Posts Tagged ‘History’

A collection of East German textbooks from the School Museum in Leipzig (source)

This is part 2 “Our Education” of a 5 part series titled Doomed to repeat?: Growing up in East Germany by Petra Foerster (Part 1 – Our History)

Doomed to Repeat?: Growing up in East Germany – Our Education Audio by Jonathan Fader

Okay, so we’ve established that East Germany was a Socialist system. While West Germany was lucky to have “Gastarbeiter” the situation in East Germany was a bit different. While here, too, people from other countries were brought in (mostly from other Eastern European countries, Vietnam, North Korea, Angola, Mozambique, and, of course, Cuba), there was still a shortage of workers. Though East Germany tends to brag about how progressive they were regarding treating men and women equally, I personally think that it is this shortage that forced the government to provide resources so that both men and women could contribute equally to rebuilding the country.

In West Germany you could observe a more traditional role distribution, with the husband going to work and being the main breadwinner and the wife staying at home to raise the children. In East Germany both were working, often in a very exhausting shift system. Early childhood education started for quite early many children, beginning with Kinderkrippe (nursery school) for very young children (5/6 months old to approx. 3 years old), followed by Kindergarten (garden of children) for 3-5/6 year olds, and then starting primary school usually at the age of 6.

The positive side was that every child was guaranteed a spot in the Kinderkrippe and Kindergarten. Plus there was a lot of effort put into the education of the staff. As a child you learned early on to be part of a group, which is important, but this can also be used to start feeding the children into a specific social system. In my case it was Socialism. We were taught songs, German children’s songs and songs that were translated from Russian. We would listen to fairy tails from the Brothers Grimm and stories about Baba Yaga and the beautiful Wassilissa. The Soviet Union was often referred to as “grosser bruder” (big brother), not in Orwell’s sense of “Big Brother” from the book 1984, but as a literal older sibling who, allegedly, was looking out for his younger sibling, the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

There were many exchange programs going on between East German and Soviet schools. The first foreign language most people learned was Russian, starting in grade 5. Mine was the first generation of students who learned English first in grade 5, Russian still being added grade 7. Keep in mind, when I was in grade 7 it was 1993, so this was happening 4 years after the wall came down and 3 years after the official re-unification. The changes following the collapse of the Eastern Block were implemented very slowly.

There is a big age gap between my siblings and myself. My sister is almost 18 years older than me, but we still managed to have couple of teachers in common over subsequent years. When my sister was in school one of our shared teachers reported her for wearing a blue jeans with the US flag, resulting in her suspension. To become a teacher you had to be a member of the main political party, the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands/Socialist Unity Party of Germany). When I had that same teacher in school (1993-1998) they were now a member of the CDU (Christliche Demokratische Union Deutschlands/Christian Democratic Union of Germany) which meant this person did a socio-political 180! Socialism considers religion as “opium for the people.” As a result there weren’t many active churches in East Germany. We had friends who were catholic and all of their children were incredibly smart and intelligent, but because of their faith they had a hard time getting admitted to universities. I think family friends were able to help them because I know that one of the children studied mathematics and physics at a university level. It was definitely not easy for them and I’m sure the Stasi (Staatssicherheit – the state secret service) had a close eye on them.

The first lesson my dad taught me was “don’t believe the media.” Especially in countries ruled by the Soviet Union newspapers, broadcast news, and books, where these forms of media were used to manipulate the population. We were provided with books in that promoted the idea of Socialism. Many German authors and artists who voiced their concern or openly criticized this philosophy where shunned, banned, not allowed to publish their works, imprisoned, or even expelled (anyone noticing the hypocrisy?). Critical thinking was not encouraged.

Uniform of the socialist youth league in East Germany (source)

From grade 1 to 8 students were part of the socialist youth organization called Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organization. From grade 1 to 4 we were “Jungpioniere” (Young Pioneers) and our uniform was a white shirt with the Pioneer logo on one sleeve and a blue necktie. From grade 5 to 8 we would wear a red necktie and were called “Thälmannpioniere” (Thälmann Pioneers). I think my generation was probably the last one that still got to be a “Thälmannpionier,” I remember a big ceremony related to that. But again – that was years after the re-unification. We, too, had 10 commandments. One of them was to be friends with children from the Soviet Union and all other countries (but emphasis being on the SU). In grade 8 I would have advanced into the FDJ, the “Freie Deutsche Jugend” (Free German Youth). Part of that organization included attending all kinds of camps where you learned how to dig trenches, among other things, but by the time I was that age the whole process was discontinued. The FDJ still exists in Germany, though, but is no longer important. The positive side of these youth organizations was that they provided summer camps and arranged holidays for children and young adults, which was a great relief for working parents. Our summer break being 8 weeks long (as it is in Canada), many working parents were unable to take the time off.

Our education system was structured to get us ready to be good little workers in service of the higher ideal of socialism. History was taught from the Soviet point of view and emphasized how thankful we have to be “for the Soviets to free us from the Nazis.” Facts about war crimes committed by the Soviets were conveniently omitted. I was still very young when the brainwashing started and I remember reading a book about the crimes committed by the Red Army and my first reaction was shock and disbelief, but reason kicked in and I understood that my education had been very one-sided. When you are being raised in a specific system that also conditioned you on how to think and how to perceive things, it takes a lot of time to first acknowledge it, then try to break the pattern and to step away to get a different point of view on things. The first thing that our brain learns is often perceived as the ultimate truth. When you are taught early on that the Soviet Union is your “big brother” and “looks out for you,” and they are “all that is good in the world” and that “socialism/communism is the non plus ultra, it can be a very brutal awakening when this illusion is shattered and you will become very skeptical.

Or at least I became very skeptical.

Whenever someone is trying to sell me something as the greatest thing ever, without any negative sides, I don’t believe them. Every idea, every concept, has pros and cons; it really depends on your position. One thing that really bothers me in the social structure that pushed so hard on every side to “sell” us on this ideology, was the reporting, the subject of the next part in this series.

Written by: Petra Foerster – UTKM Green Belt

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

Guards along the East Berlin side of the Berlin Wall, 1961 (source)

This is part 1 “Our History” of a 5 part series titled Doomed to repeat?: Growing up in East Germany by Petra Foerster

Doomed to Repeat?: Growing up in East Germany – Our History Audio by Jonathan Fader

When I started writing this blog I didn’t expect it to get this long. I’m not a political person, as a friend recently said, I pick my battles carefully. When you look at my Facebook feed it is about my cats, martial arts, and travelling. That being said, I’ve recently started following the news a bit more, and I noticed a development in the politics on the North American continent and back in good old Europe that raises all kinds of red flags for me. I will have to go back in history to explain where I’m coming from with my concerns. So bear with me here.

I was born at the end of 1979 in East Germany, the former “German Democratic Republic” (GDR). I was 9 years old when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. I remember watching it on the news and the bizarre feeling of seeing people climbing on top of it (prior to that day you would have been risking your life), and later seeing the wall actually being torn down. The exact date is November 9th, 1989.

But, have you ever wondered why German Unity Day (Tag der Deutschen Einheit), the holiday to celebrate re-unification, is October 03? Simple – the Night of Broken Glass (Reichskristallnacht) happened in 1938 on November 9th. Thousands of Jewish-owned stores and buildings, along with hundreds of synagogues, were smashed by rioters; both civilian and Brownshirts. The same happened to Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools. As a result of that single night of state-sponsored brutality approx. 30,000 Jews in Germany and Austria were deported to concentration camps. Growing up German means you carry a lot of history, and it is important to learn about that history in order to not make the same mistakes again.

Yes, I was still very young in 1989, but it was always important in my family to learn as much as we can about history. My dad had all kinds of books about it. And, of course, we learned a lot about it in school. But here is where it gets a bit complicated, because history books are written by the victors. Depending on where you grow up the angle on events might be different or some facts may be omitted. Which is, again, very strange, since history happened you might think those facts are objective, but depending on the system you live in they might give events a different spin.

Let’s circle back to my background and my attempts to get things lined up so that they make sense. I try to not to go into too much detail, as it is incredibly complex. But I will try to cover the most important things and fit it all together.

After WWII (1939 to 1945) Germany was divided into different zones. West Germany, which was split into 3 zones, each controlled by a different country (USA, Great Britain, and France), and East Germany, which was under control of the Soviet Union. Berlin, the capital, was split into East and West Berlin; East Berlin being controlled by the Soviets and West Berlin controlled by the USA, Great Britain, and France together. During the years of Third Reich the area occupied by Germany was way bigger, after WWII large pieces of land were given away to other nation, e.g. to Poland and Czechoslovakia. Many places have the name of their town in Polish or Czech and sometimes below, in a smaller font or in brackets, the old German name. E.g. In what is now Czechia the German town of Ústí nad Labem was formerly Aussig. If you ever happen to go there – keep your eyes open. This also means the outer borders of Germany, as they exist now, are not that old.

Allied-occupied Germany 1945–1949 (source)

During the Potsdam Conference (July 17th to August 2nd, 1945) Stalin, Churchill, Attlee, and Truman got together to discuss the next steps for Germany. They wanted to avoid the mistakes that were made after WWI in the Treaty of Versailles (1919). Among a couple of other things they wanted to establish a democracy in Germany, demilitarize the country, proceed with the denazification, and establish military tribunals for war crimes against members of the leadership of Nazi Germany (International Nuremberg Military Tribunal).

Let’s have a look at the denazification. The plan was to replace people in administrative/government positions, who were identified as strong believers/followers of the Nazi regime. In the Soviet zone that meant those in positions of authority were being replaced predominantly with people who were in favor of socialism/communism, in order to transform that region into a Socialist society. Ever since the October Revolution in 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union, with its Socialist philosophy following Marx, Engels, and Lenin (to name a few), many people were drawn to that idea of socialism/communism. Since the Soviet Union was the first country to implement this system many German intellectuals travelled there to learn more about it, and to either become fully convinced that this was the greatest thing ever, or (at least a few) to witness the other side of the medal, with all its absolutism and cruelty, and distance themselves from it.

When establishing a new government and new governing body in East Germany people with a pro-socialist attitude were preferred when assigning offices. Early on the Soviet Union worked on creating a socialist system in East Germany and to make it part of the Eastern Bloc which was governed by the Soviet Union. It was also part of the idea to keep Germany weak by keeping it split into East and West. Interesting side fact: Most of you will know that I practice Judo – Judo was forbidden in Germany (among other martial arts) after WWII, up until approx. 1949.

It made a big difference who ran the zone. In the USA controlled zone, and later in all West Germany, the Marshall Plan was implemented to help Europe, including Germany, to recover from the destruction of WWII. West Germany benefited from it a lot. Borders were opened and many so-called “Gastarbeiter” (“guest workers”, foreign or migrant workers who moved to West Germany between 1955 and 1973) came to West Germany to help rebuild the country. The idea originally was for them to come to Germany, help rebuild and then go back to their respective countries, but many of them stayed, as they came to Germany as young people, made friends, founded families, and had their families from their countries of origin come to live with them.

The situation in East Germany was different. Instead of providing financial and material help to rebuild the country, many factories, including their means of production, were transported to the Soviet Union; not much was left. Many people migrated out of East sector to find better opportunities in one of the other zones. In order to keep people from leaving, the German-German border was established and fortified in 1952. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built to divide Berlin into East and West. Since 1960 East German soldiers had orders to shoot if they saw anyone attempting to cross the border from East to West.

There was no legal requirement to shoot to kill. However, for troops deployed on the border, commendations and bonuses for guards who had shot and killed escaping fugitives, ideological indoctrination of young draftees and soldiers, and laws that under certain circumstances criminalized escape attempts all tended to transform the “permission” to use weapons into a kind of obligation to use them. (source)

The exact number of people who died trying to get over the Berlin Wall is not confirmed, though the estimates are between 140 and 245. The number of people killed while trying to cross the German-German border was also not accurately recorded, though it is predicted to be in the range of 1,000-1,400.

Most soldiers serving at the Inner German Border were from Saxony, a region which features a very distinct accent and dialect of German. The reason for choosing Saxon Germans as border guards was that the state of Saxony didn’t touch the Inner German Border (being separated from Berlin by the state of Brandenburg), and therefore most soldiers didn’t have any personal ties to the East Berlin population. The government feared that if the soldiers knew, or could sympathize with, the person trying to cross, they might not shoot. A side effect of this strategic choice is that, when asked what they associate with East Germany, West Germans very often mention (and mock) the Saxon accent.

I have to admit, Saxon is not the prettiest of accents. However, before “accusing” me, as an Easterner, of being Saxon myself, I will have you know that the area where I’m from is called Upper Lusatia. We originally belonged to the kingdom of Bohemia, but during the Thirty Years’ War the Bohemian king was indebted to the Elector of Saxony and to settle the debt they gave them the Upper and Lower Lusatia.

So don’t call me a Saxon 🙂

Written by: Petra Foerster – UTKM Green Belt

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

Grandmaster Haim Zut, the founder of Krav Maga Haim Zut (KMHZ), passed away on May 12, 2020, at the age of 85.

Grandmaster Haim Zut, April 1935 – May 2020

Haim Zut was born in 1935, after turning 18 in 1952, he served three years in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). It was during this time that he met and trained under Imi Litchenfeld, the Chief Instructor of Krav Maga for the IDF until 1963, and widely considered to be the founder of modern Krav Maga. Through passion and hard work, Haim developed a high degree of skill in Krav Maga and proved himself to be a very proficient fighter.

Haim’s military service ended in 1953 at which time his passion for teaching and helping others led him to work with underprivileged youth. Though he would return to the IDF as a reservist in 1956, taking part in Israel’s first offensive military action, the Sinai Campaign (Operation Kadesh) against Egypt during the Suez War.

Haim stayed in contact with Imi after leaving the military, maintaining what would become a lifelong mentorship. When Imi’s own military service ended in 1963, he approached Haim about a civilian Krav Maga course he was organizing. Haim was among the first students to pass Imi’s instructor course, again proving himself to be one of Imi’s top students, eventually earning a black belt from Imi.

Understanding the benefits of martial arts study, Haim dedicated himself to sharing his knowledge with others. He earned a licence to teach martial arts from the Wingate Institute, and taught classes in Hadera, Israel. He also volunteered his time to use martial arts training as a means to rehabilitate young gang members. Over the years, Haim would seek more advanced instructor training, attaining secondary license from the Israeli government in 1969; the first Krav Maga teacher to do so. As his teaching and training continued, Haim amassed extensive certifications, achieving martial arts coaching qualifications equivalent to Olympic-level trainers; again, a first in the world of Krav Maga.

When it came time for Imi to start the Israeli Krav Maga Association (IKMA) and the Federation for Krav Maga and Self-Defense in 1978, he invited Haim to assist as one of the co-founders. Haim trained, taught, and learned for many years in the IKMA. Unfortunately, in later years Haim saw political and ideological strife begin to creep into the organization, leading him to split (with Imi’s blessing) and form Krav Maga Haim Zut in 1993.

In 2003, his peers, coaches and masters of various martial arts in Israel, honored Haim with the rank of “10th Dan” because of his contribution to Krav Maga and work in the community. He is recognized by the World Head of Family Sokeship Council as a representative of mastery in Krav Maga.

We thank Haim Zut for spreading the knowledge of Krav Maga to many generations of students, as a teacher and a mentor, so that they may walk in peace.

Episode 2 of Warriors Den with your host Jonathan Fader and Guest Illistrimo expert Tobey Reyes.

Warriors Den Graphic

*May contain explicit language

Warriors Den is about anything and everything that fits the name. Guest will include martial artists, current and former military personnel, and any type of person that can in some respect be classified as a Warrior.

Welcome to the first episode of Warriors Den with your host Jonathan Fader and first guest Co-Founder of Urban Tactics Krav Maga Borhan Jiang.

Warriors Den Graphic

Warriors Den is about anything and everything that fits the name. Guest will include martial artists, current and former military personnel, and any type of person that can in some respect be classified as a Warrior.

Lest we forget

Recently it was November 11th. In Canada, and much of the world, this day is Remembrance day. It is a day dedicated to paying homage to the Soldiers and Veterans who gave up so much to protect our freedoms that, well some of us at least are still enjoying. For Soldiers this day is very important as it is a reminder that some people still care and respect the sacrifices they make on a regular basis. In Canada this day is the epitome of Canadian culture as it highlights much of what Canada has done for the world and how much life has been lost in the name of freedom.

But what is the history of remembrance day and why is it important to Krav Maga?

On the website www.veterans.gc.ca it says this:

“Remembrance Day was first observed in 1919 throughout the British Commonwealth. It was originally called “Armistice Day” to commemorate armistice agreement that ended the First World War on Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m.—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

This means that Remembrance day was originally started for the British Commonwealth to remember the travesty of WWI. A war which at the time was so grand in scale and so great in devistation that they had thought it would be the war to end all wars. This is why at least until WWII it was referred to as “The Great War.”

The intention was wonderful yet clearly it did not stop WWII from happening, so does this mean that remembrance is not enough? I dont think so. It is not that remembrance is not enough, I think its because most people choose not to remember because such events have become so far removed from their lives that it simply not reality for them.

I have noticed in Canada, well, Vancouver at least which is considered to be multicultural that many of these cultures do not give it the same merit to it(rememberance day) that someone who was born here does (Though I don’t want to generalize too much, as I have many friends who come from other cultures who have great respect for this day).

poppies on soliders

Every year I have found that it is harder and harder to find the famed Poppy pin (the Canadian symbol for remembrance) and less and less people are wearing them. I am not sure if this is because there are simply less veterans to hand them out or it is because the majority of people simply do not think it is important. I think really, its a little bit of both.

So what does this have to do with Krav Maga? I think every thing! Before I make the connection I want to start with a few of my favorite quotes.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Sir Edmund Burke

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

The model we use to explain the progression of violence at UTKM is as follows:

  1. Avoidance
  2. Diffusion
  3. Pre-Emptive Self Defense
  4. Re-Active Self Defense

Remembrance, for all intensive purposes is essentially avoidance. Remembrance is akin to knowledge, which can allow you to better assess situations to make the correct decision so you can simply avoid the fight and go home safely. Choosing to remain ignorant, by not remembering the past limits your knowledge which potentially limits your ability to avoid conflict. This is why history continues to repeat itself, and is part of the reason people fail to defend themselves. If avoidance is the first and best step why is it that so many people fail to adhere to this step both on the micro and the macro levels.

If everyone had the same version (hopefully the most accurate and correct version)and same understanding of history, it is quite possible that we would not continue to repeat it.

Ignorance is bliss, or so they say, but ignorance is why history repeats itself. Ignorance is part of the reason that so many people continue to put themselves into situations that may result in harm to themselves or their love ones. Ignorance is why the world continues to struggle so much in eliminating things like poverty, global climate change, child soldiers, sex slavery and of course war. I do say part, as I acknowledge that some people may infact be inherently violent (Due to both Biological reasons and Learned behaviors) and prone to criminal behavior but as a whole I believe these things continue due to the continued choice of ignorance.

I say, if you truly are a Krav Maga practitioner, you should want to not only protect yourself, but also those around you. Krav Maga should be a life style in which we can all learn to “walk in peace”. If you truly are a Krav Maga practitioner you will not choose ignorance, you will choose knowledge and you WILL choose to remember.

To all those who have given their lives and continue to give their lives for the right reasons, I salute you, and I want you to know that I at least will always remember.