Friday, March 27, 2015

Holocaust Survivor Speaks at the VWBPE Conference

By Bixyl Shuftan

On March 21, The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference had an unusual guest speaker: FannyStarr Hilltop. In real life Fanny Starr is a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust of  WW2, in which they murdered a total of eleven million civillians, the majority in concentration camps. Explorer Dastardly, FannyStarr's real life daughter (Helen Starr), was there with her near the podium as she spoke. LoriVonne Lustre typed what she spoke via voice and posted it through announcement chat.

Under the Nazi regieme, about 20,000 concentration camps, ghettos, and similar locations were set up, used for various purposes from slave labor, temporary way stations for transit, and extermination camps built for mass murder. The places FannyStar had been stationed at were the Lodz Ghetto, where people faced starvation and disease, Auschwitz where those imprisoned faced the gas chamber and crematorium, Mauthausen which killed by working people to death, Ravensbruck, which had women only, which provided slave labor for Siemens Electric Co., and Bergen Belsen which also killed through diseases and starvation.

FannyStarr described her experiences to the audience. She had been born in the city of Lodz Poland, home to Europe's largest Jewish community, and lived an ordinary life until September 1939, when Hitler ordered German forces to invade the country, which was overrun in less than a month, "In 1939, The Nazi’s came and took control of the Jewish population, 230,000 Jews, and established, the Litzmannstadt (Litzman’s City) or the Lodz Ghetto and locked-up all the Jews. I was made to work in a tailor shop, making uniforms. I did not know how to sew.  We did not know, we were youngsters."

Life in the ghetto was brutal as the Nazis crowded large numbers of people in tiny sections of town, with the threat of death if they tried to leave. For food and medicine, they had to rely on smuggling and what were essentially starvation rations provided by the Germans. These combined with the breakdown of sanitation led to thousands dying from starvation and disease. Explorer Dastardly spoke, "There was no food or a place to grow food. People started to die and the bodies started to pile up." FannyStar added, "We did not have a hearse or a way to being bodies to the cemetery."

There were also acts of unbelievable cruelty, "In The Lodz Ghetto, my mom got sick with pneumonia, and we took her to the hospital. The Nazis did not have complete control of the hospital. We heard the Nazis where going to the hospital, and I ran with my sister to the hospital to get our mother. We heard loud noises in the corridors; the Nazis were shouting, 'get out,' and  they took all the patients out of the hospital.  The Nazis took the mothers who just gave birth to newborns and shot them dead. The Nazis went to the nursery, and took the babies. The Nazis laughed as they smashed the babies smashed into the walls. They took the legs of the babies, and tore them into two pieces. We rescued our Mom, somehow." She paused, "This is so hard to talk about, even after 70 years. Why did this happen?"

Eventually, the Nazis made the decision to deport the Ghetto's Jews, Explorer saying, "When the ghetto was closed, everyone was sent to concetration camps." FannyStar spoke, "We did not know why we were being sent to one direction or the other. We were marched to a big hall and stripped, our heads were shaved. I was with my younger sister, we could not recognize each other. We were marched again, and sat there for 3 days, naked. When we got off the train, my Mom and my brother were thrown on a truck, sent straight to the gas chambers. That was the last time I saw them. My father was sent to Dachau. My sister died in Teblinka."

Explorer pointed to a certain image on the screen, "In this image you see the SS symbol, Irma Gresse." FannyStar commented through voice the symbol still made her shiver with fear after all those years, "Irma Gresse would go around and hurt people for no reason. My sister and I were picked to go to Ravensbruck. There was no food or water.  People died. I was lucky.  I cut myself and was told that I had a disease, so I had to go to the gas chamber. My sister came with me and she talked them into saving me. She is my lucky charm."

FannyStarr was asked, "What would you tell people who are Holocaust deniers?" She described once overhearing a priest saying that it was a good thing that the Holocaust had taken place, "Hitler did a good job." She was taken aback, especially since that it was someone from the clergy saying that, "I stood up and said 'you should be shamed,' and I walked away."

A chart placed on the display screen showed a survey (taken by ADL Global 100) in which about a third of those surveyed think either the numbers of civilians murdered in the Holocaust was either greatly exaggerated, or never even happened. In the United States, it is the Klu Klux Klan and other extremist groups with anti-Jewish attitudes that are responsible for the holocaust denial movement. Around the world, over a billion harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.

Why the resurgence of anti-semitism and Holocaust deniers? Explorer Dastardly felt, "The Internet has brought out the deniers and empowered anti-semitic movements through radical extremism. Web 2.0 empowers bullying and hatred by encouraging sometimes anonymous acts of violence to promote their beliefs. In Italy last year, there was a group of neo-nazis who published all the personal information about Jews in Italy." But technology could also help stop the anti-semites, "but also, the Internet and this technology allows us to speak and educate as well. People need to know and the more they will prevent such things happening again."

Both Fanny Starr and her late spouse began to educate people about the holocaust, "My husband and I talked to schools and colleges, but we were not invited to speak to our synagogue. This is such a shame that Jewish children do not know." Someone asked how could these kinds of atrocities be prevented. Explorer answered, "Not prevented, but fighting back through education is a powerful tool. Education through awareness, and that awareness includes Holocaust education. We learned the power of one young girl Malala Yousafzai who defied hate, and anti-Education by speaking-up for her human rights as a woman. Malala, won the Nobel Peace Prize, for education, read her story. Nobel Peace Price - Malala Yousafzai. What an incredible role model. We can not prevent natural disasters, but we can help through awareness to stand up to governments and other groups, like Malala -- the youngest ever to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Last week they celebrated this in Afghanistan -- 'you cannot take away my education.'

Explorer then spoke, "What we can learn from Holocaust education? Holocaust education engages the mind to think about: Discrimination, Genocide, Hate, Racisms, Religious Oppressions, Survival. To preserve the truths we must listen the last speaking survivors. Once the survivors are gone the Holocaust becomes a myth, and people will ask, Did the Holocaust ever happen? What about education the whole world?  Are we doing a good job in letting people know that they can survive?"

FannyStarr commented, "We were all tortured and murdered without mercy. We fought for thousands of years to have our country. Thank God we got our country back. Halleuah we got our country back! I do not know WHY? Why were we cursed? AFter the war I became an atheist, asking God why I lived to see what was done. I would like to know if any one in the audience has answer?" The answer was moments of silence, followed by someone saying, "There IS such a thing as evil, and it hates the people that bear the name of G_d."

FannyStarr spoke, "When we  started going to the schools, we were often asked why don't you change your denomination? No I said, I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew." Someone asked why she was an atheist for a time. She answered, "Because initially I could not cope.  We were the chosen people. ... When I had children, we decided we needed to show them what it is to be a Jew. It is important to go on with your lives and tell the stories so others know."

Someone asked how they felt about the Germans today. FannyStarr answered, "The chancellor made them provide the information in schools." Explorer added, "In  Europe it is mandatory to teach about the Holocaust. In the US we try to teach it, and ask that this become mandatory. It is taught in a limited way in some schools / states."

There were questions about Nazis who fled to Argentina, and the current government in Greece bringing up German actions in the country during World War 2. Could Genocide happen again? FannyStar thought it was possible, "Yes. Why can it happen? People are being praised for attacking Jews."

Explorer told the crowd, "If you can't teach in one way, you can teach in other ways. Think about how we are using this platform to talk to Fanny, the survivors." When asked about if they came across any non-Jewish survivors the of Holocaust, Explorer answered, "Many do not want to talk.  They are shamed.  They are still in shock because the could not stop what happened to them. One of my mothers friends was orphaned, and she felt shamed."

FannyStarr mentioned, "One thing my husband and I felt was important.  As we knew what hunger was, we feed homeless people. We deliver food the homeless and the mentally ill, sandwiches and water that we distribute downtown." Someone asked how she felt about laws in some states making feeding the homeless illegal. She answered, "I feel good when I can feed a homeless person.  The government is against it.  A policeman told me it was against the law.  I told him, I am a holocaust survivor.  He left me alone."

Someone asked "Why didn't everyone run?" FannyStarr answered, "Why? How could you? we were too scared." Someone asked if they had any hint as to what was about to happen. FannyStar answered, "No, we had no idea. In the ghetto, we were told by Romkowski that we were going to a paradise. It was bitter herbs, not paradise. I still remember when the Nazis took my father and interrogated him. He was beaten so badly and thrown on our steps. Mom tried to bandage his poor head. There are so many stories about the brutality of the Nazis.  They were despicable. When there was the trial, they all denied. How could they kill young people like my brother.... he was a beautiful singer. He could have had a wonderful career."

Someone was asked how they felt about the issue of an independent Palestinian state. FannyStar answered, "If this will bring peace, I am not against it.  But people need to work together to have this." Explorer remarked, "we want a state but Hamas has to go. We all saw what Bibi said about not supporting the Palestinian state.  however, he has backtracked.  He acknowledges that there must be peace with all Israel's neighbours. We all agree that Hamas has to go.  They have ties to ISIS."

Someone asked, "My family were Polish Jews, and no one spoke about it. We must have had family members who died.  How do we find their stories?" Explorer answered, "I would recommend going to the list of sources on the slides I shared.  There is a lineage site, genealogist and family historians. Yad Vashem - Write to them and give them all the information that you can, and they will help you."

Someone asked if they came across non-Jewish in the camps. FannyStarr answered, "No, were were restricted." Explorer explained, "Jews were separated. The way that the Nazis treated the Jews was like they were a disease, like the plague." Another asked, "How did the Nazis keep the ghettos and the Holocaust a secret?  I would notice if my Jewish neighbour disappeared." Explorer answered, "The towns were asked, did you not notice the smell from the concentration camps? They did not have an answer." Another asked, "The movie 'Schindler's List' was horrific.  Was it understated?" FannyStarr answered, "It is understated.  It does not even begin to show the horror we experienced. I met Mr. Spielberg.  Perhaps it was because we were ahead of him in telling these stories." Explorer commented, "My movie that I recommend is 'The Odessa File.' "

Another asked, "Auschwitz is recently being restored.  There is a proposal to make this space a home for indigents, rather than preserving it as is for future generations." FannyStarr hadn't heard about it. Explorer thought, "This should be brought up to the Jewish community."

Someone asked, "What would people be willing to do to make peace with Palestine?" FannyStarr answered, "I don't know.  It is up to the people." Explorer added, "I think it would take recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, that the Jews are  a people.  If we can get past that, we can have peace."

Explorer spoke, "We can never forget that the Holocaust happened. Stop blaming the Jews. Wat is funny about burning a person alive?  Nothing. Keep sharing, and thank you." FannyStarr concluded, "It is a different perspective when you see the faces in the screen than in person. Believe that such a thing happened.  History repeats.  We must stop it."

The crowd reacted positively to FannyStarr and Explorer, "I want to apologize personally to this lady, I am sorry, I didn't realize you went through so much." "You and my mother lived so that you can tell your stories." "You sound like a great lady, and a wonderful lady to talk to." "We Love Mommy Fanny." "She stepped into her past for 1 and 1/2 hours - impressive. She needs to know how brave and courageous she is." "FannyStarr I want to tell you that you are great person and I am really sorry for what you experienced in your life. It's really sad." "Thank you Fanny for your words, it means a LOT to ME." "Remember all the victims of genocide and pray for peace." "We love you Fanny." "Thank you for sharing your experience."

Explorer Dastardly is in a number of art groups, plus a Volunteer for the Relay for Life. Fanny Starr has been speaking about the Holocaust for 30 years.

*Addition* Later on Explorer had a video of the event uploaded.

Genocide Survivor Fanny Starr Speaks March, 2015 from Petlove on Vimeo.

(click here if the video fails to play)

Sources: ADL Global 100BBC Holocaust Deniers, Jewish Virtual Library, The Malala Organization, Nobel Peace Prize - Malala Yousafzai, Pew Research Center - Hostilities in Europe, USC - Shoah Foundation, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem  

Bixyl Shuftan

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Commentary: Suicide and Second Life

By DrFran Babcock

There has been a lot of discussion, anger and passion over the Commentary posted by Nydia Tungsten and Brandi Streusel Tungsten on March 2nd, 2015 in this esteemed publication  ( When I got to the monthly Newser staff meeting last Saturday, I was alarmed to find that Nydia was not there. According to editor Bixyl, she was taking a break from Second Life™ because of her upset over the event which had prompted her commentary.
I had wanted to tell her how much I agreed with what she said. However, I didn’t get that chance, and then the Plurk-driven underbelly of Second Life™ cranked into action, resulting in this SL Secret submission last Sunday. (see number 9 ).

I suppose you are wondering why I am inserting myself into this controversy. I have worked in behavioral health for almost all of my life, the last 30 years full-time in a psychiatric hospital. I work in a huge health system, and I am one of seven people who comprise the Suicide Task Force for the health system. I am not bragging; I am attempting to establish the fact that I have been very close to the subject for many years. 

Suicide is always a mess. It means that someone is in enough pain to override the human instinct to stay alive. It means that the people left behind will suffer, and spend their lives wondering what they could have done to prevent it. Most of all, it means that something that was essentially preventable took place.

The fact that someone threatens suicide because they want us to know they are in pain, or because they have learned that these gestures bring attention and love does not mean that they will not eventually complete a suicide — either on purpose or by accident. However, if you tell me you are going to end your life in a venue or situation in which I have no actual access to you—there is nothing I can do.

Nydia and Brandi are angry because they were put in a hostage situation. There is no denying that the person who sent the photos of himself with the gun was in pain, but he put his friends in a horrid no-win situation. 

In virtual worlds, where we don’t always know how to contact the person behind the avatar, it is easy to create a drama. While I don’t know the details of the relationship this person had with Nydia and Brandi, they scrambled to help the man in whatever manner they had at their disposal.
Perhaps this incident can serve to raise awareness of suicide. Suicide is always preventable, provided the person who is suicidal seeks help. The sad reality is that the disease of depression, the single largest stimulus for suicide, can also cause a person to remain isolated and secretive about their feelings. It is never OK to threaten and tease people with suicide, but the suicidal person’s judgment is often impaired.

I applaud the Tungsten’s for venting their feelings about this event. It is time for mental illness and suicide to come out of the darkness. The discussion has to get going. We have to be able to talk about these things so that people understand that suicidal people are in pain, and not bad. What this guy did was an act of anger and need, and I hope he gets help. I hope if there is a next time he feels this way that instead of emotional hostage-taking, he picks up a phone and asks for help.
Many years ago an ex-patient of mine contacted me (my number is unlisted, so I have no idea how she did it), and started to threaten suicide. I got her number from the hospital and called it, but the number had been disconnected. I made some other attempts to contact her which turned out to be all dead ends. I let it go, because I had done all I could do. 

Am I responsible for helping someone who doesn’t allow me to really help them? I think not. I am responsible for making the effort to do so. That is what Nydia did. I hope she can come back to Second Life™. Until then, I will miss her fine writing in the SL Newser. 
This editorial reflects my beliefs, and my experience. I welcome a dialogue, because that’s how things emerge from the shadows. Suicide needs to emerge from the shadows, so we can help.

DrFran Babcock

Monday, March 2, 2015

Commentary: Suicide

By Nydia Tungsten and Brandi Streusel Tungsten

Last night, I had a friend send pictures with a shotgun barrel in their mouth to a few of us. To say it upset me is a severe understatement. They were saying this was how they were feeling, then stopped talking after a while. We all feared the worst had happened. I was in tears most of the night.

I am STILL a wreck this morning as I write this with shaky hands. I have lost two very dear and close friends to suicide, over what they thought they could not endure anymore. I still love them both and remember them, but I do it with mixed feelings.

Their acts of cowardice destroyed lives not of their own, and I am talking about the family members that found them and their friends that have to deal with the sudden loss. Imagine a sister that finds her brother a week after he hung himself, a full week! Imagine what that did to her. Imagine a mother who goes into to talk to her daughter in the morning only to find her dead soiled body on the bed next to an empty pill bottle.

Suicide doesn't just affect the ones that do it, but those that are left behind, and to me, they are the biggest, most selfish cowards in the world. People will say I just don't understand. Maybe they are right, but I will bet you dollars to doughnuts more people believe the way I do.

Celebrities that kill themselves are “Celebrated for their lives and the works they have done” when in fact, they need to be forgotten and the media needs to stop being glamorizing their deaths to the public and making it look like it was honorable. IT'S NOT! They died like they lived: attention whores! That is the message I get from ever celebrity site that has front page news about the latest suicide, and yes it has made me a bit bitter.

And for those of you that feel you need to send pictures to your friends with guns in your mouth, you are the worst.

I am not saying not to reach out, I encourage that. YES, talk to someone. But stuff like
that is WAY over the line and you come across as a theatrical attention whore once the dust settles.

Because of that picture, my nerves are shot, I've gotten very little sleep. I am an emotional wreck as it at LEAST three other people I know of this morning. We were finally able to figure out where they lived and get the police out to them, where they quickly tried to play it off and telling the police to forget about it instead of getting help they desperately need.

If you feel like you want to take your life, PLEASE call someone, ANYONE and talk to them. Tell them how you are feeling, it could be a medical problem that can be fixed!

But if you think you absolutely must take the selfish cowardly way out, find a cannon ball, tie it to your ankles and jump in the ocean so no one will find you. After a while, you will just be forgotten, which is all you deserve.

So it comes down to this. If you want to end it all, please seek help. And if you don't really want to seek help, then SCREW YOU AND DO IT ALONE!!

Nydia Tungsten