Memorial Day at Rock Island Arsenal

Slide show:

Please note: I ordinarily never retouch my photos or video except for using editing practices that are common in all news photography. Common practices are: cropping to better emphasize a subject, color correction, exposure corrections, adding movement to still photos in video (aka the “Ken Burns Effect”), or inserting text like dates, ownership, or captions into a photo.

In this slide show I removed names from headstones and badges out of respect for survivors and the military. I made that decision after searching for Associated Press photos of national cemeteries and noticed many of those cemetery photos, not all, have the names on the stones out of focus or hidden in other ways. This was an exception I made for this particular story.


Viewpoint: Professor Shares Her Experiences in Afghanistan

Professor Jordan Schneider shared news of her recent visit to Afghanistan with a supportive crowd at the Bettendorf Library. Schneider was an intern at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s. Part 1 of that presentation. Part 2. (Still photos in this video were obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Butte College logo and overhead shot came from and w w

Below is a slide show of some of the artifacts and memorabilia Professor Jordan Schneider brought with her for the February 25th presentation sponsored by the World Affairs Council of the Quad Cities.

Quad City Physician Shares Insight About the Syrian Conflict

Click to Listen:Background on the Syrian Conflict as Explained by Dr. Kayali

 The World Affairs Council of the Quad Cities hosted three speakers at its April meeting, all of whom had first-hand experience with the political upheaval in their home countries.

QC residents Aussama Bazaraa, from Egypt, Dr. Adnan Ismail, from Yemen, and Dr. Kayali, from Syria, described how life at home has changed for them and their families.

Dr. Kayali completed his medical training in Des Moines. While living in Iowa he and his wife gave birth to their two children. They decided to return to Syria in 2006 so their children could grow up near other family members, but at the urging of his mother, Dr. Kayali brought his family back to the U.S. in 2012 until life returns to normal in Syria.

Due to current events in Syria his story is featured. What follows are parts of his presentation at the World Affairs Council meeting and some answers to questions asked a week later.

Transcription, Part 1:   I was born and raised in Syria. I went to medical school over there in my city called Aleppo, second largest city in Syria. I came to the states in 1990. I did my residency in pediatrics at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. My oldest was born there, my youngest was born here at Genesis. In 2006 my wife and I decided that we wanted to take our kids and go back to Syria and have them live with their cousins and uncles and grandparents and so on and we have been in Syria until the end of 2012. Because of everything going on in Syria, we decided to come back.

         In Syria first we have Assad the father. So the father, Hafez al-Assad, led a coup, he was an officer and led a coup, took over in 1970. In the year 2000 he died of natural causes and the son took over. The problem was that his son was only 36 years old and the constitution says that the president should be at least 40 years old. The constitution was changed within a half hour.

There is no freedom of speech. There is all of corruption. There is no equality when it comes to … job opportunities or education opportunities. The police state was run by the police, by the intelligence service.

The question is not really what led to the Arab Spring but what took it so long … to happen. Henry Ford one time said, ‘Whether you think you can or you cannot, you are.’ Most of the Arabs felt that they cannot. We were putting up with all that corruption…with all that injustice and all of the people were on the borders. If any unrest happens they are going to starve the following day. They are working per day and earting whatever they are making that day. They have no reserve. So any unrest, any problem, that might affect their living and their family might starve.

So people put up with that until we saw what happened in Tunisia first, and people start to feel that yes, this can be done. And then Egypt; and we felt more empowered because Egypt is like a key country in the Middle East.

So because of everything going on, and because they felt that yes, we can do something about it and, the age of information when you can go to the Internet and see what’s going on in other parts of the world.

Part 2: More details about how the Syrian uprising began two years ago

Click to Listen: How the Uprising Began

At the beginning of the uprising it was in Damascus. One of the police officers hit one of the citizens and the people in that street stood up and said “We cannot be humiliated.” and they demanded the head of the police the…officer in command said this should not have happened. And sure enough, the head of the police came over and said this is wrong and that officer will be punished for what he has done. And the people felt really good all over he country because this was very unusual for that to happen. And we thought that, ‘No we cannot do it’ but then we thought, “No, it can be done and that’s cool.”

Then a few teenagers in a city called Darrar wrote on the walls statements against the government….policeman and so on, they were able to capture these kids. They were tortured. They were raped. And their families were humiliated. And that’s what really started the Rape Uprising.

Really, the government had helped the uprising without knowing because they pushed them so far, you know, to the wall, and they only thing they can do is fight back. And that’s what they did.

At the beginning it was all peaceful. For months and months it was peaceful. In my city we felt like, “Yeah, probably this is not going to last long. They (the rebels) will give up.” But they didn’t because you know, the more you kill, the more you torture, the more the people become determined that yeah, we need to change what is happening. Everything started to spread from city to city, from town to town.

You have to know in Syria there are different religions…Christian, Muslim…the Christians have different denominations. The Muslims have different denominations. So the government, the leader of the country, is a Muslim from the Alawite sect which is like ten, 15 percent of the population. They are the backbone of the government; they are the backbone of the army. So when he army was asked to fight the demonstrators, many of them refused and they were killed because they refused. They were killed right away. On the spot.

Many of these soldiers start to spilt, leave the army, and run with the people with their arms and everything.

Obviously those officers who are pro-government become more brutal and they want to go in and kill everyone unless you hand over these soldiers who spilt. These soldiers, they are protected by the civilians, which should be the other way around. And that’s really how people started to fight back. They don’t have arms on their own but those who are splitting from the army, they have their weapons and they felt like, “Why should we leave? You know what? The civilians shouldn’t pay the price for our decision and be killed and they have no arms. Can’t we fight back?”

They start to gather, as groups – small groups – and they start to fight back.
I wish this didn’t happen. I still believe that, you know, peacefully, things would have got much better, but unfortunately, as I said, that’s how it happened. But these soldiers, who have arms, like the civilians around them are paying the price for not handing them over. So they felt like they had to defend themselves; they shouldn’t depend on the civilians, and the fight started and it has escalated and got worse and worse and now it’s all over the country.
At the beginning we were very happy with the peaceful demonstrations, but not everybody. Most of the people were so scared of the change. And as I said many of the people were on the edge of poverty… that means starvation.

More brutal images coming on the Internet, and Facebook and stories and so on…the people start to shift and become against the government. Most of the fight, obviously, happens in cities. And there is no red lines for the government so they will bomb and use tanks, they will use airplanes, scud missiles; everything goes. And whenever there is a fight, a crossfire, these homes are either destroyed or so unsafe that people have to move.

Two years of the fighting now, one-quarter of the population has been displaced. About 1 million, 200 thousand have left the country as refugees. And about three-quarter million inside the country, but they are not living in their homes.

When I left, I left my home for my nurse to live in because her home was gone. Even my office – one of my cousins is living in my office because his house is not safe anymore.
As I said I was here for a while in the states and my kids were born here, and still, because of my extended family, all my in-laws and my family are back home in the same city. We don’t move much back home. We are born in the city, we stay in that city, we die in that city. So all my family, my family and my wife’s family, are like 10 to 15 minutes drive from our home. So it didn’t make sense to us to stay here and everybody else is over there. So we moved back.

My dad passed away before I moved back and I know for my mom it meant the world that I’m back and that I’m next to her, especially that my dad passed away. It was my mom who urged me to leave the country. She told me “I’ll be the saddest one when you leave, but please leave.”

 I had mixed feelings because I was pro-change but I felt like if it was just me, I wouldn’t leave. But if anything happens to my kids I probably would never forgive myself. I don’t think I would be able to survive. I still have mixed feelings but I felt like for my family this is what I should do. But every time I get a phone call back home I’m worried that they might tell me someone is missing, or someone has been shot, or kidnapped, or in prison.
So it hasn’t been going well, but this is the price we are paying for not speaking up sooner.

Audio: The Death of Dreams for Syrian Young People

Part 3: More insight
Dr. Kayali explained other aspects of Syrian culture and history that led to the uprising. He said that although the population of his home nation is about 23 million, an equal number of Syrians, 23 million, have emigrated over time to escape two generations of the Assad regime. He said young adults are so discouraged that when asked about plans for the future they reply, “To leave the country and do this, leave the country and do that…”.

The doctor also said older Syrians remember the brutality of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current dictator, but younger generations didn’t experience those years. They have no memory of the punishment of the past. He thinks their lack of memory, plus the access to information, news of the world, and communication paths on the Internet, helped younger adults believe it was possible to imitate the social changes they saw in Tunisia and Egypt.

Q & A with Dr. Kayali

(This conversation occurred on April 30, 2013 but I have dated this 4-22-13 on this blog so it will show up in the right story order.)
Click to Listen: Dr. Kayali
4/30/13 Part 4: Questions and Answers
Q: I wanted to ask your opinion as to whether or not you believe the reports of chemical weapons are true. 
A: I do believe that is true. I do believe it was used on, like, small scale. But I really do believe it was used more than once. The reason for that…I did see some videos or tapes, and so on, from areas that I know. And what I saw did point toward use of chemical weapons. Now, I’m not the expert, I did not go and investigate, but the videos I saw, and being a physician, I really believe that it was used.
Q: Where did you see these videos? Are they on…are they being shared on Facebook?
A: Mostly on Facebook. It is videotapes that you can also get from YouTube.
Q: Okay, so these are Syrian people who … posted these on YouTube and Facebook.
A: Right. There are, like, Facebook pages that, they usually don’t take sides. They just bring the news so that people respond to it negatively or positively, you know, so they are kind of trying to be reporters. And they just say, “So-and-so said this and here are the videos” so it wasn’t from, like, this side or that side.
Some of the websites that are created with the government said that the opposition are the ones that used the chemical weapons that the guards hauled off from Turkey which doesn’t make sense at all. Turkey, there is no way for Turkey to get through…chemical weapons to the armed rebels. So even they themselves think that, yeah, there was some chemicals used, chemical weapons used, but it was the other side that used it. So, I mean, both sides are saying there has been some chemical weapons used and we don’t both have no chemical weapons so that’s left one party to be using it.
Q: And these videos that people take, do they just capture them with their cellphones usually?
A: Mostly yes. It’s like one of the videos was in a military hospital that belongs to the rebels. And there was multiple people on beds with a lot of foam and mucus and so on coming out of their noses and mouths, and the video did show them having difficulty breathing. And, you know, as I said I’m not the one who can analyze videos but to me, it looked real.
Q: Do you think it’s likely that the government would actually go this far, that they would actually take this next step? 
A: I have no doubt. I think what is holding them back is the international community otherwise they would have used it on a much larger scale.
Q: What do you think other nations and the United States could or should do to help the rebels?
A: I think they can have like, safe areas, where no-fly-zone type, so there will be no airplanes that will be allowed to fly over that area and the Patriot missiles will block any Scud missiles that might be carrying….It’s mind boggling that we are just worried about chemical. What about other weapons against civilians? Is that okay? So I really think there should be areas where it will be safe for the refugees. I’m not saying the rebels with arms. I’m not saying go fight for us. No – we don’t want that. We…most civilians are against the fight. But there should be areas where it’s safe for people who, forced to leave the fighting, our hot areas, to be able to move from these areas and make sure that they are safe because most of the killing is happening to civilians, not fighters. So I would really encourage all the international community not to lay a foot inside Syria, not to arm anyone, just, you know, stop the arming of the government by Russia and Iran and have a no-fly-zone in north and south Syria.
Q: Okay so you would like to see the United Nations step in and set up, to set up perimeters with peacekeeping forces so that the civilians could be safe.
A: Exactly. It’s like what they did with Iraq, no-fly-zone, north and south of Iraq in the past before the invasion of Iraq.
Q: Once they set up these zones, do you think the rebels will continue to fight it out, or do you think negotiations are possible? 
A: I don’t think negotiations will…people are still trying to negotiate. The opposition, you know, there are all of the extremes. There are people who want to fight to the last drop, but most of the free army and the political opposition, they all are willing to….I mean he’s not going to stay. There is 100 thousand victims of this war and the vast majority were killed by the government so this government has no legitimacy. But we can discuss safe exit, we can discuss protection of, you know, the minorities, we can discuss all that, can be discussed, and no one will have any problem with it.
Q: Is there leadership for the opposition? Have they established any sort of governing body or anything? Are there any names I should know of who’s their…?
A: They did…the Syrian Council I think it’s called and it does not represent 100 percent but I would say it represents at least 60 percent. Remember, dictators do not let any prominent figures in the community. They get rid of them. And that’s why the Arab Spring had a very hard time starting because there was no one to lead. And all that’s happened has happened with no leader which is really hard to imagine. So we will still have to work that out but all the people have good intentions. They formed the Syrian Council. They are trying to expand it to engulf everybody in it and already, like right now, the head of the council, the temporary head of the council is a Christian. So they are trying to get everybody involved.

(Dr. Kayali added that he thinks the Al Jazeera network and website is providing the most thorough coverage of Syria right now.)

A Hidden Child of the Holocaust Shares His Story at Augustana College

Click to Listen: Mr. Koek Tells His Story

Joseph Koek was 10 years old when the Nazis invaded The Netherlands. His father was a tailor and his mother was a manicurist. Their family of five included his two sisters. Mr. Koek spoke to a hushed crowd at Augustana College Monday night. He started by explaining why he shortened his Dutch name.

I was advised to change my name because if I ever got married and had children and my kids would go to school and they would be called “kook-kook” and have problems. So I cut my name in half.”

He said his early childhood was wonderful, and since his parents didn’t discuss politics in front of him he was unaware of the enemy about to invade their country.

After the Nazi invasion of May 5,1940 everything changed.”

The fear didn’t begin to come ’til later when I was not allowed to go to stores that were owned by some people. And then I had to start wearing the yellow star on my suit with the word Jew on it. And that curfew started to get earlier and earlier until the family could barely get out of the house.

On August 18, 1942 our family received a letter ordering us to report to the train station to be transported to what they said was a work camp. Later as an adult came to realize that my parents must have been laying plans to escape for a very long time unbeknownst to my sisters and me Because the next day I’m leaving home with a resistance guide. He’s a total stranger but we talk as he takes me to the end of the street and as we turn we keep walking until we get to the home where we’ll spend the next few years in hiding.”

Being only 12 years old I have no idea what to expect or what’s going on. I do not turn around to wave good-bye to my parents. I don’t kiss them good-bye. Looking back, now that I’m in my 80s, I wonder what must have been going on in my mind and more than that, what my parents must have been thinking.”

For years after the war I have punished myself for not dealing with our parting any better. My parents had to offer their three children that they loved to strangers that they must trust. None of us know what the future will hold for us. We never see our parents again.”

The Dutch Resistance guide led Joseph and his sisters to a three-story building where they hid on the top floor along with other children. The second floor of the building was a school, so when class was in session Joe and the others had to be very quiet. He said they played cards, Monopoly and his sister even taught him how to knit to pass the time in quiet ways.

We found out that our parents had been betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo. They were picked up and they were transported to the camp at Auschwitz where they were murdered.”

After that Joe and his sisters were separated. He didn’t know where his sisters went but he was taken by train to live with a farmer and his wife in the Dutch countryside. It was a common practice during the war for city-dwelling parents to send their children to live with relatives on farms because food was scarce in the cities. So the farming couple told neighbors Joe was the child of relatives who came to stay with them to get away from the city. The farmers were wonderful to him and he went to school, church, and wore wooden shoes everyday. One day, while delivering crops to market with a horse-drawn wagon, those clumsy wooden shoes saved his life.

As I was walking beside the wagon my wooden shoe caught on one of the wagon wheels. I tripped and I fell and I broke my leg. I was brought to the hospital where I spent the next six weeks in the children’s ward of the hospital. During my stay at the hospital I became aware that there was at least one other hidden child in my ward, a young girl. I also became aware that the doctor who ran the department was a dedicated Nazi.

On the second or the third day after I arrived at the hospital the Nazis had a round up. They marched into the village where I had been staying and for a tiny village they were sheltering a very large number of Jews and other escapees. Every single person who was hiding and every single person who had been sheltering them was taken to the front of the house and shot.

After my leg healed I was taken to an interim hiding place.”

Mr. Koek moved again to a new farming family in the northern region of Holland. Again he tried to settle into a routine of farm work and school. His new foster parents were also very good to him and they helped others too.

The father was generous with food and tried to help any hungry people that came around. Sometimes people would drive for hours and come from the city and trade whatever they could for food. Since hunger was by then rampant in the big cities, and this man was always kind he would give them whatever he could share.

Mr. Koek spent three years in hiding and had no idea where his sisters were or if they were even alive.

He also didn’t know, at this point, if his parents had survived. News of the outside world was heavily censored in Nazi occupied Holland, but they sometimes snuck in a few minutes of listening to resistance radio.

On June 6, 1944 I heard a broadcast from the BBC that announced that the Allies were invading France. The winter of ’44-’45 was extremely difficult for the Dutch. Thankfully I never went hungry. But I heard about how desperate and hungry the general population was from all the people who came to the dairy factory.”

In May of ’45 the Nazis capitulated and the Dutch were finally free. I was only 15 years old and didn’t know where I would go or what I would do with the rest of my life. The family that had sheltered me had been wonderful to me and they were very, very fond of me also. However with great love and kindness they told me that they could not adopt me even if I could not find my real parents. They explained that because the Jewish people had lost so very much they wanted me to be true to my heritage and live a Jewish life.

At this point in time many groups including some Jewish organizations and the Red Cross were trying desperately to find the hidden children and reunite them with their families. Somehow they found the three of us.

Eva and Annie had been living in the south of the country so they had been liberated almost a year before me. Eva had already been living as an adult and Annie was living with a lovely Catholic family that really wanted to adopt her. In fact, they fought for Annie in court more than once and eventually agreed however to give her up only on the condition that Eva would quit her job and go into the orphanage with Annie and me in order to take care of our little sister.

I learned that my sisters had some very difficult experiences during the war. At one point the girls had been in hiding with a number of other people. One very wealthy self-centered gentleman in their hiding place had bribed the local officials … to get to America. He decided he needed to look good for his trip to America so over strenuous objections of all the other adults he left the hiding place to go and get a haircut. He was caught by the Nazis and led the Nazis back to the group’s hiding place. Eva and Annie were led away from the hiding place by gunpoint.

They were supposed to be sent to Westerbork, the concentration camp in the northeast part of Holland. There was a list of all the captives but somehow Eva’s and Annie’s names were left out from the list thanks to The Resistance. An undercover resistance fighter told Eva to take Annie to the bathroom and wait there until roll call was over. Eva and Annie went to a stall and stood on top of the toilet seat. While they were there a Nazi searched the bathroom. He peered under all the stall doors but didn’t see them since they were standing on the tops of the seat. Later on they returned into the main room of the holding area and in the middle of the night a woman awoke them and informed them that they were being escorted to a doctor. For some reason the Nazis let them take them. The woman who was from the resistance took Eva and Annie to… a mile and a half down the road and cut off their Jewish stars and returned them to hiding.

We later discovered that our family had lost about 100 relatives during the Holocaust.”

The three Koek children lived in a Jewish orphanage for many years until each of them turned 21.

It was during those five or six years that I learned what had happened to my parents. I got a letter telling me that they had perished in Auschwitz. But for many years it was hard for me not to know what really had happened to them.

I never had any closure. I never got a way to say goodbye to my parents. As I am writing this it’s in the middle of the night in 2012 and I can’t fall asleep. I’m thinking of my parents. Where are they? Is this the last days of their lives? They are probably not together. They are probably not together. I have no idea how much they must suffer. I want to be with them one more time and talk with them.

At the present time, it’s 2012, I still miss them and so I can’t fall asleep. Crazy? Not really. I think about how much they must have suffered. I wish that I knew more about all they did to save our lives. I wonder why I am still living and able to tell the story; to share my feelings with you.

Is it alright for me to say at this late date thank you to my parents for all that they have done for me? Of course it is.

I am 12 years old. I walk out of the house with a resistance helper and I never look back. Now I wish that I had turned around and waved good-bye. But maybe that would have been too dangerous? I loved them more than they ever knew. I still do.”



RELATED: I found a wonderful blog with posts about The Netherlands in WWII. Here’s the link.

Questions and Answers with Mr. Koek

Click Here to Listen: Questions and Answers with Mr. Koek

After his presentation Mr. Koek took questions from the audience. He said he decided to tell his family’s story about seven years ago after a Holocaust remembrance ceremony at his synagogue. The president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum was the speaker at that service:

And I said to him, I said, ‘I’m one of the hidden children’, I said, ‘And I’m one of the survivors.’

And he says, ‘Are you telling your story?’ And I said, ‘No I can’t.’ Like most of us, we couldn’t. And he looks me straight in the eye the way you’re looking at me now and he said, ‘But Joe you must.’ And ever since then I haven’t shut up.

Some audience members wondered if Joe had ever gone back to visit his host families. He did return many decades later and made contact with the son of one of the couples.

Joe came to the U.S. after his oldest sister moved to the states after the war. She found him a job and so, in 1956, he came to Chicago. He became a tailor like his father, and then opened a dry cleaners. He also married, twice, and has three children and five grandchildren. His younger sister still lives in Amsterdam.

Question: What was it like the first time you told your story and where was it?

The first time was in Libertyville at a junior high school in front of over 300 children. Before I went there I went to the gentleman who was in charge of the speaker’s bureau and I said to him, ‘Where do I get trained for this?’ And he says, ‘You don’t.’ He said, ‘You go to school, you walk in front of these children and you tell them your story.’ And of course since then it’s become a little bit less difficult but it’s still not that easy.”

Question: What was their response?

“Interestingly enough the kids are wonderful. The questions…are fantastic. I’ve had groups of children where they would come to me, ‘can I shake your hand?’ ‘can I hug you?’

There’s a lady here from the area…brings children from the Middle East who are Muslims and other religions…these kids have become my friends.”

Joe says he wants the students he meets to understand that “we are all alike. We need to live together peacefully.” He read the audience a final page from his story that he usually reserves for students:

The story of the Holocaust tells us that there are people who hate other people so much that they will kill them only because they believe different, or look different. My story also tells us that there are also people who will do anything to save others, including risking their own lives. My wish for you children, is that you will grow up and belong to the second group.”

Joe also spoke to troops and guests at the Rock Island Arsenal’s Day of Remembrance Ceremony on April 9th. He answered a few more questions there.

What happened to your first host family – the ones where you were wearing the wooden shoes and then you fell?

“That was the second host family. The first one was The Haig, the second was the farmers and since I was no longer living with them when the Nazis walked into their house it was just a farmer and his wife. They turned around and left them alone.”

So they were safe.

“They were safe.”

The name of the village where the slaughter took place is Zevenhuizen.

Since you’ve been sharing your story does it make the memories more difficult, or does it help?

“It comes and it goes. It depends on who the audience is, what my mood is that day. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes…a day like today…it was not so easy seeing all these uniformed men. It’s a little difficult.


Joe’s son Steve was with him at both of these events and has seen his dad tell his story before.

What did you think when your dad started doing this?

Oh I thought it was phenomenal. I mean I think it’s changed his life. I think it’s added years to his life, to be able to do it. I was telling someone over there that he’s always loved to talk, he’s always been a ham – it’s been such a release for him, to be able to share it and to see the importance of the story living on for the next generations. I think he enjoys it and sees the importance of it. And for me as a son to be able to watch him and to hear the story is incredible. And to see the reactions from people, now that I’ve seen it a few more times, is really endearing.

At the Arsenal Ceremony several members of the audience, men and women alike, were moved to tears. 

4/19/14 – The Dutch want to create the first Holocaust memorial that includes the names of over 100,000 Dutch citizens who were exterminated by the Nazis. For more information see