[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
Dan Penner is a skilled teacher who has devoted himself to learning as much as he can about the Holocaust and imparting those lessons in Louisville to Atherton High School and Bellarmine College students.
A teacher fellow with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he often has unique opportunies to travel and continue to increase his knowledge base. Last summer, he traveled to Germany, where he participated in the 2011 Berlin Summer Academy: The Holocaust and Present Day Jewish Life in Germany. His wife, Tami, and daughter, Naomi, traveled with him.
The program, sponsored by the Checkpoint Charlie Foundation, is designed to build U.S.-German relations. The six-day intensive addressed the past, present and future, with the majority of the program connected to the Holocaust.
“As always,” Penner said, “my goal is to visit the sites where history took place, which, I feel, makes my teaching more personal and more real.”
As the group explored Berlin by train, subway and bus, they learned about Jewish life before and during the Holocaust. Penner believes the program painted an honest and open picture of the events, and the program leaders were knowledgeable.
In 1933, Berlin’s Jewish population was about 160,000. It was decimated during the war. Today, Penner observed, “The Jewish population has definitely increased.” He estimates it has now reached about 25,000, many of whom are Russian immigrants. “There are some who returned,” he noted, “but they’re in separate communities. The Jewish community in Berlin has not come full circle, but the numbers are there.”
The group went to the house where the Wannsee Conference was held. Details of the Final Solution were explained to Nazi leaders there, “and they went over the topography of terror.” The group also visited a museum at the site of Gestapo headquarters and Sachenhausen, the model concentrations camp just outside of Berlin.
They also stopped at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in downtown Berlin; the Jewish Museum, which tells the history of the Jews in Berlin from ancient times; and the Parliament building.
“We talked with survivors,” Penner said, “and visited the site of Hitler’s bunker, which is now a parking lot.”
The tour covered the city extensively, and “we were learning everywhere we went,” he said. “It’s not surprising, but it further solidified the fact that in Berlin, there was no way people could not have know what was happening to their neighbors.”
“Today,” he added, “there’s so much out there to remember the Holocaust, memorials, plaques and art projects. The Germans are not trying to hide anything. Everything’s out there.
“For example,” Penner continued, “they have little plaques on the streets that tell who lived there and where they were shipped to.” Every step the Nazis took is documented, from the Nuremberg Laws “to all the little rules they enacted to make life unbearable, like taking pets away” or the prohibition on Jews from going to drug stores.
The tour pointed out the Nazis’ cleverness, Penner explained. “For example, one deportation site is located in the middle of a rich neighborhood.” This was done, he continued, “because if you were deported from there, you would think, ‘if I’m going to this nice part of town, how can this be bad.’” Also, “very rich Jews, who thought they had the connections, were in the dark about what could happen. They thought they would be taken care of.”
Penner received support from Temple Shalom’s Rabbi Stanley Miles, Atherton High School and the U.S. Holocaust Museum Teacher Fellow Program for this trip.