Sources: Atlas Obscura

Joan of Arc Beatified

On this day in 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified (Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a deceased person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name), nearly 500 years after her execution; which is somewhat coy of the Vatican when viewed in the light of recent fast-tracking of saintly candidates.

Regardless of the supernatural elements of her story, she remains an interesting historical character. Quite how a teenage peasant girl in the early years of the 15th century managed to convince a garrison commander and then the uncrowned king of France Charles VII that she could lead an army against English forces remains to this day a mystery shrouded in legendary tales.

#JoanOfArc #Beatificatio