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What a German Tourist Felt When She Visited Israel's Holocaust Museum

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Angelika Baur-Wagner.
Angelika Baur-Wagner.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Angelika Baur-Wagner, 64, from Ottobrunn, Germany, taking off for Munich

Hello, can I ask you how your visit was? What did you like best?

Wow, Timna Park. It was fantastic. I couldn’t believe I’d fall in love like that with the desert.

How did it happen, actually?

I thought the desert was a big, yellow, sandy place. I didn’t imagine that it was so peaceful and all the colors. I must admit it was amazing. Like the first time in my life that I saw the sea or a jungle, that’s what Timna Park was for me. It was certainly the most beautiful place I saw in Israel.

Why fly to Israel?

Because of the history. I always wanted to see how it is.

To see if we’re doing okay here?

(Laughing) If you’re protected.

Did you have hesitations about the trip?

Ah, we just didn’t want to go north, because we knew all the Germans would be there.

Yes, like the Israelis avoid Israelis abroad. What else did you do?

We were at Yad Vashem. That was... (crying)... well, this is the guilt that I bear, of my whole people.

(We cry together)

What do you do?

I’m a social worker at a psychiatric hospital.

What does that involve?

I help the patients with everything. If they don’t have money, a home, work, friends.

Friends? What do you do if someone doesn’t have friends?

I talk to them, explain where and how to find friends. For a long time, I also organized groups whose purpose was to explain social behavior, like group therapy.

Why did you want to be a social worker?

Because I like people and their stories, their history.

And what have you learned about people from your work?

That I like everyone eventually, even if they’re very strange. It’s amazing, because in my private life I’m very choosy about my friends. But at work I’m also open with people whom outside I wouldn’t say two words to. That’s how I found that there’s good in everyone.

And how are the psychiatric hospitals in Germany?

They’re getting worse. Until recently, psychiatry was an open field and people didn’t only receive medication for their problems and that’s it. They also received therapy and social assistance. Now our health system is changing. There are new laws that limit the amount of time we can keep a patient. These laws were in the hospital, and we were hoping they wouldn’t reach the psychiatric wards, but it happened.

Sounds frustrating. Why did they pass this law?

It’s cheaper this way. For example, if you have a problem with your knee, the state will pay the hospital 1,000 euros to repair it. For that amount, the hospital can only [afford to] keep a patient for a limited time. In the past, we would keep patients until they were well, and now many of them are released before its time. They go into the system again, this time in worse shape.

Have there been protests about this?

There have been, they’ve been too little, too late. We just didn’t think it was really going to happen. I’m close to retirement so I won’t have to deal with it.

Really? What’s the retirement age?

It’s 65. I have another year, and I hate that. I’ve already written an email to my supervisor saying that I would like to keep working, but I’m not sure they’ll let me. I really love my work very much. There are people I treated 20 years ago who still write to me.

That’s unusual

Right, but I do it.

And say, now that you’ve fallen in love with the desert, do you plan to visit the Sahara?

No, I’ll come back to Israel again and I’ll go north, just not on Passover.

Carly Alyssa Harmon.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Carly Alyssa Harmon, 27, from Seattle, United States. Arriving from Seattle.

Hi, girl with big bag! First time in Israel?

First time!

Did you have misgivings about coming here?

My parents were worried, but I was excited to learn about the country, the culture and the scenery. I came here to visit a friend who met an Israeli guy and is here with him.

So you’ll actually be

A third wheel, yes (laughing)

I hope it rolls along easily. And what’s this tripod? What are you taking pictures of?

I’m a documentary filmmaker.

What are the subjects you shoot?

Environment, nature. I thought that here in Israel I’d tour, and also take pictures of cool things.

Nice, what documentary film did you most enjoy shooting?

I was once sent to document an expedition to Alaska that was dealing with how oil pipelines impact the northern migration of the caribou.

How do they impact it?

Once a year, the caribou go north to give birth, but their numbers are dwindling because of the oil pipelines, which change the climate.

And what did you film?

Look, the purpose was to film in a neutral way, to let the public know what’s happening. The picture was complicated. And so I did three short films. One was with voice-over about my personal experience, and in the others I expressed opinions, for and against.

What are the pros and the cons?

Native Americans are also involved in the issue, and opinions about the oil pipelines are also divided in their community. Some want the money and the income, and some are very connected to the land, and the caribou were their friends and helped them survive throughout history, and now they’re disappearing. There already was a pipeline, west of there, that had a major impact on the caribou migration, to the point that people were worried they would disappear entirely.

So what’s good about the pipelines?

The Native Americans make good money from it. The natural resource of gas will help the whole country, it’s a plus. From the economic point of view it’s a good thing that’s happening, it creates jobs, but the environment will suffer.

Did all the people on the expedition care about the environment?

Some did, some didn’t. There was a guy from Ohio who had worked on the pipeline himself.

Why did he do it?

Because they paid him a lot. He was in college and he needed the money. He went on the assumption that if he didn’t do it, somebody else would.

Why did you take part in the expedition?

I wanted to raise the issue, and for us to be a varied group, because usually the builders are white males, and the opponents are white males.

So how is it to be an independent, young, female documentary film maker?

When I get a job, I think that it’s because of how I look, and when I don’t get a job, I think that it’s because I’m a girl. But I see a trend of women being integrated, and I’m trying to be part of that and give back to the community.

How do you give back?

I’m part of a film program that focuses on minorities, women and members of the LGBTQ communities. I invest my time, take part in pro bono projects, all to spread the message and give a voice to everyone I make a film about.

Any chance you’ll make a film about Israel?

I don’t know, sorry, I’ve only been here for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, Customs was fine (laughing).

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