Led by Holocaust survivors and scholars, a group of 20 HWS students spent nine days in May traveling through Germany and Poland on “The March: Bearing Witness to Hope,” a leadership program and remembrance journey.
The trip was established through a collaborative effort between Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski and faculty from Nazareth College to provide participants – HWS and Nazareth students, alums and faculty, as well as local community members – with an opportunity to visit the museums, monuments and memorials that commemorate the once thriving Jewish cultural centers in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin that were destroyed during World War II.
Hobart and William Smith have participated in the trip seven times since 2002. Future trips will be funded in part by the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation. In 2015, the foundation granted both HWS and Nazareth endowments totaling $500,000, with each receiving $250,000 to help offset the cost for students to participate.
Participants visited sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek, where life ended for millions, as well as the Warsaw Ghetto, the Wannsee House and the Track 17 Memorial at Grunewald Train Station where most of the Jews of Berlin were deported from in 1941-2.
“On The March, by traveling to these former places of life and learning, destruction and death, young people are expressing their protest over the injustices of the past,” Dobkowski says,
New this year, the trip took participants to the newly opened exhibit and memorial in the Warsaw Zoo commemorating the rescue of dozens of Jews by Zoo Director Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina.
“Each monument we saw, camp we visited, name we read, and topic we discussed was uniquely powerful in its own way,” says Sarah Walters ‘19. “We became witnesses to the horrors and even the heroism that occurred over 70 years ago.”
Another new component of the trip included dinners and guided conversations with German university students in Berlin and Polish students in Krakow. Topics ranged from the Syrian migration crisis to the politics of Holocaust memory.
“It was very beneficial to see how other students around the world think and approach the same topics that we study,” says Matthew Fox ‘19.
While exploring Poland, students were accompanied by Sally Wasserman, a Holocaust survivor from Toronto who shared her personal story in Birkenau. Students were also able to video conference with survivor Henry Silberstern in Krakow. For many participants, interacting on a personal level with survivors added an extra layer of meaning and realism to the millions of individual lives taken during the Holocaust.
“It was in these moments that she gave a personality, an opinion, and a face to people that are so often strictly labeled as ‘victim,'” Ryan Montbleau ’19 explains.
After returning to the States, students are encouraged to continue their reflection. Dobkowski explains that throughout the trip, students are challenged to further their understanding of the Holocaust, and to better address genocide and human rights abuses in the world today.
“I hope they have learned how to critique their own societies responsibly and their vulnerabilities to mass violence,” Dobkowski says. “We are confident students will bring new perspectives and commitments back to their campuses and communities, and live and work realizing we are always in the space of prevention.”