Racism. Genocide. Hope. For many students these words are contradictory. However, for students who have traveled with Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski to Germany and Poland, they are powerfully and intimately connected. So much so, a group of students from this year’s trip were moved to create a book of their experiences.
Since 2002, Dobkowski has led students from HWS and Nazareth colleges on a journey through the museums, monuments and memorials of the once-thriving Jewish cultural centers of Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin that were destroyed during the Holocaust. This journey, which occurs every other year, is called “The March: Bearing Witness to Hope.”
“The March is more than a field trip to learn about the Holocaust,” explains Anna Hertlein ’12. “The March gave a name, a face, a place and a story to the six million victims of this genocide.” While on the March, students travel to Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps where millions were systematically killed. They walk through rooms piled with the possessions of victims: heaps of suitcases, piles of cooking utensils, dolls and thousands of weathered shoes.
The March, however, is not simply about what one takes away from the experience, but what one can give in return. In 2008, a group of students hoped to create a book to compile the memories, thoughts, and experiences of students on the trip. However, it was a group of students from the 2010 trip that decided a book was a project that they would like to complete. With a book, they could create something permanent and best capture the experience.
Sarah Canavan ’12, Libby Clark ’12, Caitlin O’Brien ‘12 and Courtney Waugh ’12 – along with Nazareth College students Kathleen White and Dave Sanchez – have done an incredible amount of work compiling and editing memories, thoughts, poetry and photographs from students who attended the March in 2008 and 2010. Canavan and Clark both feel that the strength of the book lies in the power of the memories from personal experiences. “You really get to experience some of the emotions that people were feeling on that day,” says Canavan.
“The trip is informed by the power and responsibility of memory. Memory is a blessing; it creates bonds rather than destroying them – and it also creates responsibility,” says Dobkowski. “To remember is to affirm faith in humanity, to affirm faith in history, and to affirm a fundamental optimism about the future. Without memory, there can be no future in any meaningful sense.”
Taking on such an emotionally charged subject is never an easy task, and the group faced many challenges while putting the project together. One of the most difficult tasks they faced was in creating a name that would do justice to the memories and emotions expressed inside. Another challenge was trying to decide which articles to include in the book.
“We tried to include as much as possible,” explains Clark. “We also tried to include a variety of forms to show all of the different elements of the trip.”
“It is really hard to truly explain the impact and emotions of the trip to anyone,” explains Canavan. “Hopefully we will be able to share the book with friends and family so they can begin to understand.”
The students have chosen a publisher, and the manuscript will be sent to the publisher in mid-January.