Testimonial Debra Maller

Debra Maller
High School English/Holocaust Teacher, Rahway High School, Rahway, NJ
2014 Asia Study Tour Participant

I have been fortunate to have travelled quite a bit over the past years. Each place has enabled me to learn more about the world we live in. A world, which today in 2014 seems froth with hatred, bombs, death and ignorance. But there is always a glimmer of hope and it is that glimmer that inspires me to look ahead at what ‘could’ be a lovely world.  I saw this ‘glimmer’ in the sweet eyes of strangers in China and Korea who curiously and politely asked to take my photo. It could have been the curls, the color of my hair, my blue eyes. Whatever it was, it was so refreshing to be in a strange country and to go beyond the language barrier, the politics, and different cultures. We were people, sharing a smile.

I must admit I approach these study tours first as a mother, a woman and then as an educator.  I cannot help but to view things through the lens of my personal perspective; often thinking of my children and of theirs. Hence, this trip taught me more than the history of the plight of the Chinese and the Koreans during WWII but the personal stories of tragedy, resilience, spirit and hope.

As a teacher of the Holocaust and Genocide, I was excited to visit the Shanghai Jewish Refugee museum. I was so thankful that the Chinese people were able to open their borders and their hearts in order to save so many Jews. The connection between The European Holocaust and the Genocide committed by the Japanese is undeniable: John Rabe’s humanitarian efforts were not unlike those of Oscar Schindler. The atrocities committed by the Nazi’s were similar to those of the Japanese Imperial Army.

I could not help but feel pain when I spoke ( through Betty) with the Chinese survivor of Chemical contamination, whose daughter was  also effected – not just physically but mentally. I asked that he encourage her to tell her story in the hope that in sharing she could find some semblance of peace for herself. I still think of him and hope that he and his daughter will find some peace in their lives. The work of Iris Chang and the “Rape of Nangking” echoes and reverberates in all genocides that unfortunately litter our world daily. However, I am now more informed and confident in passing on the history to my students.

What IS NOT similar to the Nazi’s was the orchestrated and calculated organization of Military Sexual slavery perpetrated by the Japanese. Learning about the Halmonies was the essence of this journey. The visit to the “Comfort Station” at Pu Dong evoked the same feelings I had when walking through Madjanak and Auschwitz-Birkeneau. The air was palpable and heavy with the spirits of those who suffered in those places. Imagining the terror of a young teenage girl, hearing the clomping sounds of heavy military boots ascending the stairs and knowing what was their fate, reminded me of the same terror in the ‘bath house’ of Madjanak looking at shower heads that either could be water of deadly gas.  I touched the stairs at Pu Dong, and the walls, closed my eyes and just said I was so sorry.  When we met with the Grandmas at the House of Sharing and Grandma Kil at the “War and Women’s Human Rights Museum” once again the love transcended language and politics. We hugged, held hands, smiled with our eyes. I was so impressed with the tenacity of these survivors and their unending resolve to continue their fight. Clearly, they are getting older yet the gleam in Grandma Kil’s face was young and full of spirit at the weekly Wednesday demonstration outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

The lectures we were privileged to attend also impressed me, not only in the knowledge given to us but the humble way in which each of the well renown individuals presented, They respected each other and listened attentively to their colleagues. They were neither arrogant, nor haughty they were intelligent, welcoming and professional. Professor Bu Ping particularly stood out as a remarkable lecturer speaking about text book unification.

I have come away from this journey with the conviction to teach about this little known part of history and will particularly teach about the Halmonies- pass on their stories.

Reflection- implies looking at oneself in a mirror or a reflective pool.  What is reflected for me is that when I look into a mirror I see a woman, a mother a teacher who has the responsibility to carry on for those who are the voiceless.

There were so many highlights that I could go on for pages: The unexpected preview of “Flower Shoes,” the night of storytelling and music (and getting soaked to the bone!), The Wednesday demonstration, the vigil in Seoul for the ferry victims.  All these unexpected experiences coupled with an outstanding group, led by two remarkable women of passion, intelligence and beauty. I am a better person knowing Flora Chong and Judy Cho.


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