Friday, January 30, 2009
Time with a gracious witness
I finished the week with a sobering and also inspiring conversation with Maurice Vanderpol. Dr. Vanderpol survived the Nazi regime by hiding out for 2-1/2 years with his mother in a third floor tenement in Amsterdam. He spends much of his time now teaching school children about the Holocaust on behalf of Facing History and Ourselves. My assistant Gail had organized a session for her town's school several years ago with Dr. Vanderpol, had maintained contact, and had kindly arranged for us to meet today.
The details of the Vanderpol family's survival -- such as hiding in a 1' x 5' compartment behind a hidden wall in the apartment -- are engrossing, but there were other points that he made today that left a bigger impression.
On teaching today: "How can I get 13- and 14-year-olds to get even a remote feeling, when living in a safe country with a predictable life, to understand what it was like when nothing was predictable anymore? Finally, with today's economic dislocations, they are starting to get it."
On situational prejudice and fear of intimacy: "One night -- May 10, 1940 -- our country was invaded. Previously Jewish families had fled from Germany to Holland, and their children were in our classes at school. We didn't like them.... We never asked them what it was like to leave your country. I think we didn't want to know. We were too uncomfortable to ask."
Having faced a survival situation, making life and death choices every day, and yet still looking back and wondering if you did the right thing at key junctures: "You review your life at certain points, certain sticky points, and you feel badly about things you should have done. I didn't join the resistance.... I wish there things that I could have done differently."
Posted by Paul Levy at 1/30/2009 05:13:00 PM