What makes Long Island’s American Airpower Museum, located at historic Republic Airport in Farmingdale, so different from other aviation museums is that this is so much more than a static display of vintage aircraft. This is living history: just about every day you visit, you can see these historic aircraft fly – you can even purchase a seat.
Long Island’s only flying military aviation museum, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, reopened after its COVID-19 hiatus, with new health protocols and precautions.
Its impressive collection was started by Jeffrey Clyman, president of the museum and the foundation.
His first acquisition was the P10-17 WWII training biplane which used to fly in air shows. His second was the Avenger. The third, the AT-6 “Texan” came from the Spanish air force where it was used for desert warfare in the Sahara
Among them, the Grumman TBM Avenger, the same plane model flown by President George H.W. Bush in WWII in which he was shot down (the other two crew members did not survive); you can see where Bush autographed this plane. Known as the “ship killer,” so many Japanese ships were destroyed by the torpedoes it carried, that upon seeing it coming, crew would jump off, the museum’s publicist, Bob Salant, tells me during my visit on reopening day.
You can actually buy a seat for a flight in the WACO UPF-7 biplane (the initials stand for Weaver Aircraft Company of Ohio) and a North American AT-6 Texan, which give you the unparalleled experience of flying with an open cockpit. You can also buy a seat in a D-Day reenactment flying aboard the WWII Veteran Douglas C-47 Gooney Bird, which carried parachutists – you wear an appropriate uniform, there is the radio speech of President Eisenhower sending the troops into this fateful battle, and while you don’t actually parachute, at the end, you are given a card that says whether you lived or died.
That’s what “Living history” means to the American Airpower Museum.
Indeed, just about all the aircraft you see in the hangar and on the field (a few are on loan), are working aircraft and have to be flown to be maintained, so any time you visit, you are likely to see planes flying.
Among the planes that played an important role in history is the “Mis-Hap” – a North American B25 Mitchell bomber that few in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. It was General Hap Arnold’s personal plane (subsequent owners included Howard Hughes).
Another is the Macon Belle, on view in a fascinating exhibit that pays homage to the Tuskegee Airmen, one of whom, William Johnson is a Glen Cove resident. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII. They flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa, earning more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.
2020 was anticipated to be a banner year for AAM. Museum aircraft were scheduled to participate in historic events marking the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and honoring U.S. Veterans who made the Allied victory possible. As they have done for the last 17 years, AAM’s WWII airplanes were going to appear in the Annual Jones Beach Airshow. And it must be noted that on May 24th 2020, the American Airpower Museum celebrated its 20th anniversary in isolation.
Instead, the museum had to shut down along with every other museum and attraction in the state because of the coronavirus. It has reopened with health protocols that include filling out a questionnaire and having a temperature check at the entrance; requiring masks and social distancing throughout the museum.
Certain interactive exhibits have been closed, but you can still climb stairs to see inside cockpits, and walk through the Douglas C-47B. Built in 1935 and in service since 1936, the DC3 started as one of the first commercial civilian airliners. It was best known for being used in the Berlin Airlift, dropping food, clothing and medical supplies to Berliners suffering under the Soviet occupation. This C47 was one of the few flyable C47s with a paratrooper configuration, and dropped troops for the D-Day invasion. The plane is dubbed “Second Chance” possibly because after World War II, it was sold to the State of Israel and saw more than 30 years in the Israeli military (very possibly flew in the 1967 war). Today, the C-47B is used in D-Day reenactments.
There are several excellent exhibits, including one showcasing the WASPs – the Women Airforce Service Pilots who were used to fly planes to their missions. Another focuses on women war correspondents, among them, Martha Gellhorn, considered one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century, reporting on virtually every major world conflict over her 60-year career (she was also the third wife of novelist Ernest Hemingway).
There are also several fighter jets on loan from the USAF Museum, including a Republic F-84 Thunderjet; Republic RT-84 Thunderstreak, Republic RF-084 Thunderflash, Republic F105 Thunderchief, and General Dynamics F-111.
Clyman, who started his museum in New Jersey, moved it to Farmingdale, Long Island, the “cradle of aviation,” where many of these planes were built, and where the people who built them, maintained them and flew them, still lived. Many of the docents as well as the pilots are former Republic workers and veterans.
“My dad was a combat pilot in WWII. So was my uncle. My mom was a nurse,” Clyman tells me. “But just as the 1920s followed WWI, and the 1950s after WWII, they didn’t talk about their experiences in war until they were about to die.” His mission is to not only legacy of the planes, but honor the people.
“Some 65 years ago, the current home of the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport was a crucial part of the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’. Home to Republic Aviation, the complex produced over 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts in Farmingdale,” the museum’s website explains.
“Today, no American aviation museum with a squadron of operational World War II aircrafts has a more appropriate setting for its flight operations. Taxing to the very runways and hangars that dispatched Thunderbolts to war, vintage aircrafts recreate those turbulent years and allow the public to watch these planes in their natural environment – the air.”
The hangar where the museum is located is now part of a historic preservation district, as a result of the effort of Senator Charles Schumer and then-Congressman Steve Israel.
There are uniforms, equipment, even two Nikon cameras adapted for use by astronauts that flew in the Space Shuttle.
Clyman said it has always been AAM’s mission to honor the legacy of those who gave all to preserve our freedoms. “We’re pleased to announce we recently resumed maintenance and inspection of our aircraft so that much anticipated flight operations can begin with our grand reopening event. We also promise a flying salute to our Veterans and front line workers very soon,” he said.
At the reopening on August 1, visitors were treated to aircraft displays and flight operations of WWII AT-6s, WACO UPF-7, and TBM Avenger.
The museum is open to only 55 visitors at one time. There will be a case by case increase should the flight line be open, to increase the number of visitors at one time. Face masks must be worn at all times by anyone who will work, and visit the museum (masks are for sale in the gift shop for anyone who does not have one). Visitors have their temperature taken as they enter, and are encouraged to wash hands, or use hand sanitizer (hand sanitizer is available in the gift shop, and by the restrooms). Social distancing will be observed and the floors have been marked to denote 6 feet spacing. Restrooms and canteen areas are regularly cleaned.
The C-45 cockpits are not currently open, but the Flight Simulator may be available for use on a case by case basis, and cleaned after each use. Docents will also guide visitors accessing certain aircraft and limit the number of visitors at one time.
One of the docents is Steven Delgado who came to New York from Puerto Rico at the age of 15, was drafted to go to Vietnam in 17 and served in a parachutists unit. “I learned English in the army). When he returned, he earned his CPA from NYU and became a volunteer fire fighter.
The museum, a 501 (C3) Nonprofit Educational Foundation, is open year-round, rain or shine.
Admission for adults is $13, seniors and veterans $10 and children $8.
Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
2017 Women’s March may have been the largest single protest in history, but
women have been marching literally and virtually for 200 years. And for 200
years, the march, the campaign for women’s rights has been shorthand for
voting, education, health care, equal pay, workers rights, civil rights,
environmental justice, gun safety. Yes, there was that period when temperance
was a priority, as well. But it has only been in the 1970s, that Feminism – the
fight for women’s equality – took hold, and with it, the fight for the
essential right: reproductive freedom.
new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society simply
called “Women March” (part of The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium, www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org) traces
this long arc which has not always moved toward justice or equality. Indeed,
progress, on just about every front, has been in brief spurts of enlightenment.
In reality, that long arc is more zig-zags and a maze with brick walls to block
the beginning, women directed their activism to abolition of slavery, labor
rights, working conditions and pay equity, civil rights, health, education,
property rights, custody, rights for Native Americans – issues regarded as “moral imperative.”
“Women seized on the notion that women had a moral power, beyond home, a moral imperative to effect public policy,” said Jeanne Gardner Gutierrez, curatorial scholar in women’s history at the New-York Historical Society.
Without the right to vote, they took
advantage of the Constitution’s right to petition Congress – until Congress
said they would ignore any anti-slavery petition.
“It was infuriating. The one right
available to women, guaranteed by Constitution, swept away. They realized that
moral suasion has limits.”
rights was not at the core of the women’s activism, which was hardly a movement
then. Even at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the women leaders – mainly
Quaker women who already had a measure of equality within their religious
society – had to be persuaded (by
Frederick Douglass) to include the right to vote among their demands, enunciated in the Declaration of Sentiments, that
mimicked the Declaration of Independence. Their demands centered on equal pay
and rights to own property and have control of one’s own earnings, a growing
issue for women who were being employed in factories and for the first time
earning their own wage. Many women did not sign on. It may surprise many to
learn (as I did when visiting the Roosevelt historic site at Hyde Park) that
Eleanor Roosevelt was not an early supporter of suffrage.
the Civil War – as in the Revolutionary War and later World War II – women took
on roles that had been reserved for men: they managed their farms and
businesses while husbands and fathers were off fighting, they were nurses, and
organized fundraisers showing they could manage large financial projects (Sanitary Fair raised $1 million for union, the treasurer was
After the Civil War, there was a
great debate over whether women should seek the vote, whether under the 15th
amendment which said that men could not be denied the right
to vote simply based on their race,
voting should be a right of citizenship. Women were considered citizens, but
the Supreme Court found that citizenship did not automatically bestow voting
But a section of the exhibit labeled “Go West Young Woman” notes that in the Western territories, women did have right to vote (and apparently, women had the right to vote briefly in New Jersey, from 1776 to 1807 when the vote was restricted to white men. (See:On the Trail of America’s First Women to Vote)
those who think that Hillary Rodham Clinton was the first woman to run for
president (she was the first to run as a major party candidate) might be
surprised to learn that even before women won the right to vote, Victoria
Woodhull was the first woman to run for president as the Equal Rights Party
candidate in 1871. “Despite questions about eligibility to vote, women, she
reasoned, still could run for political office,” the notes read. Lawyer Belva
Lockwood, the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court, followed in 1884
and 1888 on the National Equal Rights Party
ticket and was the first woman to appear on
official ballots, endorsing equal rights, temperance, civil service
reform and citizenship for Native Americans; she won some 4,000 votes.
at a certain turning point, the women’s movement realized that moral suasion
wasn’t going to effect real change; the key to getting any of the changes and
rights they wanted was the right to vote.
used the latest techniques and technology to build support. Film was new in
1915, and a newsreel agency, Universal Animated Weekly, captured a 1915 strike
for workers rights (we get to see the film on a screen almost life-sized). The
films were distributed and shown in nickelodeons (small movie houses), and were an inexpensive
way to reach working-class people.
only in the 1960s-1970s, it seems, that women’s rights became equated with
reproductive rights, or more precisely, abortion, and coming almost
simultaneously with The Pill and sexual freedom that broke down gender
barriers. The threat to male domination became much starker – uprooting the
concept of women in the home, being consumers of appliances and cosmetics,
caring for children while men held the economic reins. Women could be fired for
becoming pregnant, could be paid a fraction of the same wage, and relegated
into specific jobs. Check out the classified job listing in the 1970s, and you
will see “male” and “female” listings.
really only comes to play in the 1980s, when the right to control one’s own
body, make one’s own choices, have the same right as men to self-determination,
takes hold. The outrage at women as
property, chattel, of objectification comes into focus.
you see a display with the first issue of Ms. Magazine, an organizing force
which reinforced women’s yearning for equal status.
in the earliest stages of activism, women’s issues were those that were
considered the “moral imperative” – abolition, workers rights – now it boiled
down to self, individual rights, but exploded back up again: women’s rights are
for others, feminism boiled down to one word: abortion.
Magazine publishes an amazing call to sign on to “a campaign for honesty and
freedom” along with a long list of 53 famous women who declared, “We have had
abortions” On the list: Gloria Steinem, Nora Ephron, Judy Collins, Susan
Sontag, Lillian Hellman, Lee Grant, Gael Greene, Billie Jean King.
exhibit follows to the 2017 Women’s March, with some of the posters.
just to emphasize the importance of Women’s Suffrage, just outside the exit
door is a computer where you can check on your voter registration.
For as long as there has been a
United States, women have organized to shape the nation’s politics and secure
their rights as citizens. Their collective action has taken many forms, from
abolitionist petitions to industry-wide garment strikes to massive marches for
an Equal Rights Amendment. Women March celebrates the
centennial of the 19th Amendment—which granted women the right to vote in
1920—as it explores the efforts of a diverse array of women to expand American
democracy in the centuries before and after the suffrage victory.
On view in the Joyce B. Cowin
Women’s History Gallery, Women March is curated by Valerie
Paley, the director of the Center for Women’s History and New-York Historical
senior vice president and chief historian, with the Center for Women’s History
curatorial team. The immersive exhibition features imagery and video footage of
women’s collective action over time, drawing visitors into a visceral
engagement with the struggles that have endured into the 21st century.
The exhibition begins with the many
ways women asserted political influence long before they even demanded the
vote. Objects and images demonstrate how they risked criticism for speaking
against slavery, signed petitions against Indian Removal, raised millions to
support the Civil War, and protested reduced wages and longer days. A riveting
recreation of an 1866 speech by African American suffragist and activist
Frances Harper demonstrates the powerful debates at women’s rights conventions.
Absence of the vote hardly prevented women from running for political office:
one engaging item on display is a campaign ribbon for Belva Lockwood, the first
woman to argue before the Supreme Court, who won around 4,000 votes in her own
Multiple perspectives on the vote,
including African American and working-class activism, are explored, upending
popular assumptions that suffragists were a homogenous group. The 19th
Amendment is hailed as a crucial step forward, but recognized as an incomplete
victory. One photograph shows an African American women’s voter group in
Georgia circa 1920, formed despite wide disenfranchisement, and another shows
women of the League of Women Voters who sought to make suffragists’ goals real
with legislation that addressed issues such as public health and child welfare.
A digital interactive monitor invites visitors to explore the nuances of voting
laws concerning women across the entire United States.
Offering an examination of women’s
activism in the century after the Amendment, the exhibition concludes by
showing how women engaged with issues such as safe workplaces, civil rights,
reproductive justice, and freedom from violence. Photographs and video footage
of women building warships, boycotting segregation, urging voters to register,
and marching for the Equal Rights Amendment convey the urgency of their desire
for full citizenship. The dynamism of women’s collective action continues to
the present day with handmade signs from the 2017 Women’s Marches and footage
of a variety of marches and speeches on topics ranging from reproductive
justice to indigenous peoples’ rights to climate change. Visitors can also
learn about many individuals who have been instrumental in women’s activism
over the past 200 years in an interactive display compiled by New-York
Historical’s Teen Leaders program. Meanwhile, young visitors can explore the
exhibition with a special family guide.
on view through August 30, 2020, is one of four major special exhibitions
mounted by the New-York Historical Society that
address the cornerstones of citizenship and American democracy.
the Presidentswhich opened on President’s Weekend, is where you can
discover how the role of the president has evolved since George Washington with
a re-creation of the White House Oval Office, decorated “thread by thread”
exactly as it was during Ronald Reagan’s tenure, and a new gallery devoted to
the powers of the presidency.
Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American
Republic explores the important roles
state constitutions have played in the history of our country.
The People Count: The Census in the Making of Americadocuments
the critical role played by the U.S. Census in the 19th century—just in time
for the 2020 Census.
To encourage first-time voters to
learn about our nation’s history and civic as they get ready to vote in the
presidential election, New-York Historical Society offers free admission to the
exhibitions above to college students with ID through 2020, an initiative
supported, in part, by History®. This special program allows college students to
access New-York Historical’s roster of upcoming exhibitions that explore the
pillars of American democracy as they prepare to vote, most of them for the
“The year 2020 is a momentous time
for both the past and future of American politics, as the centennial of the
19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, coincides with both a
presidential election and a census year,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and
CEO of New-York Historical. “This suite of complementary exhibitions showcases
the ideas and infrastructure behind our American institutions that establish
and protect our fundamental rights to make our voices heard and opinions count.
We hope that all visitors will come away with a wider understanding of the
important role each citizen plays in our democracy.”
New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard
Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024, 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
One hundred years ago, women earned
the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. To honor their
fight and commemorate this moment in history, a collective of New York City
cultural organizations has formed the Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is a collaboration of cultural
organizations citywide that foregrounds exhibitions and programs that,
together, offer a multi-dimensional picture of the history of women’s suffrage
and its lasting, ongoing impact. The consortium has launched www.WomensSuffrageNYC.org to highlight the activities being presented across New
York City throughout 2020.
Founding members are the New-York
Historical Society, the Staten Island Museum, the New York Philharmonic, The
New York Public Library, Brooklyn Historical Society, the Museum of the City of
New York, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Brooklyn
Museum, Park Avenue Armory, and Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical
Announced programming includes the
exhibition Women March at the New-York Historical
Society, which explores the efforts of a
wide range of women to expand American democracy in the centuries before and
after the suffrage victory (February 28 – August 30); Women
of the Nation Arise! Staten Islanders in the Fight for Women’s Right to Vote at
the Staten Island Museum, which presents the remarkable stories of local
suffragists acting on the grassroots level to create the momentum necessary for
regional and national change and the bold tactics they employed to win the vote
(March 7 – December 30); the New York Philharmonic’s Project 19—a
multi-season initiative to commission and premiere 19 new works by 19 women
composers, the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history, which
launched earlier this month and continues in the spring (May – June) and
beyond; and 100 Years | 100 Women a partnership of Park
Avenue Armory with National Black Theatre and nine other cultural institutions in
New York City to commission work exploring the complex legacy of the 19th
Amendment 100 years after its ratification from 100 artists who identify as
women or gender non-binary (showcase of commissions on May 16).
The consortium is committed to
showcasing women’s contributions to the past, present, and future. Though many
women were given access to the right to vote 100 years ago, the fight for
equality continues. Their goal is to expand the conversation through meaningful
cultural experiences that convey that all women should be seen, heard, and
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium is co-chaired by Janice Monger, president & CEO of the Staten
Island Museum, and Valerie Paley, director of the Center for Women’s History
and senior vice president and chief historian at the New-York Historical
Society, to bring together a group of vital New York City cultural
organizations with a shared vision to honor the Women’s Suffrage Centennial.
“We are so proud to bring together
this collective of organizations and colleagues who share the vision that
women’s stories are important and need to be told. All of these activities
represent multi-faceted, nuanced cultural and historical insights into the
early 20th century movement and equality in progress today,” said Janice
Monger, consortium co-chair and Staten Island Museum president & CEO.
“In an effort that was many decades
in the making, a century ago, women came together to fight for and win the
right to vote. While that right was not fully and immediately extended to all
women, their continued collective action galvanized movements to expand and
give substantive meaning to American democracy after the suffrage victory,”
said Valerie Paley, consortium co-chair and senior vice president and chief
historian at the New-York Historical Society, where she directs the Center for
Women’s History. “Through these cultural experiences across New York City, we
hope New Yorkers and visitors alike will be inspired by the women who made
history and the women who are making history now,” she added.
The Women’s Suffrage NYC Centennial
Consortium will continue to grow as new programs and exhibitions are announced
during the year.
the National Trust for Historic
is compiling a catalog of 1000 sites associated with women of accomplishment and
is more than halfway to the goal of
identifying places Where Women Made History
and is inviting people to submit entries (go to the site to submit a photo and
year the United States commemorates the 100th anniversary of women gaining the
right to vote, providing an important opportunity to celebrate the place of
women in American history. While history, of course, is complicated, and voting
rights for many women continued to be denied because of discriminatory
practices, we at the National Trust want to tell the full history—to uncover
and uplift women across the centuries whose vision, passion, and determination
have shaped the country we are today. Our goal: discover 1,000 places connected
to women’s history, and elevate their stories for everyone to learn and
to do this, we need your help. What places have you encountered where women
made history? They can be famous or unknown, protected or threatened, existing
or lost. No matter their condition or status, these places matter, and we
encourage you to share them with the world.
a place you’d like to share? Submit a photo and a short description.”
checking the listings in New York State, I see already listed is Grange Hall, Waterloo,
NY, associated with Belva Ann Lockwood; Harriet Tubman House and Gravesite,
Auburn, NY; the former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York City, “Little
Nellie,” Newspaper Editress, Penfield, NY; Alice Austen House, Staten Island;
and Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue, Fayetteville, NY.
Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Out of 1200 artifacts, photos, video testimonies, it comes down to one:
a tiny, well-worn leather child’s shoe, the sock still hanging out of it. Was
it taken off in anticipation the child was just going to a shower, or was the
child ferociously pulled out of the shoe and sock?
Shoes take on special significance at the “Auschwitz: Not so long ago.
Not far away.” landmark exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in
downtown Manhattan, which has been extended through August 30, 2020 before
touring to other cities.
As you first walk in, there is a single red shoe in a glass case that perversely sparks an image of the ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” set against a grey-toned wall-mural sized photo of piles of shoes. Further on as you walk through the three-floors of exhibits, there is the pair of hardened leather clog-looking shoes in a case with a prison uniform so rough and raw they would irritate, then infect and swell the feet, a death sentence for the hapless prisoner.
Another display case in the “Selection” section contains shiny leather boots, much like those that the prisoners would see Mengele wearing as they were forced out of the freight cars minutes after being unloaded at Auschwitz, beneath the sign that said. ‘Work Sets You Free.” He was the doctor who selected out twin children for his medical experiments. The rest of the children – 200,000 of them – were immediately sent to the gas chamber along with their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother or friendly stranger who had accompanied them on their journey. The tiny leather shoe with the sock still in it is the only evidence this child existed at all, his life extinguished.
800,000 more Jews were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas
chambers, 2000 at a time, their bodies thrown into crematoria that worked 24/7
to keep up with the factory-scale exterminations, their ashes thrown into a
Out of the 1.1 million “deported” to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi
killing camps, only 200,000 were “selected” not for immediate death but to
become slave labor in the concentration camp. They too were immediately marched
into showers, their hair shaved, their arms tattooed, their bodies stripped of
any dignity or humanness. Few lived more than a month or two under the
atrocious conditions – dying of starvation, disease, overwork, beatings or
simply shot on the spot. Some became so infirm, they settled into their fate,
and welcomed being carried by stretcher to end their daily terror and pain.
Others, packed six to a wooden plank in the barracks, would wake up to find a
dead person next to them.
“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” offers a different perspective on the Holocaust, a horror on a scale that is incomprehensible, by focusing down to the most personal elements.
This exhibit, which focuses down to one “tiny dot” on a map that was the
largest killing camp in the Nazi’s network – makes it as personal as is
possible. You walk in their shoes. And yet, as well as they show the faces, the
horrors, the personal objects, the testimonials of survivors, the drawings and photos,
an actual freight car and an actual barracks, even so, it is still hard to
Indeed, the incomprehensibility of the horror was key to its success – along
with secrecy and deception. People could not imagine the level of brutality,
cruelty, savageness. So they packed up what they could in suitcases, expecting
they were being resettled to places free of anti-Semitism, where they could
work and live out their lives.
It is also the danger that such dehumanization, genocide, industrial-scale
killing can happen again. Indeed, Auschwitz was not that long ago, nor that far
“Auschwitz” isn’t just a look back with graphic evidence to plant a marker in the history books that others are working so hard to erase . It is a look at now, a look at where the trajectory can lead. That is what is embodied in the phrase. “Never Again.”
I had been steeling myself to visit the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum
of Jewish Heritage. I recognized that I had an obligation, a responsibility to
be a witness to the extent possible. A NYC-Arts special on PBS helped
enormously because I could visualize, know what to expect and better prepare
for the horror – unlike the millions who were sent to the killing camps. Then
there was that television screening of the story of Irena Sendler, a Warsaw
nurse who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Ghetto to safety – the film so
graphic, her courage and nobility so palpable. Surely I could summon the
courage to face the past. To Remember. Never Forget.
If you thought you knew about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ Final Solution
that exterminated 6 million Jews and too many (40% of adults and 65% of young
people) don’t know anything at all, this rare exhibit, with artifacts gathered
from 20 institutions around the world, focuses just on Auschwitz – from how a
simple Polish village, Oswiecim where half the population was made up of Jewish
families who had lived there for centuries, was turned into the largest of six
killing factories in Poland. Original artifacts – documents, personal items,
posters, photos – show the roots of anti-Semitism and how being Jewish was
converted from a religion to “an inferior race,” a sub-human species, stripped
of legal, political, property and professional rights. That’s the first floor.
You see and hear from survivors how families were stuffed 100, 150 into a
box car (like the one outside the museum), with the ploy of telling them they
were being resettled to a better place free of anti-Semitism, then locked in
with just one pail as a toilet and one pail for water, so crowded, one had to
stand up in order for someone to sit down. And then they arrive on the “ramp”,
where they are “selected,” crossing under a wrought iron sign that said, “Work
Makes You Free.” That’s just the middle of the second floor.
Here you see stacks of suitcases, a pram (a rare artifact) that eerily reminds
you of the display as you enter Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of
immigrants into the United States. But here, it shows how unwitting the victims
were. Because they were only moments away from being sent to their death. And
because access to safe harbors like the United States were shut off to them.
Turn the corner in a room shrouded in darkness and you come upon a white
door of a gas chamber, a metal mesh chimney down which the Zykon B poison was
sent, a gas mask. In another case, one of the innocuous looking showerheads
that survived the fire the Nazis set to destroy evidence of their Final
Solution. Extraordinarily powerful and horrifying drawings by survivor Alfred Kantor depict how women and
children were told to undress and hang up their clothes on a numbered hook so
they would find them again – “Remember your number.” And then they would be
locked into the gas chamber.
They, too, were told they were going to shower to be de-loused. The Nazis
made a show of having them undress in a changing room, have them put their
clothes on numbered hooks so they could find them again. They were shoved 1000
at a time into a shower room, the doors clanked shut, and Zykon B poison pumped
in. It took barely 15 minutes to exterminate them all.
The door would open at the other end and a group of Jewish prisoners, called
Sonderkommandos, would pull the bodies out one by one, drag them to a dumbwaiter
to the crematoria. To keep the secret safe, the Sonderkommandos were kept
isolated from the rest of the camp, living in barracks above the crematoria. A
rabbi among them, a Hungarian, took each child and said Kaddish before placing
the small body in the crematorium.
But one of the Sonderkommandos, working with Polish resistance, smuggled
a camera and film and took photos of bodies being burned in vast fields with
the overflow that couldn’t be handled in the crematoria, working night and day.
There are four of these photos on display.
The Nazis harvested their victims. As the bodies were pulled from the gas
chamber, a Sonderkommando designated “The Dentist” would pull out their gold
teeth. Their clothes and meager belongings had already been plundered and sent
to “Kanada” – vast warehouses named for a country that was considered rich but
out of reach. Between the various business enterprises that the Nazis used
their slave labor and the looting, it is estimated that each prisoner returned
$794 in profit to the SS.
How were the Nazis able to lead 11 million including 6 million Jews to
slaughter like sheep? The secret is how they kept such a massive killing secret,
and who could have imagined such diabolical cruelty, such grotesque brutality,
who could have imagined a Final Solution?
How did they keep such a monstrous secret? How they managed to move
people by the thousands – trapping them into the freight cars when the people
thought they were being resettled to a pleasant village where they would be
allowed to work. They kept it a secret when immediately upon arriving at
Auschwitz, they were separated into two groups. One line was pushed to showers,
told to strip and were turned into slave labor – their hair shaved, arms tattooed,
all their property stripped away along with their identity, their personhood,
stuffed into a prison uniform with an appropriate identifying symbol as to
You continue on to learn what life was like in Auschwitz for the 200,000
who were not immediately murdered. You listen to harrowing testimonials by survivors,
see part of an actual barracks.
death toll of 1.1 million was the largest
among all the German death camps. But it also had the greatest number of
survivors – some 200,000 people brought to Auschwitz were sent to other camps
before the war ended, and some 7,000 prisoners were liberated at Auschwitz in
You leave this section, which is dark, almost completely black, into a
room called “Persistence and Resistance,” which is off-white, round, with
natural light streaming from a domed ceiling.
Persistence took the form of ways that the prisoners preserved their
Resistance took the form of getting the story of what was going on in
Auschwitz out to the world, in the hopes that the Allies would bomb the killing
center or disrupt the deportations, and preserving evidence that would
ultimately hold perpetrators of such colossal evil accountable.
This is the most moving section of all –
when I can finally start breathing again.
Auschwitz SS aimed to destroy any possible solidarity between prisoners…‘Resistance’
in Auschwitz therefore consisted of acts in which prisoners, against all odds,
showed solidarity with others. It included heroic actions made with a view to
the larger world outside of the camp, grand gestures of generosity and small
acts of kindness and charity, along with spiritual resistance. And it was
expressed in the determination that-despite the best efforts of the SS – death
in Auschwitz would not remain anonymous, and the victims would not remain
I learn the amazing story of Witold
Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under
the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in
order to spy for the Polish government.
managed to smuggle out messages about life and death in the camp while organizing
fellow prisoners. In April 1943, Pilecki escaped, and returned to Warsaw to
convince the Polish Resistance to attack Auschwitz in a coordinated effort with
prisoners. But the commander who had sent him on his mission had been arrested,
and the new leader judged an attack on the large and well-armed Auschwitz
garrison to be suicidal. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to shelter
the tens of thousands of inmates who might be freed. Pilecki wrote the first
full report on conditions of Auschwitz and the mass murder of Jews in the gas
chambers. The allies received the report but ignored it. Pilecki continued to
fight the Germans, participating in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Outrageously, in 1947, he was arrested
by the Polish Communist government, tortured, and executed in 1948.
It was so critical to
get information out that several risked their lives to smuggle information out.
I learn the story of The
Auschwitz Protocols: In March 1944, Slovakian Jewish inmates Walter
Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler observed the Nazi’s preparations
for the arrival of transports from Hungary. With a lot of planning and luck,
they escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944 and fled to Slovakia in the hopes
of warning the Jews of Hungary.
The testimony of Vrba and Wetzler, along with
information supplied by Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped Auschwitz
on May 27, 1944, yielded the first substantial report of the use of Auschwitz
as a death factory. It became known as the “Auschwitz Protocols” and detailed
the continuing massacres in the gas chambers. But the information didn’t reach
the Hungarians in time: beginning in May, over 400,000 Jews were deported and
murdered. A summary of the report arrived in the US in July. That same month,
the Red Army’s liberation of the Majdanek camp led to the publication in the US
of sensational reports written by well-known journalists in America media.
Though it didn’t succeed in its primary objective, the Auschwitz Protocols led
to diplomatic pressure that forced the Hungarian government [the leader now
fearing he would be tried for war crimes] to stop further deportations, saving
the lives of over 150,000 Jews. It also triggered a debate among the Allies:
what parts of Auschwitz could or should be bombed.
On August 20, Allied bombers attacked the IG
Farben factory, but not Auschwitz camps.
“I firmly believed that [the daily killing in
the crematoria] was possible because the victims who came to Auschwitz didn’t
know what was happening there,” Auschwitz survivor Rudolf Vrba wrote in 1985.
“I thought that if this would be made known by any means within Europe, this
might stir up the Resistance outside and bring help directly to Auschwitz. And
thus the escape plans are finally formulated and the escape took place on April
organized an ill-fated revolt in October 1944.
Roza Robota recruited women prisoners working in
the munitions factory operating next to the camp to smuggle gunpowder off-site.
Robota passed it to Timofei Borodin, a Russian technician, who carried it to
the Sonderkommandos. Their aim was to destroy the crematoria and spark a
But the uprising went awry. The Sonderkommandos
of Crematorium 5, hearing they were to b e gassed, revolted ahead of schedule.
On October 7, they killed 3 SS, wounded 12 and burned down Crematorium 4. At
the same time, the Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 2 attempted a breakout.
In retaliation the SS killed 451
Sonderkommandos. The camp Gestapo identified Robota and three other Jewish
women – Regina Sapirstein, Ala Gertner and Ester Wajeblum – as plotters. After
weeks of torture they were hanged publicly. As the noose was placed around her
neck, Robota cried out ‘Nekama;’ (Revenge!)
Sonderkommando Zalman Groiadowski (Sept 6, 1944), leaves a note. “Dear finder,
search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tons of documents are buried under
it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that
was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. We, the
Sonderkommando workers, have expressly strewn them all over the terrain so that
the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people…”
This groundbreaking 18,000-square-foot exhibition takes up three
floors, 20 thematic galleries. Through the artifacts and Holocaust survivor
testimony, it brings you inside and re-creates the experience as best as possible,
raising the alarm how the unimaginable, the inconceivable happened and can
happen again. The commentary notes that one demagogue like Hitler could not
have produced the Holocaust.
“Genocide is a social
act,” the audio guide says toward the end of the exhibit. “It requires a
society who conspires…But the same society can resist.”
But there is one question that is not answered: who, what and how those
who administered torture, who beat and murdered and presided over such intense
suffering. That is a critical question to knowing whether such a thing could
happen again. Just what percentage of a given population are sociopaths?
There are some clues provided in the statements that are presented:
Once Hitler had decided that the “Final Solution”
would be enacted, one important question remained: Who was to be in charge of
the genocide? Heinrich Himmler sought this responsibility as he believed it
would help him consolidate his power.
Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss (1946)
testified, “I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations.
I did not think his methods were very efficient. I used Zykon B, a crystallized
prussic acid dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from
three to 15 minutes to kill the people. Another improvement we made over
Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were
to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into
thinking that they were to go through a delousing process.”
“The children, they’re not the enemy at the
moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a
Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included
as well.” (Former Auschwitz SS man Oskar Groning explaining in a 2004 interview
why he condoned killing Jewish children).
The exhibition explores the dual identity of the camp as a
physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and
as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.
Consider this: Jews had lived in Germany for 1000 years before the
Holocaust; they had lived in the Polish town of Oswiecim.that the Germans renamed
Auschwitz and repurposed for a killing factory for hundreds of years. It was
only 10 quick years between when Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor
in 1933, to the Final Solution in 1942. By the time Germany surrendered, two
years later, 6 million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – had
That’s how fast things can descend into unimaginable evil.
Produced by the international exhibition firm
Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the groundbreaking
exhibition is the largest ever on Auschwitz with more than 700 original
objects and 400 photographs. The New York presentation of the exhibition allows
visitors to experience artifacts from more than 20 international museums and
institutions on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of
personal items—suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes—that belonged to survivors and
victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include: concrete posts that were part of
the fence of the Auschwitz camp; part of an original barrack for prisoners from
the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and
the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the
SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made
Model 2 freight train car of the type used for the deportation of Jews to the
ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland.
The exhibition also features 10 artifacts on
loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which include the spilled, dried
beans Anne wrote about in her diary and that were later discovered lodged
between the cracks of stairs in the home where she hid from the German Nazis.
The beans have never been displayed anywhere before. Most recently, the Museum
announced the exhibition’s incorporation of a shofar (a ram’s horn that is made
into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday services) that
was hidden and clandestinely blown in the Auschwitz. The shofar was newly added
to the exhibition on the cusp of the High Holy days and temporarily transported
to two New York City synagogues to be blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom
The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated
into the exhibition nearly 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay
the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New
York area. Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150
original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and
Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch
Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in
Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania
often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and
identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St.
Louis; and a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg,
postcards sent home in order to deceive family members as to what was really
going on at the camp.
Most profound is a
film that has survived showing a killing field in which the killers are so
casual, even bored by the routine as villagers look on, and the four photos of
Crematorium 5 smuggled out by Alberto
Errera, a Jewish-Greek army officer who joined the resistance during the German
occupation, assuming the name Aleksos (Alex) Michaelides. Captured, Errera was
sent to Auschwitz in April 1944 and selected for the Sonderkommando. On August
9, Errera attempted an escape but was captured, tortured and killed.
Most poignant are the video testimonials of
survivors describing their personal experiences.
Also on display from the Museum of Jewish
Heritage collection is Heinrich Himmler’s SS helmet and his annotated copy of
Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued
in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security
chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation
required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes.
Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s
work. “These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must
never be forgotten.”
information is presented as clearly, simply, directly, forth-rightly and in
excruciatingly personal terms, but it is all still so hard to comprehend, to
process, the magnitude, the scale of cruelty.
The artifacts and materials in the exhibition
are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the
world. In addition to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Museum of
Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, participating
institutions include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam,
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Auschwitz Jewish Center
in Oświęcim, the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, and the
Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London.
Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. was conceived of by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State
Museum and curated by an international panel of experts, including
world-renowned scholars Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and
Paul Salmons, in an unprecedented collaboration with historians and curators at
the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led by Dr. Piotr
“When we, the Musealia curatorial team set out
to design the Auschwitz exhibition, we realized that we faced a difficult
problem. In Auschwitz over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered shortly
after their arrival or suffered and died in unimaginable circumstances. How
does one create an exhibition about such a dark chapter in human history that,
in our understanding, is not long ago and happened in a place not far away? How
does one make the public, that has so many opportunities to explore a great
city like New York, decide that it would want to see such an exhibition? Our
tools were straightforward: a narrative told through more than 700 original
artifacts, 400 original images, 100 stories, made present by means of filmed
testimonies and quotes – all revealing individual experiences of a history we
must learn from,” said Dr. Robert
Jan van Pelt, Chief Curator.
Following the New York presentation, the
exhibition will tour to other cities around the world.
You need 2 ½ to four hours to see just this
exhibit (I was there five hours before I realized it). hours).
Entry is by timed ticket available at
Auschwitz.nyc. Audio guide (available in 8 languages) is included with
admission. Tickets are $25 Flexible Entry (entry any time on a specific day); $16
Adults; $12 Seniors and People with Disabilities; $10 Students and Veterans; $8
FREE for Holocaust survivors, active members
of the military and first responders, and students and teachers through grade
12 in schools located in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (with valid
The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living
Memorial to the Holocaust is
New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third
largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, since
1997, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has welcomed more than 2.5 million
visitors; it maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs,
documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat
theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center
for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones,
designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Set in
the southernmost tip of Manhattan overlooking the New York Harbor, the Museum completes
the cultural and educational triad with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island,
visible from its balcony.
The Museum also partners with Jewish Heritage Travel – offering heritage trips to Germany & France; Poland; The Baltics; Germany; Spain & France; Argentina; and India (jhtravel.org, 845-256-0197).
The Museum is closed on Saturdays, Jewish
holidays, and Thanksgiving.
of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place, New
York City, 646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org.
Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
Always a show of support, solidarity and respect for the Chinese and Asian community in New York City, this year’s Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, welcoming the Year of the Rat, took on added urgency because of the coronavirus afflicting Wuhan, China, and the recent fire that destroyed a building housing much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America.
held up signs, “Stay Strong Wuhan,” but even though there have been no
instances of the coronavirus in New York City, visits to Chinatown, normally at
peak during the Lunar New Year celebration, have declined and business has been
parade route went just passed 70 Mulberry Street, where on the night of Thursday,
January 16, a fire destroyed most of the 85,000 items stored there for the
Museum of Chinese in America, housed nearby in a new building on Centre Street
since 2009. The rare and cherished items preserved the rich and challenging
story of the Chinese migration to the United States through such personal
objects as textiles, restaurant menus, handwritten letters, tickets for ship’s
passage, traditional wedding dresses (cheongsam).
The building, a former school that educated generations of
immigrants, is a community center that housed a senior center, the Chen Dance
Center and several community groups, in addition to storing the museum’s artifacts
that were not on display.
Political and parade officials praised the New York Fire
Department, which had a prominent place – bagpipers and all – in the parade.
Meanwhile, fear over the virus has kept people from Chinatown
and Chinese restaurants during what should have been the busiest time of year,
the Lunar New Year celebration.
Elected officials are urging the public to take normal
precautions against illness, but not to let fears concerning coronavirus stop
them from participating in the event. “It’s really important in this
moment where everyone is understandably worried about the coronavirus, we need
to be factual, we need to be scientific, and we need to be calm,” NYC
Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.
The annual event has not only paid tribute to the
contribution the Asian community has made to the city, state and nation, but
immigration as a whole.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, reading from a
proclamation, said, “As a city built by immigrations, New York is the proud
home to residents who hail from every corner of the map and speak a multitude
of languages. This unparalleled diversity is the source of our singularity and
strength and it is exemplified by our thriving population of Asian Americans
that has made invaluable contributions to the cultural, civic and economic life
of the five boroughs. On the occasion of the 21st Chinatown Lunar
New Year Parade and Festival, hosted by Beter Chinatown U.S.A. I am pleased to
recognize the indelible imprint this vital community has made on our great and
“New York is fortunate to have an abundance of organizations
devoted to advancing positive change. Established in 2001, Better Chinatown
U.S.A. is guided by its mission to improve quality of life in Manhattan’s
Chinatown and promote it as a destination of choice for our diverse residents
and visitors. Its annual Lunar New Year Parade is a much anticipated event
attracting thousands of spectators from far and wide for a pageant of traditional
lion dances, music ensembles, and dancers in colorful folk costumes, followed
by a party in Sara D. Roosevelt Park featuring Chinese food and cultural performances.”
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez,
one of the Grand Marshals, spoke of the resilience of the Chinese community,
and how the community “contributes to the fabric of our city, our nation.”
“I’m here to say that Chinatown is open for business and we
are behind you and we will remain strong,” Velazquez said. “Last night, I was
here dining in a restaurant in Chinatown. I welcome everyone to come here and
celebrate the culture and beauty of this community.”
China’s Consul General Huang Ping said “China is doing
everything to confront the coronavirus. We have mobilized forces. We have
strong leadership, resources, are working with the international community. Be
strong China. Be strong Wuhan.”
Lt Governor Kathy Hochul, “We stand together at one family. Stay strong China. Stay strong Wuhan.”
Other dignitaries participating State Senator Brian
Kavanaugh, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President
Gale Brewer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Assemblyman David Webrin.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared the city
stands in solidarity with China and the Asian community, “no matter what is
thrown at us.” New York has the largest Chinese community outside Asia “and we
are proud of that.” The city made the Lunar New Year a school holiday and
teaches Mandarin as early as pre-K, and is actively promoting participation in
the 2020 Census.
“In China, there
are so many of loved ones, faced with coronavirus and we stand together as
community,” De Blasio said. “We celebrate New Year together – we are united,
and we celebrate this extraordinary Chinese community the largest of any city
outside of Asia.”
He also presented a
Proclamation to parade organizer Steven Ting day for his continued work on the
parade, proclaiming February 9 “Steven Ting Day.”
US Senator Charles Schumer used a bull horn as he marched in
the parade to cheer for immigration. “New Yorkers are proud people, who come
from all over the world. We fight those who oppose us.”
And on that score, the parade was also used to promote the
importance of being counted in the 2020 Census, with one group of even handing out
flyers to recruit census takers ($28/hr, flexible hours).
The census, De
Blasio stressed, will make Chinatown better represented if everyone takes part.
Here are highlights from the 21st Annual Lunar New
The Crazy Horse Memorial is sensational, awesome and profound. The
carved portrait in the cliff-side, which I first encounter by surprise as I
bike on the Mickelson Trail between Custer and Hill City is spectacular enough,
but there is so much more to discover. There is also a superb Museum of Native
Americans of North America (it rivals the Smithsonian’s Museum in Washington
DC) where you watch a terrific video that tells the story of the America’s
indigenous people, and can visit the studio/home of the sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski.
It is the highlight of our third day of the Wilderness Voyageurs “Badlands and
Mickelson Trail” bike tour of South Dakota.
I rush to join a tour (a
modest extra fee) that brings us right to the base of the sculpture. You look
into this extraordinary, strong face – some quartz on the cheek has a glint
that suggests a tear.
Only then do I realize that,
much to my surprise, seeing the scaffolding and equipment, that 70 years after
sculptor Ziolkowski started carving the monument in 1947, his grandson is
leading a crew to continue carving. Right now it is mainly a bust – albeit the
largest stone carving in the world – but as we see in the museum, the completed
sculpture will show Crazy Horse astride a horse, his arm outstretched toward
the lands that were taken from the Lakota.
At 87 ft 6 inches high, the Crazy Horse Memorial
is the world’s largest mountain carving in progress. They are now working on
the 29-foot high horse’s head, the 263-foot long arm, and 33 ft-high hand, the
guide tells us. The horse’s head will be as tall as 22-story building,
one-third larger than any of the President’s at Mount Rushmore. The next phase of progress on the
Mountain involves carving Crazy Horse’s left
hand, left forearm, right shoulder, hairline, and part of the horse’s mane and
head over 10-15 years. The plan is to carve the back side of the
rock face as well, which would make the Crazy Horse Memorial a three-sided
When completed, the Crazy
Horse Mountain carving will be the world’s largest sculpture, measuring 563
feet high by 641 feet long, carved in the round. The nine-story high face of
Crazy Horse was completed on June 3, 1998; work began on the 22-story high
horse’s head soon after.
“One if hardest decisions
(after two years of planning) was to start with head, not the horse (in other
words, work way down),” the guide tells us.
In 71 years of construction,
there have been no deaths or life threatening injuries of the workers (though
there was that accident when a guy driving a machine slipped off edge; his father
told him he had to get the machine out himself.)
Four of Korczak and Ruth’s 10 children
and three of his grandchildren still work at the Memorial.
On the bus ride back to the
visitor center, the guide tells us that Zioklowski was a decorated World War II
veteran who was wounded on D-Day, but was so devoted to the Crazy Horse
Memorial, he even planned for his death: there is a tomb in a cave at the base
of the monument..
Back at the visitor
center/museum, the story about the Crazy Horse Memorial is told in an excellent
The overwhelming theme is to
tell the story, to give a positive view of native culture, to show that Native
Americans have their own heroes, and to restore and build a legacy that
survived every attempt to blot it out in a form of genocide.
There were as many as 18 million Indians living in North America when the Europeans arrived
(the current population is 7 million in the US). “These Black Hills are our
Cathedral, our sacred land,” the film says.
Crazy Horse was an Ogala
Lakota, born around 1840 on the edge of Black Hills. He was first called “Curly”
but after proving himself in battle, earned his father’s name, “Crazy Horse” (as
in “His Horse is Crazy”). The chief warned of encroaching “river” of settlers,
leading to 23-years of Indian wars. In 1876 Crazy Horse led the battle against
General Custer, the Battle of Little Big Horn (known as Custer’s Last Stand,
but Indians call it “the Battle of Greasy Grass”). It was a victory for the
Indians, but short-lived. Soon after, the US government rounded up the rebels
and killed Crazy Horse while he was in custody at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. (See www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/crazy-horse.htm)
I am introduced to a new hero: Standing Bear.
Standing Bear was born 1874 near Pierre, South Dakota, and was among the first Indian children sent away to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where his name was randomly changed to “Henry.” In the school, their Indian identity was forcibly removed – they cut the boys’ hair, they were not allowed to speak their language “to best help them learn the ways of non-native.”
“As a result of attending Carlisle, Standing Bear concluded that in order to best help his people, it would be necessary for him to learn the ways of the non-Native world. Somewhat ironically, Carlisle – an institution that was designed to assimilate Native Americans out of their indigenous ways – became a source of inspiration that Standing Bear would repeatedly draw upon to shape his enlightened understanding of cross-cultural relationships, as well as to find new ways of preserving his people’s culture and history.” He honed leadership skills like public speaking, reasoning, and writing, realizing that because of the changing times, the battle for cultural survival would no longer be waged with weapons, but with words and ideas. “This realization became a driving force behind much of his work during his adult life and led him to become a strong proponent of education,” the background material on the Crazy Horse Memorial website explains (crazyhorsememorial.org).
attended night school in Chicago while he worked for the Sears Roebuck Company
to pay for his schooling. With feet firmly placed in both worlds, he became
heavily involved in the affairs of his people over the course of his life and
politically astute —working with Senator Francis Case and serving as a member
of the South Dakota Indian Affairs Commission. He led the initiative to honor
President Calvin Coolidge with a traditional name – “Leading Eagle,”
taking the opportunity for advocacy during the naming ceremony to challenge
President Coolidge to take up the leadership role that had been previously
filled by highly-respected leaders such as Sitting Bull and Red Cloud.
In 1933, Standing
Bear learned of a monument to be constructed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, to
honor his maternal cousin, Crazy Horse, who was killed there in 1877. He wrote
to the organizer that he and fellow Lakota leaders were promoting a carving of
Crazy Horse in the sacred Paha Sapa – Black Hills.
Standing Bear looked for an
artist with the skill to carve the memorial to his people that would show
Indians had heroes too and turned to Korczak Ziolkowski, a self-taught
sculptor who had assisted at Mount Rushmore and had
gained recognition at the 1939 World’s Fair. Standing Bear invited him back to
the Black Hills.
Born in Boston of Polish descent in
1908, Korczak was orphaned when he was one year old. He grew up in a series of
foster homes and is said to have been badly mistreated. He gained skills in heavy construction
helping his foster father.
On his own at 16, Korczak took odd jobs
to put himself through Rindge Technical School in Cambridge, MA, after which he
became an apprentice patternmaker in the shipyards on the rough Boston
waterfront. He experimented with woodworking, making beautiful furniture. At
age 18, he handcrafted a grandfather clock from 55 pieces of Santa Domingo
mahogany. Although he never took a lesson in art or sculpture, he studied the
masters and began creating plaster and clay studies. In 1932, he used a coal
chisel to carve his first portrait, a marble tribute to Judge Frederick
Pickering Cabot, the famous Boston juvenile judge who had befriended and
encouraged the gifted boy and introduced him to the world of fine arts.
Moving to West Hartford, Conn., Korczak
launched a successful studio career doing commissioned sculpture throughout New
England, Boston, and New York.
Ziolkowski wanted to do something
worthwhile with his sculpture, and made the Crazy Horse Memorial his life’s
“Crazy Horse has never been
known to have signed a treaty or touched the pen,” Ziolkowski wrote. “Crazy
Horse, as far as the scale model is concerned, is to be carved not so much as a
lineal likeness, but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse – to his
people. With his left hand gesturing forward in response to the derisive
question asked by a white man, ‘Where are your lands now?’ He replied, ‘My lands
are where my dead lie buried’.”
There is no known photo of
Crazy Horse, Ziolkowski created his likeness from oral descriptions.
He built a log studio home
(which we can visit) at a time when there was nothing around – no roads, no
water, no electricity. For the first seven years, he had to haul himself and
his equipment, including a decompressor and 50 pound box of dynamite, up 741
Living completely isolated
in the wilderness, Korczak and his wife Ruth bought an 1880s one-room school
house, had it moved to this isolated property and hired a teacher for their 10
There is so much to see
here: The Museums of
Crazy Horse Memorial feature exhibits and engaging experiences that let you
discover Native history and contemporary life, the art and science of mountain carving and the lives of the Ziolkowski family.
INDIAN MUSEUM OF NORTH AMERICA® houses an enormous collection of art
and artifacts reflecting the diverse histories and cultures of over 300 Native
Nations. The Museum, designed to complement the story being told in stone
on the Mountain, presents the lives of American Indians and preserves Native
Culture for future generations. The Museum collection started with a single display
donated in 1965 by Charles Eder, Hunkpapa Lakota, from Montana, which remains on display to this day. The
Indian Museum has about the same number of annual visits as the National Museum
of the American Indian at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. Close to
90% of the art and artifacts have been donated by generous individuals,
including many Native Americans.
The gorgeous building housing the Museum
was designed and built by Korczak Ziolkowski and his family in the
harsh winter of 1972-73, when no work was possible on the Mountain.
The Museum incorporated Korczak’s love of wood and natural lighting, being
constructed from ponderosa pine, harvested and milled at Crazy Horse Memorial.
The original wing of the museum was dedicated on May 30, 1973. In the early 1980s,
Korczak planned a new wing of the Museum to accommodate the growing collection
of artifacts. He did not live to see his plans realized, instead his wife Ruth Ziolkowski and 7 of their children
made sure the new wing was built. The structure was built in the winter of
1983-84 and funding came in large part from a $60,000 check left in the Crazy
Horse Memorial contribution box in late August of 1983. The contributor said he
was moved by the purpose of Crazy Horse, Korczak, and his family’s great
progress and by the sculptor’s reliance on free enterprise and refusal to take
The Ziolkowski Family Life Collection is shown throughout the complex and demonstrates to people of all ages the timeless values of making a promise and keeping it, setting a goal and never giving up, working hard to overcome adversity, and devoting one’s life to something much larger than oneself. There are portraits of the couple and personal effects that tell their life’s story.
The Mountain Carving Gallery shares the amazing history of carving the Mountain. It features the tools Korczak used in the early years of carving, including a ½ size replica of “the bucket” – a wooden basket used with an aerial cable car run by an antique Chevy engine that allowed the sculptor to haul equipment and tools up the Mountain. Displayed in the Mountain Carving Room are the measuring models used to carve the face of Crazy Horse, plasters of Crazy Horse’s face and the detailed pictorial progression of carving the face. They also detail the next phase in the Memorial’s carving which is focused on Crazy Horse’s left hand and arm, the top of Crazy Horse’s head, his hairline, and the horse’s mane. If you stand in just the right spot, you can line up the model of how the finished work will look against the actual mountain sculpture as it is.
Crazy Horse Memorial is
actually a private, nonprofit (they also have a nonprofit college and medical
training center that educates Indians), and twice turned down federal funding
because “they didn’t believe the government would do it right.” Indeed, Mount
Rushmore (which we see on the last day of our bike tour) was never completed
because the federal government stopped funding the project. The entrance fee
($30 per car, 3 or more people, $24 per car two people, $12 per person, $7 per
bicycle or motorcycle) support the continued carving, the Indian Museum of
North America and the Indian University of North America, which assists qualifying
students get their college degrees.
Once again, I am so grateful
that I am not being pushed along with an artificial time limit by the
Wilderness Voyageurs guides, I wander through the vast complex trying to take
it all in. I am utterly fascinated.
I buy postcards for 25c apiece and stamps, sit with a (free) cup of coffee in the cafe and mail them at their tiny post-office. There is an excellent gift shop.
The Crazy Horse Memorial is
open 365 days of the year, with various seasonal offerings.
I’m the last one to leave
the Crazy Horse Memorial, and note that the bike of our sweeper guide for today John
is still on the rack, but
I figure he will see that I have gone and catch up to me, so I get back on the
Mickelson Trail. He catches me again when I don’t realize to get off the trail
at Hill City, where we are on our own for lunch and exploring the town.
Hill City is really
charming and the home of the South Dakota State Railroad Museum, where you can
take a ride on an old-time steam railroad. The shops are really pleasant.
The Wilderness Voyageurs
van is parked there in case anybody needs anything.
The ride to the Crazy Horse Memorial was uphill on the rail trail for 8 miles but going down hill isn’t a picnic because of the loose gravel – but not difficult and totally enjoyable. We ride through train tunnels and over trestles. It is no wonder that the 109-mile long Mickelson Trail, which is a centerpiece of the Wilderness Voyageurs’ tour, is one of 30 rail-trails to have been named to the Hall of Fame by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. We finish this day’s ride at Mystic at the 74.7-mile marker– we’ll ride the remaining miles on another day. Mystic used to be a significant town when the railroad ran here. Now there are just two buildings and four residents.
I notice the sign tacked up at the
shelter: Be Aware: Mountain Lions spotted on the trail toward Rochford within
the last few days.
We are shuttled back to Custer for our
second night’s stay at the Holiday Inn Express (very comfortable, with pool,
game room, WiFi and breakfast), and treated to a marvelous dinner at one of the
finer dining restaurants, the Sage Creek Grill (611 Mount Rushmore Road,
Voyageurs started out as a rafting adventures company 50 years ago, but has
developed into a wide-ranging outdoors company with an extensive catalog of
biking, rafting, fishing and outdoor
adventures throughout the US and even Cuba, many guided and self-guided bike
itineraries built around rail trails like the Eric Canal in New York, Great
Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania, and Katy Trail in Missouri.
are still a few spots left on Wilderness Voyageurs’ Quintessential West Cuba
Bike Tour departing on March 21.
Having set out from Yangon, Myanmar on
our Par 5 Challenge on the Global Scavenger Hunt, a 23-day around-the-world
mystery tour in which we solve scavenges to amass points in order to win the
title, “World’s Best Travelers,” we arrive at Bagan airport.
after arriving at the Bagan airport in Myanmar (and paying the mandatory ticket
to the archaeological zone, 15,000 Kyat, or $12), we see why Bagan was only
this July was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site: known as the city of Temples,
Bagan has more than 2,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas within 16 square miles,
its ancient ruins rival Angkor Wat in Cambodia, though in Cambodia, the
prevailing colors seem grey and green, while here, they are the red, orange and
beige of sandstone. Temples here are as common as skyscrapers in Manhattan,
dotting the plain.
The profusion of
temples is astonishing. The stunning architecture and the fact that they are
centuries old is mind-boggling. On top of that, you realize they have survived
earthquakes as recent as 2016 when nearly 200 temples were damaged by a 6.8
that Myanmar was shut off from the world for 60 years, only reopening since
2011, Bagan is still relatively unknown and draws fewer tourists than so many
of the world’s great archeological sites that are endangered by their very
popularity. In Bagan, you have the feeling of discovery and authenticity. Here,
local worshippers vastly outnumber Western visitors and you can be immersed in
are so many temples, some are just out in overgrowth that makes you think of
fairy tales with the castle buried by a forest. Some of the most breathtakingly
beautiful architecture comes immediately as we set out. We stop the taxi to
the taxi driver who takess us from the airport, is a delightful man who speaks
English very well, and immediately expresses appreciation for us coming to
visit his country. On our way to the hotel, he stops where we ask to take
pictures. We decide to hire him to take us around and make an appointment for
him to come back at a certain time. (Had we been competing for points and to
win the crown, we wouldn’t be allowed to hire a taxi for a whole day or use the
driver as a guide).
hotel, Aye Yar River View Resort in Old Bagan, inside the city walls, which I
booked on hotels.com, is absolutely lovely – walking distance to several of the
places I want to visit (such as the Archaeological Museum) and some of the
temples, with an absolutely lovely pool (so welcome in the heat that exceeds
100 degrees), and open-air restaurant.
instead of racing out to start on the scavenges as other teams have done (some
racing from the airport to Mount Popa, an hour’s drive away), I find myself
losing a frustrating couple of hours trying to switch my travel arrangements
from Mandalay to Inle Lake. Making the reservation on the overnight bus (first
class!) to Inle Lake turns out to be easy on the JJ Bus website,
www.jjexpress.net); booking the hotel which I select from the list Bill
Chalmers, the Global Scavenger Hunt organizer and ringmaster, has provided, on
hotels.com is a cinch, but the flight to get back to Yangon on Saturday in time
for the 6 pm deadline in is the real problem. Because of the national holiday,
I can’t get through to the airline itself, not even the hotel manager who does
her best, in order to change my booking on Golden Airlines from Mandalay. I can’t
even book a new flight. But finally, I make the booking through an on-line
the others are having lunch, I only have to stroll out the front gate of the
hotel to come upon temples and archaeological sites. I wander over to the
Shwe-gu-gyi Hpaya (temple), which the
sign (in English) notes was built by King Alaungsithu in 1141. The temple is
built on a high platform, topped by a sikhara, or curvilinear square-based dome
and has a projected porch, or vestibule.. A stone inscription describes the
merit of King Bayinnaung in 1551.
in this immediate vicinity, walking distance from the hotel are: Mahabodhia
Pagoda (1215 AD); Shwe Hti Saung Pagoda (11th C), Saw Hlawhan Pagoda
(598 AD), and the Lacquerware Museum.
take note of a tourism school and a sign that says, “Warmly Welcome & Take
Care of Tourists.”
we set out with our taxi driver, San Luen, to visit some of the notable temples
(there are 2,000 in Bagan) – we only have a day. It’s 108 degrees (116 with
heat index). We set out initially
following some of the scavenges which steer us to prime places and experiences.
Our first stop is Dhammayangyi
Temple, one of the most massive structures in Bagan and one of the most
popular for visitors. It was built by King Narathu (1167-70), who was also
known as Kalagya Min, the ‘king killed by Indians’. Luen drives us to a side
entrance so we will have a shorter distance to walk over the extremely hot
ground in bare feet (not even socks are allowed in Bagan). Here in this holy
city, strict rules mean we can’t even wear slippers or socks into the temples,
but have to walk over intensely hot sand and stone, baking in the 108 degree heat.
Luen calls it “the Temple of the Evil King. I later learn that
Narathu ascended the Bagan throne by murdering his father, the king, and built
this temple as penance. “It is said that Narathu oversaw the construction
himself and that masons were executed if a needle could be pushed between
bricks they had laid. But he never completed the construction because he was
assassinated before the completion.” Apparently he was assassinated in this
very temple in revenge by the father of an Indian princess who Narathu had
executed because he was displeased by her performance of Hindu rituals.
I guess thanks to Narathu, the interlocking, mortarless
brickwork at Dhammayangyi, is said to rank as the finest in Bagan.
We wander about what feels like a labyrinth of narrow
hallways to discover the art inside. The interior floor plan has two
ambulatories. Almost all the innermost passage, though, was filled with brick
rubble centuries ago. Three of the four Buddha sanctums also were filled with
bricks. What we see in the remaining western shrine features two original
side-by-side images of Gautama and Maitreya, the historical and future Buddhas
– they are magnificent.
Coming out of the temple, we come upon some of the most
wonderful pastoral scenes of women leading a herd of goats, temples in the
A short distance away is another temple, Sulamani Phaya, “The Ruby of Bagan”, which
dates from 1183 AD. Considered the most frequently visited temple in Bagan, the
Sulamani was built by King Narapatisihu, who found a small ruby on the ground
on the Bagan Plains and built a temple in its place. A description notes, “The
word Sulamani means ‘small ruby’ and is a fitting name for this sand-orange and
elegant ‘crowning jewel’.The temple is surrounded by a high wall; its layers of
terraces and spires give the structure a mystical fairytale appearance. Inside,
intricately carved stucco embellishments adorn the doors and windows.”
We drive passed
the Ananda Temple, known as the
“Westminster Abbey of Burma” for its elegant and symmetrical design,
intending to return to visit. The golden spire on top can be seen from miles
across the Bagan Plain and is lit up at night by spotlights, creating an
impressive beacon in the sky. The temple is known for its four gold-leaf Buddha
statues, each standing an impressive 30 feet tall. Built in 1090 AD, Ananda
Temple is one of the largest and best-preserved temples in Bagan and is still
very important to local people. The temple was damaged in the earthquake of
1975, but has been fully restored and is well maintained. In 1990, on the
occasion of the 900th anniversary of its construction, the temple spires were
Shwesandaw Pagoda is considered one of
the most impressive temples in Bagan. Standing 328 feet high, it is visible
from a great distance. You can climb to the top for a wonderful view of the
plain. It also is an excellent place for interacting with locals as they come
to worship. One of the first to be built with what has become a classical
golden bell shape, Shwesandaw became the model for Myanmar’s pagodas. The
pagoda has survived invasions and natural disasters but has undergone renovations.
Thatbyinnyu Temple is distinctive
because it is one of the earliest two-story Buddhist temples and, unlike many
other temples in Myanmar, is not symmetrical. At over 120 feet tall,
Thatbyinnyu towers above nearby monuments. The area around it is picturesque
and offers a panoramic view of Bagan.
Gubyaukgyi Temple is known for having
the oldest original paintings in Bagan. According to notes, “The interior walls
and ceilings of the temple are covered with ancient murals that tell stories
from the previous lives of Buddha. The murals have been well-preserved because
the temple is lit with natural lighting from large perforated stone walls. Each
mural is paired with a caption written in old Mon. These captions are the earliest
examples of Old Mon in Myanmar making it an important site for the study of the
ancient language. No photography is allowed inside the temple, in order to
preserve the murals for future generations.”
heat (114 degrees with the heat index) has gotten to Margo who wants to go back
to the hotel. After a swim in the gorgeous pool at the hotel, I set out again
with Luen at 4 pm to take me to a nearby village known for crafting the lovely
lacquerware. I wander around – seeing the crude living conditions (they don’t
have running water but they have electricity), and am invited in to watch
people as they craft. At the entrance to the village, there is a large retail
shop and workshop of master artisans.
on my way back from the village, about 5 pm, when I see a message on my phone
from the online booking agent that the airline booking from Inle to Yangon did
not go through – I basically would be stranded. The booking app gives me a
California 24/7 help number to call.
interferes with my plan to see the sun set and watch the golden light take over
the dramatic landscape.
The setting of
the temples on the Bagan Plain make for expansive views – one of the reasons
you should look for opportunities to get to a height, preferably at sunrise, or
late afternoon toward sunset, when the light and the colors are most dramatic.
For this reason,
one of the popular ways to see Bagan is taking a hot-air balloon ride is an
incomparable experience to see the thousands of temples scattered across the
Plains of Bagan, Balloon tours
normally begin at 6:30 am, just a few minutes after sunrise. They offer a
bird’s-eye view of the monuments in the misty orange morning light. The
picturesque spectacle of the temples at sunrise from red balloons above, has
become iconic for travelers in Myanmar. Hot-air balloon flights in Bagan
normally cost around $330 per person and are seasonal (from October to March;
book in advance).
Another is to drive about 1 ½ hours outside of Bagan to Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, climb to the top and see down at the whole plain laid out in front and visit the sacred Popa Taungkalat monastery at the top. Several of our group did that, literally racing by taxi from the airport so not to lose valuable time for our all-too-brief stop here on our Global Scavenger Hunt.
There are also river cruises, an archaeological museum, crafts like cotton weaving and lacquerware, oil processing, palm sugar production. Almost none of it am I able to take advantage of because I have abbreviated my time here and frankly, my experience in Bagan proves a lesson in the frustration of poor planning, but a learning experience, none the less.
Many of the
scavenges bring us to these important sites, but also to experiences. Among the
mandatory experiences in Bagan is to try toddy juice or Black Bamboo; finding
the “Rosetta stone of Myanmar” in the Bagan Archaeological Museum, where you
learn the interesting origin of Burmese distinctive alphabet of circles and
curleycues; rent a horse cart for half a day to compete 3 scavenges.
though Bagan is surprisingly compact and it doesn’t take long to travel from
one incredible sight to another, seeing Bagan properly would require planning
and sufficient time. I don’t have either but I chalk up my visit to a preview
for a future visit. You should spend at least two or three days here.
at the Aye Yar River View Resort, the manager again tries heroically and fruitlessly
to reach the airline directly but says the office has already closed. (I highly
recommend the Aye Yar River View Resort, located Near Bu Pagoda, Old Bagan,
meet up with Paula and Tom, the SLO Folks team from California who were last
year’s Global Scavenger Hunt champions, who are also going to Inle Lake on the
overnight bus and we go together to one of the two restaurants listed in the
scavenger hunt (more points!). The first is closed; the second is a lot of fun.
(Many of the scavenges involve food.)
the taxi driver, picks us up to go to the bus station.
I ride on the night-bus to Inle, at 10 pm, bouncing and rolling on the roads
that quickly turn into mountain passes, I text my son in New York to call the
airline in California. The texts go back and forth. “There’s no ticket, no seat.”
“We got you a seat, yay!” “No seat, he made a mistake. Drat.” “A seat, yay!” (On
the same flight as I originally booked! Yay!).
continues as I bounce along the overnight bus on twisting, winding roads
through the hills and darkness to Inle Lake.
Joyous Journey Express (JJExpress) bus is actually geared for foreign tourists –
first class modern buses with comfortable reclining seats, providing passengers
with a blanket, bottle of water and snack, even some variation of a TV monitor
which I couldn’t figure out (but no onboard bathroom – the driver stops when
necessary). In busy season, they even do a pick-up at your hotel. (www.jjexpress.net)
So often, when reviving a theater icon like Fiddler on the Roof, there is the need to find a new, unique, creative way to make it their own, to reinterpret, re-envision to give new audiences a different entry way. And too often, that manipulation warps or distorts what made the theatrical experience so precious to begin with. But you don’t have to insert modern inventions into Fiddler for its moral, both universal and specific, to be relevant to today’s audiences. In fact, it is much more profound to be transported back to that time, 1904, for its truth to be fully realized.
Fiddler on the Roof has that most important aspect of a true classic, to touch every emotion, make you see things more insightfully, to have a real moral to the story, and leave you a better, more understanding person afterward – and be entertained.
Directed by Oscar and Tony Award-winner Joel Grey, Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish (in Yiddish, A Fidler Afn Dakh) adds new depth and dimension to this heart-wrenching story of a community struggling to balance traditions against the forces and threats of a changing world. The little town of Anatevka reverberates with the sounds of mame-loshn (ancestral language).
Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, brings you closer, more engaged, immerses you. The experience seems even more authentic, more intimate.
Partly this is because the Yiddish language, is so expressive – some of the earliest musicals in New York were in Yiddish (Yiddish theater thrived in New York between 1888 and the 1920s; there is even a Museum of Yiddish Theater, www.museumofyiddishtheater.org) – and in a surprising way even familiar. There are words we New Yorkers know very well (meshuganah comes up a lot), and it seems every so often the Yiddish word is similar to English. But you can follow along, opera-style, with titles (in English and Russian!).
But it is also because Yiddish is the mame-loshn, the ancestral
language. It gives the story more authenticity. You are there, in this
place so far away. Perhaps you even understand the challenge when the
inhabitants of this village, indeed all the Jews from all the villages, are driven
from their homes on three days notice to a strange place where they will
understand no one and no one will understand them.
One of the most
celebrated musicals of all time, Fiddler
on The Roof, based on Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye the
Dairyman stories, features the sensational music
by Jerry Bock,
meaningful lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, and smart book by Joseph Stein, with original New York stage production directed and choreographed by
the greatJerome Robbins. This production, brilliantly
directed by Joel Grey, has staging and new choreography by Stas Kimec.
We noticed just small deviations from the original
book, and a new song that emerges from Pertshik’s biblical lesson, that enhance
the experience (not too smart or gimmicky), but otherwise, it is gloriously
faithful to one of the best musical theater works ever created.
The direction by Joel Grey is exquisite – just the
right timing, emphasis, emotion. These characters seem more approachable,
especially without distractions of a complicated set. The Tevye character,
played by Steven Skybell (who won the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best
Lead Actor) is more sensitive, loving, nuanced than the character is
The Jews of Anatevka are clad all in grey, white and
black – as if looking back in time at old photos or film, or perhaps as letters
out of a book – only the Russians have a touch of red and Fiadkah’s outfit is
sufficiently differentiated from his erstwhile comrades.
The set is sparse, but you don’t even realize it –
long strips of what looks like parchment of Torah scrolls with one with the
only world, in Hebrew lettering, Torah that binds the community throughout the
ages and is the underpinning to tradition. That hones the message but also
focuses attention on the people.
The staging and choreography is fabulous – there are
all our favorites: the bottle dance at the wedding; the Russian dance. I loved
the way the dream sequence is staged. The voices and acting of a brilliant
company are sensational.
And most importantly, a timeless tale more important
than ever that needs to be told in these times.
Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, which opened in 1964, was the first
musical theater production in history to surpass 3,000 performances, won
the 1965 Tony Award for Best Musical in addition to eight
other Tony Awards that year and has performed in
every metropolitan city in the world from Paris to Beijing.
translation, so artfully crafted by Israeli actor/director Shraga
Friedman, was originally performed in Israel in 1965 just one year after its Broadway debut.
Born in Warsaw, Friedman was a native Yiddish speaker who escaped war-torn Europe
with his family and made their way to Tel Aviv in 1941. “Well acquainted with
the works of Sholem Aleichem, Friedman used his translation to infuse Fiddler
with rich literary references to the original Yiddish stories.”
production, which was originally staged at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, marks
the first time the Yiddish version has been performed in the United States.
There is no
problem following what is going on – much like opera, there are supertitles in
English and Russian on both sides of the stage throughout the entire
performance that translate what is being said or sung on stage in real time.
The show is so familiar that it isn’t even necessary, but I enjoyed reading the
nuances of difference. And the great surprise is how familiar some of the words
are, either because Yiddish expressions have entered the vernacular (at least
in New York), or because of the connection to English.
The complete cast of Fiddler
on the Roof includes award-winning Steven Skybell (as
Tevye), Emmy Award nominee Jackie Hoffman (as
Yente), Jennifer Babiak (as Golde), Joanne Borts (as
Sheyndl), Lisa Fishman (as Bobe Tsatyl), Kirk Geritano (as
Avrom), Samantha Hahn (as Beylke), Cameron Johnson (as
Fyedka), Ben Liebert (as Motl Kamzoyl), Stephanie
Lynne Mason (as Hodl), Evan Mayer (as Sasha), Rosie
Jo Neddy (as Khave), Raquel Nobile (as
Shprintze), Nick Raynor (as Yosl), Bruce Sabath (as
Leyzer Volf), Drew Seigla (as Perchik), Adam B.
Shapiro (as Der Rov), Jodi Snyder (as
Frume-Sore), James Monroe Števko (as Mendl), Lauren
Jeanne Thomas (as Der Fiddler), Bobby Underwood (as
Der Gradavoy), Mikhl Yashinsky (as Nokhum / Mordkhe),
and Rachel Zatcoff (as Tsaytl).
Ensemble members include Michael
Einav, Jonathan Quigley, and Kayleen Seidl. Swings
include Abby Goldfarb and John Giesige, and Moshe
Lobel serves as understudy for the production.
The creative team for the production
features new choreography by Staś Kmieć (based on the original
choreography by Jerome Robbins), musical direction by Zalmen Mlotek, scenic
design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, sound
design by Dan Moses Schreier, lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski,
wig & hair design by Tom Watson, and props design by Addison
Fiddler on the Roof is produced off-Broadway by Hal Luftig and Jana
Robbins, in association withSandy Block.
This production of Fiddler on the Roof is the winner of the 2019 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical Revival, a 2019 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award Special Citation, and star Steven Skybell is the winner of the 2019 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical, as well as numerous nominations for Joe Grey as director, for orchestration, Lucille Lortel nominee for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical Jackie Hoffman.
Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish, a production of the remarkable National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), began its life with a celebrated run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, where it had been extended multiple times and played its final performance on December 30, 2018. This production at the Stage 42 Theater has been extended multiple times as well, and now is extended again, through January 5, 2020.
NYTF has its own remarkable history: founded in 1915 the award-winning NYTF is the longest continuously producing Yiddish theater company in the world and offers regular productions. The company is presenting a season of four mainstage productions, concerts and readings curated to accompany the exhibit Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away. now on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through Jan. 3, 2020 (https://mjhnyc.org/exhibitions/auschwitz/).
Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish is a theater
experience not to be missed.
on the Roof in Yiddish is at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street (between 9th and
10th Avenues), New York, NY, 10036. For the most current performance schedule
and tickets, see http://fiddlernyc.com. Tickets
are on sale for performances through Jan. 5, 2020. https://nytf.org/fiddler-on-the-roof/
Dragons and dancers paraded through New York
City’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 17 to usher in the Year of the Pig in the city
with the largest population of Chinese descent outside Asia.
The parade is a colorful pan-Asian procession that incorporates the great variety of Chinese traditions – with a smattering of Brazilian drummers, Hispanic dancers, and Irish bagpipers. Tens of thousands lined the parade route as it wound from Hester Street, Mott, Broadway, and Forsyth to Sara D. Roosevelt Park, with US Senator Charles Schumer and NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio among other elected officials, along with leaders from the Chinese community, leading the way.
his remarks to the gathering before the parade got underway, Senator Schumer
applauded the contributions of “immigrants from all over who made America
With a population estimated between 70,000 and 150,000,
Chinatown has been a favored home for Chinese immigrants. Indeed, Lower
Manhattan has long been a haven for immigrant communities, from Jews in
neighboring Lower East Side (the Tenement Museum), and Italians in Little
Italy, and today, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Filipinos
among others add to the multicultural mosaic.
The Lunar New Year is cherished as a time to embrace family and heritage.
“Lunar New Year is the liveliest and most important celebration
in Chinese culture and Chinatown is the place to experience it!”
And the parade is an expression of celebration for Chinese heritage in America – as evidenced by the sheer variety of costumes and traditions on display.
Here are highlights:
The Museum of China in the Americas (MOCA)
offers a walking tour that takes visitors through Chinatown to learn about
holiday traditions and customs observed by Chinese households. Witness how the
neighborhood transforms itself in preparation for the New Year and discover the
characteristics that make this holiday unique.”
Tours are conducted in English and are led by MoCA docents with
personal or family roots in the neighborhood. In case of inclement weather,
tours will be held in the galleries. Advance reservations are required. For
information and reservations call 212-619-4785 or purchase tickets online, www.mocanyc.org.
(Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street New York, NY 10013, 855-955-MOCA).
This wonderful celebration, led by the local bike club, gets the 300 Sojourners in gear for our longest ride, 48 miles, of our five-day, 160-mile Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn on the Delaware-Lehigh Trail through the picturesque Pennsylvania wilderness to Hugh Moore Park in Easton where we will camp for the night.
We follow after the Jim Thorpe Bike Club as the first across the bridge, an achievement 25 years in the making.
Around midday, we navigate a complex gap in the D&L Trail onto city streets. Indeed, drawing attention to such gaps, and the coalition working to improve them, has been one of the objectives of these annual Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn supported biketours. To date, an impressive 92 percent of the D&L Trail has been built—most of which we ride during this Sojourn—and the goal is to connect all 165 miles by 2022.
The trail condition has been surprisingly good considering yesterday’s drenching rain and even yesterday, the trail had enough hard-pack that our tires didn’t sink into mud.
Yesterday, as we rode downhill from the highest point, deep in Pennsylvania’s coal mining country, the beauty of the wilderness section of the trail was hard to appreciate through the rain (though nothing could mar the exquisite beauty of Buttermilk Falls).
But on this June day, the weather is sunny with a cool breeze, just perfect for biking.
We get to see just how beautiful the trail is – much of it following a narrow canal on one side or the other. The trail is built on the original towpath, which is essentially a built-up berm. We see rock walls, lily pads. The scenery and joy of biking produce a feeling of euphoria.
We come to the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, a non-profit conservation organization at the foot of the Kittatinny Ridge, which is like an oasis to us. The center is dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat through conservation programs such as the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge, educational programs such as the Kittatiny Raptor Corridor Project as well as research. I linger in the butterfly garden before setting out again. (8844 Paint Mill Rd, Slatington, PA 18080, 610-760-8889, http://lgnc.org/)
Just beyond, we Sojourners are treated to a catered lunch in a park, where we can sit comfortably under a pavilion.
Riding on, we come to an island that consists of a shuttered steel mill that today stands somewhat surreally like an abstract sculpture.
Along the way, we come upon what is left of the original canal locks – stone walls, wooden gates with metal latches and gears, remnants from the mid-1800s.
At Freemansburg, we find a lockmasters house, the remains of the locks and a mill, and I am delighted to find the site manned by interpreters in period dress. I ask if the village was settled by freemen and am told that it was named for one of the original settlers, Richard Freeman.
Freemansburg is a classic example of a canal town with houses and structures built up against the waterway that was the village’s lifeblood in the 1800s. Members of the Old Freemansburg Association (OFA) reclaimed a 1.5 mile section of the Lehigh Canal the Borough owns from overgrowth and debris and restored the towpath which became the D&L Trail. The OFA spearheaded efforts to protect and restore the 1829 Locktender’s House, mule barn, Lock No. 44, gristmill, and coal yard. Volunteers also reconstructed the barn using canal era tools and equipment, a project that took 10 years to complete. The multi-functional building now hosts weddings, educational sessions and interpretative demonstrations. (http://lehighvalleyhistory.com/history-of-the-borough-of-freemansburg)
This proves a warm-up for what we will see during our overnight stay at the Hugh Moore Park and its major attractions, the National Canal Museum and the ride on a mule-drawn canal boat that has been arranged for us.
National Canal Museum, Hugh Moore Park.
Our 48-mile ride today ends at the home base in the 520-acre Hugh Moore Park, where we began and will end. With the Lehigh River, Lehigh Canal, the old Lehigh Valley Railroad, National Canal Museum, remnants of the oldest industrial park in the region, a Locktender’s House and one of only three mule-drawn canal boats still operating in America, the park offers a microcosm of the D&L story, and an absolutely delightful place for our second-night campout.
The Sojourn planners have specially arranged for us to have free cruise on the historic Josiah White II canal boat, all the more exciting because it is pulled by two mules and manned by a crew in period dress along this portion of the restored canal. You really get to appreciate what it was like for these families who operated the canal boats that carried the anthracite coal from the mountains to Philadelphia. At one time mules pulling canal boats on narrow towpaths would have been a common sight in much of the United States east of the Mississippi River.
We board the Josiah White II canal boat to cruise on the restored Section 8 of the Lehigh Coal & Navigation canal. Captain Susan is at the tiller. The boat is 50 feet long – when it turns, it has mere inches to spare.
Two mules, Hank and George, pull the boat, led by Steve and Doug. You would think it is a strain, but the boat slides easily. “Benjamin Franklin worked out the mathematics, that two mules can pull 235 tons on water. He saw the method in Europe and Britain. George Washington also was a proponent of canals. – though neither one lived to see beginning of canal era.”
Captain Susan is just finishing saying how Hank and George are the luckiest mules in the land, when they both bolt and start running toward the campsite, chased by Steve and Doug who bring them back.
The boats were designed to carry 80 to 90 tons of coal, which meant the canal had to have six feet of draft.
They needed eight feet high walls – so they dug out four feet by hand and piled on the four-feet of soil to create the eight-foot high walls.
They knew the limestone couldn’t contain the water, so they lined the canal with clay, using the same method of road building in Ireland – sheep tamp down the bottom and the clay is left to dry in the sun. (The clay enclosure is why you can’t have any sharp implements on the boats).
It took 2 ½ years to build the canal which extends 46 miles from Jim Thorpe and consists of 9 dams and 51 locks. It cost $1 million (actually under budget). These canals were the first million dollar civil projects in the United States, she says.
When they started to mine the anthracite coal, this whole region of northeast Pennsylvania was uninhabited. To make money, they had to move the coal to the population center in Philadelphia. The Lehigh River was not suitable for transportation – it was too shallow, rocky.
The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company (we saw their building in Jim Thorpe) owned the river, built the canal, and furnace and brought an iron maker from Wales who knew how to make iron with anthracite coal (the secret was high-pressure blast of air).
Pennsylvania is one of the few places where anthracite – hard coal – is known to exist. It was discovered sporadically during the 18th century, when people would literally stumble on it on the surface. “No one cared. It looked like stone. You couldn’t light it.”
What is more, there were still trees to provide fuel. But by the early 1800s, the mid-Atlantic was virtually clear cut of wood sparking an energy crisis.
They experimented with soft coal, but the supply was cut off in 1812 by blockade during the War with Britain.
Around then, Josiah White and Erskine Hazard, who manufactured wire and nails from iron, needed coal.
They learned of the success of a Welshman who developed hot-blast iron making. They traveled to Wales to sign David Thomas to a five-year contract, and brought him to Pennsylvania to oversee the construction of an anthracite furnace.
In 1818, they bought the Summit Hill quarry. But the problem still was how to get the coal to market.
They founded the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company and created one of America’s first industrial and transportation networks, which led to an industrial boom across Pennsylvania and the Northeastern United States.
We see a lock tender’s house that was built in 1928 to replace one that burned – the new house was the only lock tender’s house with indoor plumbing and electricity.
This lock had a new gear system that even a young person could operate, so the father (who would have earned $8/month, low even for those times) could take a cash job in one of the many mills or furnaces in the area. The lock had to be manned from 3 am to 11 pm, so this was a family enterprise. The mother could sell or barter with the canal boat families – at this lock, known as a “laundry lock” the woman would do the canal boat family’s laundry. She would also keep chickens and vegetables.
“There was an economy of people who lived and worked on the canal, separate from anthracite. Boats were crewed by families.
“Sailors had poor reputation and White was Quaker and wanted ethical people, sober and honest. So he recruited married men. They didn’t want to be away from their families from March to November, so they brought them on the boat. Whether provided own or leased from Lehigh Coal & Navigation – were families.
“The father of the family (the only one who legally could sign a lease) was the captain, kept records, leased the boat, bought the mules ($20) on time; the wife helped with steering and homemaking. Kids as young as six would be responsible for caring for the mules. Younger children were tied to the boat so they couldn’t fall over.”
She demonstrates how they would blow a conch shell to alert the lockmaster, who would have been on duty 18 hours a day.
“It’s easy to romanticize life on the canals, but it was difficult, uncomfortable.”
This canal was operated until 1942; the Delaware until 1932; there were sons, grandsons and great grandsons of canal boat captains.
“It was a way of life. People stuck with it.”
Here at Hugh Moore Park was the site of an industrial furnace. By the time of the Civil War, half of iron in the United States came from Lehigh Valley.
Hugh Moore made his fortune manufacturing Dixie Cups. He bought this property and found out it came with the disused canal.
I get to tour the National Canal Museum, which has stayed open late for us.
The National Canal Museum was originally housed in a Crayola factory building; it was relocated to the Hugh Moore Park in 2006 with a National Science Foundation mission to provide a STEM curriculum to school children – the museum is loaded with interactive exhibits and experiments.
“Canals are perfect for these lessons – it’s the last transportation system using simple machines and human and animal power (mules).”
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor interprets this fascinating period of American history in the park through tours of the National Canal Museum and rides on the 110-passenger Josiah White II canal boat. The National Canal Museum is open seasonally, from June until October. Hands-on exhibits highlight 19th century canal life and technology. During our visit, we saw its special exhibition, Powering America: Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Railroads.
The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, 2750 Hugh Moore Park Road, Easton, PA 18042, http://delawareandlehigh.org/ (It also has a description of the bike trail.)
Day 3: To New Hope
As spartan as our first night’s campsite was on a baseball field in Jim Thorpe, Hugh Moore Park in contrast feels luxurious, especially with access to the facilities in the museum (in addition to actual bathroom rooms) and one of the workers, has offered to stay inside and open it up for us during the night .
We also have a delicious catered dinner and breakfast around the museum before setting out on our third day’s ride, which will take us 38 miles but 242 years back in time to Washington Crossing State Park, where we will camp for two nights, and find ourselves immersed in the story of the American Revolution.
Just before we cross the Delaware to Frenchtown on the New Jersey side, we see a picturesque red wooden bridge over the canal. Frenchtown, where they have arranged for a bike corral while we enjoy the restaurants and shops, is very charming. I munch on the artisanal cheese and bread I purchased beside the water before setting out for the rest of the ride.
This part of the ride is along the sensational Delaware-Raritan Canal trail (one of my favorite trails, a particularly gorgeous section is from Princeton University north). We cross back to Pennsylvania at Lambertville into New Hope, another picturesque village. We are on our own for dinner tonight and many will bike back into New Hope from our campground at Washington State Crossing Park.
During the ride, I rehash what I learned at the National Canal Museum and wonder, “What did these families do for the rest of the year when the canals were closed? It bothers me that these families made so little money ($8/month) for such long days, they had to work extra jobs, even after all the members of the family also worked, when owners became richest people in the world.
How did Benjamin Franklin calculate that mules could pull a floating barge carrying 235 tons? How did they calculate the 6 foot draft for the canal boats to carry 90 tons? By formula or by trial & error? What if a boat had different dimensions? I wonder if the STEM curriculum at the National Canal Museum would answer these questions.
Here’s another important lesson from our immersion into this National Heritage Corridor: The change in ecology necessitated changes in the economy and technology (an example of how history matters.) Americans were always moving, migrating to take advantage of new industry, new technology, new economy, new opportunities, sometimes forced by changes in the environment. These canal towns, factory towns, mill towns arose because of coal and steel and many were ruined with the change in fortunes. Today, climate change, global warming is changing ecology again, forcing new changes in the economy, in technology, in society and in where and how we organize our communities. It’s very much how the canal towpath, originally devised to transport the coal which replaced wood, is repurposed for recreation and wellness, revitalizing the local economy.
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors; it advocates for its 160,000 members and supporters, 31,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails, and more than 8,000 miles of potential trails waiting to be built, with a goal of creating more walkable, bikeable communities in America. RTC offers TrailLink, a free service that lets you access RTC’s 30,000 miles of trail maps and itineraries and downloadable mobile app.
One of the many delights of Parks & Trails NY’s 8-day, 400-mile Cycle the Erie bike tour from Buffalo to Albany across New York State, is coming up beautiful murals that describe the history and cultural heritage of the Erie Canal and the canaltowns that were spawned. Through the course of the ride, you travel 400 miles but also 400 years through history, and see the whole story of how America came to be unfold in front of you.
Here are some of our favorites, as we bike along the Erie Canalway, on brick, on barns, on bridges, on benches, on fences:
The 20th Annual Cycle the Erie Canal ride is scheduled July 8 – 15, 2018 (www.ptny.org/canaltour). In the meantime, you can cycle the trail on your own – detailed info and interactive map is at the ptny.org site (www.ptny.org/bikecanal), including suggested lodgings. For more information on Cycle the Erie Canal, contact Parks & Trails New York at 518-434-1583 or visit www.ptny.org.
The entire Erie Canal corridor has been designated the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Waterford, NY 12188, 518-237-7000, www.eriecanalway.org.
More information about traveling on the Erie Canal is available from New York State Canal Corporation, www.canals.ny.gov.