Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009 8:01pm Munich time

Funny thing I’m doing today.

Emailing the Dachau Memorial Library located at the site of the former camp. Sending them the names of my grandparents and their birthdates.

Sounds simpler than it is.

Had to find their birth certificates since I don’t even know their official names, nevermind their birthdays. On top of that, the paper for my grandfather are in Polish and those for my grandmother in German.

But what a surprise the prowess of Google Translator. It actually updates and changes the translation as you add more text.

Anyway, I’ve found a few interesting things along the way. First of all, I had no idea that my grandmother’s birthday is only one day after mine! Wow. Just these silly little things that I never knew.

The certificates have the towns where my grandparents were born in Poland and Austria respectively. Again, I had no idea and isn’t it strange the wonder of Google – I used google maps to find where those towns are located and it was not without a little bit of happiness that I discovered my grandmother’s birthplace is only a two and half hour drive from Munich!

I am still wondering though what town it was that my grandparents met in. I don’t know that yet.

I also found it strange that though my grandmother was born in 1916, that the birth certificate my mother provided for me is actually from November 16, 1942. This led me to try and get a feel for what the heck was going on around the time in the region my grandparents were located – of course, I still don’t know the dates they were at the camp so I can’t figure out what was going on geographical for them at this date.

I do know that they were out of the camp then because I believe their first post concentration camp child was born in 1941.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Researching the camp

I'm researching today - reading about Dachau, when it was established, why and what was done there. At the moment, I am struck by the sheer magnitude of the place - the number of prisoners - the fact that it was first established in 1933 - the number of nationalities imprisoned there - French, Belgian, Polish, Austrian, Germany, etc etc - 

I'm also struck by the number of additional camps and sites that were associated with Dachau... a plantation, a shooting range, Kaufering, Muhldorf ... it's just overwhelming.

Still looking for the details of my grandparents...

Friday, November 27, 2009

I need a thousand lifetimes because I know just enough to make me dangerous

There is so much out there! 

I'm planning a trip to Gdansk, in the north of Poland. This is where my mother grew up. The history of Gdansk is closely related to that of Hitler and his campaign of "hegemony."  You may have heard of the city called Danzig which is of course what Hitler called it once it fell to Germany after the Nazis invaded Poland.

This is subject matter which interests me.

Today we attended the Tollwood Winter festival here in Munich. It is held on the same grounds of the Oktoberfest - it's a wonderfully quaint outdoor holiday celebration with mulled wines and food tents and the like. A more serious photographic exhibit is being shown documenting atrocities of war around the world in the past decade. It is disturbing and depressing - among these powerful images were:
-An elderly woman in Chechnya carrying nothing but a framed photograph and a number of rolled rugs on her back against a backdrop of a blighted, abandoned and rubble filled war town town.
-An infant Rwandan child, crouched on the ground, partially covered by the body of his dead mother who may have been trying to protect him, his mouth open, wailing and crying - but he is in a sea of dead bodies, all laying in poses similar to his mothers', indicating perhaps they had been shot within moments of one another...
-The body of a man in Haiti, face-down in the center of city street, apparently shot from the back, his body abandoned....

The reaction these images evoked in my ran the gamut: 
-One has the choice whether to let the subject matter into the conscience - look at the images, weep and get back to the festival? Or, look at them, weep and carry them with you in your thoughts and actions?

-Another thought - it is always worth it to extend even the smallest acts of humanity. Always worth it to bring up uncomfortable topics at cocktail parties, just to push people to think and remember and be aware. The victims in these images cannot help themselves - we are the only ones who can help them so we have to try. Write about it, talk about it, take to the streets as these people are your common man.

-I thought of the Haitian cab drivers I always have in Boston and evaluate it like this. My mother's parents were the survivors of a war torn circumstances. She was never alive during WWII but I have seen the affects on her of the generation that picks up the pieces of such devastation. And these Haitian cab drivers with whom I have had many a conversation in French after a late night at work or perhaps after a drink with a friend, their war is right now - their war is happening today - I wonder what they have seen. What scars are they carrying?
-The old Chechnyan woman - she was maybe a mother, a grandmother - and I thought, she has lived a long and hard life - what does one want when they are old? To be surrounded by children and grandchildren, that is the dream of many. She deserves to stop and just be old, enjoy the fruits of long and hard lived life, but instead there she was elderly and frail, trying to eek out her survival - her husband and son had been killed.

And so from this exhibit came the desire for another lifetime, one dedicated to the study of these complex regional histories around the world. And another to dedicate my life to the plight of those so much less fortunate than myself.

And what about my quest to be a mother and grow a family? That's a lifetime of work right there.

I could spend one lifetime fixing the law school wound I still carry around - that is, working to pay off my educational debt asap and then going back to school and becoming an attorney.

I could spend part of a lifetime at least learning about Poland - the language for starters. I would also spend a great amount of time getting to know my family and their story. I would also learn about my grandparents and document what they went through.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sometimes I think we American women's lib types don't know what we're missing

For example, I just learned today that Munich Airport has special parking for women so that they can be near elevators and entrances in the parking garage. Pretty sure Logan Airport hasn't thought of that yet.

Also, I remember being in the Dominican Republic earlier this year and when we pulled up to the supermarket, there was special parking for pregnant women and for women with small children that was right up at the front. 

Finally, here in Munich they have innumerable bike and walking paths throughout the city, unlike Boston which is hostile to bikers. Well, the paths are separated and the sign that indicates where the walkers should go is a picture of a woman holding the hand of a small child. How sensitive and humanitarian is that? And here we are running all over the world acting like no one knows how to treat women better than we do. PUH LEASE. I think we need to take care of problems at home a bit more. 

May I remind my readers that in Germany working women are eligible for up to two years of paid maternity leave? Yes, two years. I'm pretty sure it's not full pay, but two years is a whole helluva lot better than 3-6 months. Tell me what American working mother wouldn't appreciate that kind of job protection. 

Friday, November 20, 2009


I seem to be on an Oprah posting slant lately, but what brought me to her today is the announcement of the end of her show after 25 seasons! I grew up with her! Oh Opee!! How can you leave us?!!

Truth be told, I am probably not the only one who noticed that in recent years her show wasn't what it used to be. It seemed more commercial, lacking the depth and authenticity for which The Oprah Show was so famous. She seemed to be gaining weight, appeared bored and generally less enthusiastic about guests and subject matter. Sometimes I felt she just kind of had her show as a stage for the products and projects of some of her celebrity friends like Julia Roberts, Shaquille O'Neille and Maria Shriver. As a lifelong viewer of this show (wow - my whole life almost!!) it feels very right to read that she is choosing to move on at this point and I think a lot of her supporters would agree.

I'm still looking for a video clip of the actual announcement since I'm living in Munich and they don't show her here... but in the meantime, here is a repost from that I think any Oprah fan would enjoy:

Since the day the late Gene Siskel asked me, "What do you know for sure?" and I got all flustered and started stuttering and couldn't come up with an answer, I've never stopped asking myself that question. And every month I must find yet another answer. Some months I feel I hardly know a thing, and I'm always pressed to make the deadline for this column. This time around, in honor of our tribute to the subject, I looked back and came up with my all-time top 20:

1. What you put out comes back all the time, no matter what. (This is my creed.)

2. You define your own life. Don't let other people write your script.

3. Whatever someone did to you in the past has no power over the present. Only you give it power.

4. When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.)

5. Worrying is wasted time. Use the same energy for doing something about whatever worries you.

6. What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.

7. If the only prayer you ever say is thank you, that will be enough. (From the German theologian and humanist Meister Eckhart.)

8. The happiness you feel is in direct proportion to the love you give.

9. Failure is a signpost to turn you in another direction.

10. If you make a choice that goes against what everyone else thinks, the world will not fall apart.

11. Trust your instincts. Intuition doesn't lie.

12. Love yourself and then learn to extend that love to others in every encounter.

13. Let passion drive your profession. 

14. Find a way to get paid for doing what you love. Then every paycheck will be a bonus.

15. Love doesn't hurt. It feels really good.

16. Every day brings a chance to start over.

17. Being a mother is the hardest job on earth. Women everywhere must declare it so.

18. Doubt means don't. Don't move. Don't answer. Don't rush forward.

19. When you don't know what to do, get still. The answer will come.

20. "Trouble don't last always." (A line from a Negro spiritual, which calls to mind another favorite: This, too, shall pass.) 

So thanks, Gene, for asking me the question. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I think...

Corporations are the new governments.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Full circle

A la Oprah of course, I come to you with a "full circle moment" for this morning. Well, morning where I am anyway.

Though I should be doing my German homework, some other sort of cosmosis is willing me to write instead.

One of the subplots of my life is my journey back to Poland, both literally and figuratively. My family background includes grandparents who survived the Holocaust and a mother who grew up in post WWII Communist Poland who later immigrated to the US essentially so that I could have a better life than she.

Until two weeks ago I hadn't visited Poland since I was a 10 year old girl and the country was Communist. Next week marks the 20 years end of the Berlin Wall. 

My German teacher is from Berlin and spent the many years of his young life separated from his grandparents who remained in East Berlin. Yesterday he told the touching story of how he, is parents and sister once a year would go to the wall on a predetermined date to see their grandparents. 

I weep as I write this.

They would go to where the tourists would visit the Berlin wall, climb up the stairs to the top where everyone could look over into East Berlin. Their grandparents would be waiting on the other side, they would wait far away from the wall so that the police didn't see them.

On the western side, he and his family would look with binoculars down at their grandparents. The grandparents would remain very still, arms not waving so as not to attract the attention of police. Their grandparents could only see them as tiny people at a distance.

Then, after a few minutes of looking at each other, his parents would take out a white handkerchief, wave it up and down a number of times and back on the eastern side, his grandparents would make a quick, small wave, quickly turn around and run off so that they police would not be alarmed. 

They would do this one a year for most of his young life.

I will hear more of his stories on Monday, the actual anniversary. And today, I am working with a translator to have documents translated so that I can reclaim my Polish citizenship. In December I will go to Dachau where my grandparents were. 

The scourge of war and genocide and hate is more deeply impressed upon me now more than ever as all this bit and pieces, all of these stories, so many years after the end of WWII surround me. I know the trials and tribulations of so many have been documented in regard to what happened here in Europe. I know that the story of my family is terrifically common. It is so mundanely part of the human experience in some ways. But, I will always find hate and war and the evil humans can inflict upon one another profoundly inhumane.

But as wrong, horrible and traumatic as these things are, the world keeps on turning. And people keep moving. 

This week my American husband, working for a German company went to work with a Polish client in Warsaw. All the while my Polish mother was in the United States.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Expat dinner

It's funny the energy that flows when a group of expat women get together. Tonight at the table of a local Vietnamese restaurant, with only four total, sat 1 pregnant Brit, one Australian mother of two, an engaged American, another married American and myself.

The professions of these gals?
1. Pregnant Brit = Finance (married to a German)
2. Australian mother of 2 = Corporate Responsibility (married to a Swiss)
3. Engaged American = Residential Real Estate (engaged to a German)
4. Married American = can't remember exactly but it is polymer research related post doc with industry applications (married to an American)
5. Me = Marketing? (married to an American)

How many of these gals are employed?
Numbers 1 and 4

How many will be employed in the next few months?
Probably zero.

#1 is having a baby and moving back to England
#4's husband is a physicist and they had to decide whose job to move for. They chose his.

Tonight was full of belly laughs and cultural comparisons. For example, in Germany you can ask a woman in a job interview whether she is planning on having children and if she does have kids, how she is going to manage her job and her kids at the same time.  You are also expected to submit a photo with your CV otherwise you won't be considered.  You can't ask for the same in the US as it is illegal.

#2 is interviewing for jobs right now since her husband's company laid him off 4 months after they transferred him, his wife and their two children to Germany. How nice. She is already the mother of two and was asked not only how she would manage children and her job but also whether she was planning to have any more children.

I thought of two potential responses to the question of whether or not you are going to have children/further children:
1. No, I'm barren.
2. No, I've had my vagina locked.

Stupid questions, stupid answers.

Ah the things we say...

So much media, 

So many blogs, 
Is this this a case of 
If you have nothing good - of quality - to say
Should you say nothing at all?