Seventeen Hobart and William Smith students recently had the opportunity to travel to Germany and Poland to take part in the March of Remembrance and Hope, a week-long journey to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. Aptly named, the excursion was not only a way for college students from around the world to reflect on and remember the Holocaust, but also a chance to learn ways to raise awareness and spread a message of hope to people across the globe.
“You take these trips because you want to understand, if you can, why it happened, how it happened,” explains Michael Dobkowski, professor of religious studies and the team leader of the March of Remembrance and Hope.
How did the students cope with viewing some of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps, such has Auschwitz or Treblinka? How did they deal with Majdanek camp – a camp left untouched after Soviet Liberation – and seeing the disinfectant rooms? The crematorium, the medical tables, the ovens?
“The gravity of the situation hit you when we saw the domes filled with human remains – it was people turned into a handful of ash,” explains Caitlin Seadale ’09, who said the students found comfort in each other.
“Our group got incredibly close.” Lauren Budd ’10 and Amanda Townsend ’09 agree.
“The support of the group gave me a positive outlook on the future,” says Budd, who enjoyed the group debriefings, which allowed students to share their thoughts and reactions.
Dobkowski also speaks glowingly about the camaraderie among the group. “Students and survivors provide a kind of strength,” he says. “It was wonderful to see a community develop.”
Students found solace in creative outlets following the visit through the camps. Some took part in impromptu “singing ceremonies,” while others expressed their feelings through poetry or journal entries. Budd recalls students furiously scribbling down their thoughts after visiting a camp.
“Journal writing was therapeutic and valuable,” she says. Not only was writing a cathartic experience for many of the students, it also exemplified their hope and optimism.
Amanda Ward ’11 exemplified this positivity in a poem she wrote in response to her experience: “Hope is as fragile as a snowflake / Yet can change the world.” [The poem in its entirety appears below]
Dobkowski is proud of his students who actively participated in the ceremonies and used creative outlets to express their feelings and emotions.
“When you’re in such an intense environment with students, you see them shine,” he says. He urges students to consider creating change: “We have to somehow disabuse ourselves of the notion that we can’t make a difference,” he explains. “If the Holocaust teaches us anything, it certainly teaches us that individuals can make a difference. It seems overwhelming and it seems impossible, but it’s not the case.”
What is Hope? By Amanda Ward ’11
What is Hope?
One can not touch it
Yet one can feel it
It is the sense of anger one feels at acts of discrimination
The lifting of our hearts as we see a child smiling
It is the love we share with our fellow human beings
What is Hope?
One can not capture it
Yet one can hear it
It is the laughter of children
The feeling we get as a bird starts to sing
It is the twinkling of stars as we dream of the future
What is Hope?
One can not conquer it
Yet one can see it
It is the good acts of the dissenters during the Holocaust
The tears that fall when a survivor speaks
It is the plans we make as we chart our destinies
Hope is as fragile as a snowflake
Yet can change the world Hope is the idea of peace
Hope is the good deed of a stranger
Hope is a feeling
Hope is a sight
Hope is a voice
Hope is the past
Hope is the present
Hope is the future
Hope is all of you
Hope is me
Hope is us