On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, the study abroad group and I continued on our 2nd day in Krakow. We visited the Wawel Castle where we learned about its history and what life was like for those who lived there. In addition, we learned about how Poland honors its national heroes and patriots including those who fought in the American Revolution as well as in the Polish resistance during WWII. I was amazed and intrigued by how former Polish leaders, priests, and bishops were entombed with magnificent coffins lined with wood or stone engravings, as well as their continued reverence among Poles.
After visiting the castle, we visited the Jewish Quarter of Krakow. We stopped at the Jewish Community Center and spoke with a representative of the Krakow JCC, an American expatriate named Jennifer. She told us the origin story of the Center and how Prince Charles came to Krakow and asked the local residents what they needed. The response of these residents, including Holocaust survivors, was that they just wanted a place for their community to gather. After much effort, the JCC was established and exists as a place for Jews living in Krakow to come and be a community. It provides educational services for children and even those curious about Judaism. As of 2018, the Center has helped revive the Jewish community in Krakow and can possibly help the Jewish population of Poland and elsewhere engage in the communities in which they are a part of.
Finally, we visited several synagogues that, within the past 20 years, have been restored and renovated after decades of neglect and desecration. We learned how the synagogues were founded and what their significance was within the community as well as, unfortunately, how they were used by the Nazis during the occupation of Poland during WWII. After seeing the synagogues we visited a memorial dedicated to those who died with the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto and subsequent deportation to Auschwitz. The memorial was a series of chairs spread out over a square in Krakow. It was to symbolize how during the liquidation, Jews were forced to stand or crouch and were not allowed to sit or lay down while waiting for the train to take them to Auschwitz or other death camps. They risked being shot if they did. Our local guide pointed out that while it is good that the Jewish community and the city of Krakow is trying to move on from its past, it is important to not forget what happened. I agree with our guide’s assessment that if we do not remember what happened or ignore it, we run the risk of repeating the Holocaust again. But as the Holocaust is being taught, re-taught, and discussed on a regular basis, the chances of it happening again are lowered, but it takes constant vigilance in order to prevent it from occurring again.
– Mike Miller, UW-Oshkosh
My name is Colleen Huston and I am a double major in History and International Studies and my emphasis of study is in European conflict. I have always had a deep desire to learn about and eradicate human rights abuses, and in moving towards graduation this fall I hope to be able to apply that passion to my professional life. I was excited to take this trip because I knew that by being on the ground and seeing the environments that created and appropriated horrible acts of murder, I could better understand what steps lead the international community to the Holocaust and its aftermath.
Today, straight off of the plane, we focused on the aftermath of the Holocaust by looking at the Soviet history of Poland. We walked through the Socialist Realist community of Nowa Huta here in Krakow. It is the northernmost district in Krakow and houses many different sights to see including the PRL Museum which examines Poland under communist rule and looks extensively at the culture of nuclear sensitivities in the region. The expansive route of nuclear fallout shelters was really interesting to me and many other people on the trip, but after that museum we kept walking to see the parks all around the water and ended the first part of our day.
After a well deserved break, we were given the opportunity to go out on our own and eat lunch in small groups. After lunch we saw a tour of the old town of Krakow and got to see important buildings that have been there since the buildings were first erected, and it gave us a clearer understanding of what past as lead to Poland’s future and present day. I am excited for the rest of the trip and what it will entail as I have only been here for a day and have already learned so much!
– Colleen Huston, UW-Oshkosh
We are pleased to welcome the second UW Study Abroad Course 20th Century Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, co-led by Dr. Shay Pilnik and Dr. Karl Loewenstein. Our group of 15 students from UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh has arrived in Poland and for the next 14 days, will be touring the soil on which the murder of six million Jews and five million non-Jews took place. Our itinerary includes the Jewish quarter of Krakow; the death camps Auschwitz, Majdanek, and Belzec; the remains of the Warsaw and Lodz Ghettos; and the killing fields in Lithuania at Ponary and the Ninth Fort.
We thank our campus partners at the UW-Oshkosh History Department and the Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at UW-Milwaukee for helping us to spearhead this exciting educational program. And of course, we thank HERC’s anonymous donor for both vision and generosity. Without the scholarship that each of these students received for this program, we would have not been able to offer future teachers, professionals, and leaders in our community this rare opportunity to walk the grounds of the ghettos, killing fields, and death camps in Poland and Lithuania, helping them to bring the message of Never Again back to their communities.
Though disappointed by the weather conditions that resulted in the cancellation of Sunday’s community commemoration of the Shoah, we are blessed by the outpouring of support we received from our partners and participants. Even in the face of the hard choice to cancel our ceremony, we are reminded that this community is bonded together in commitment, passion, and strength.
At the Yom HaShoah Community Commemoration we come together to remember, honor survivors, and affirm our community’s commitment to Holocaust memory. We demonstrate the value of l’dor v’dor – from generation to generation.
Though we were not able to gather together this year – we encourage you to find a personal moment to remember, to listen tot he words of a survivor, to remember the resistance, and to encourage and support the ongoing education of our future generations. This is a commitment for every day and not just for the day of our community commemoration.
Consider listening to the words of a survivor today:
– Our keynote speaker for the day was Eric Blaustein. You can hear a few minutes of his experience here.
– Other survivor testimonies can be viewed here.
Remember the resistance. Here is information about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which took place 75 years ago.
In the past year, Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville and anti-Semitic activities have sharply increased both nationally and locally. Here are 18 ways to live “Never Again.”
Encourage and support education of our young people:
– Honor Holocaust educators. This year’s commemoration honors teacher Beth Feest who has shown a commitment to Holocaust education by teaching a quarter long Holocaust unit in her 20th Century History class at Christian Life School in Kenosha, Wisconsin for the past 17 years. A number of her students have won the Holocaust Essay Contest.
– Learn about March of the Living which sends youth to learn about the Holocaust. This year marks 30 years since this endeavor was initiated and we must remain committed to these kinds of educational activities in the years to come.
– Learn more about the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center which educates thousands of young people and teachers across the state of Wisconsin and provides numerous public programs about the Holocaust.
Rachel Baum & Bonnie Klein-Tasman
Yom HaShoah Co-Chairs
The sickening, blatant display of hatred and bigotry shown by white supremacists in Charlottesville this past week is a prime example of the ignorance and intolerance that the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center strives to eradicate every day. We mourn the loss of Heather Heyer and condemn the violent acts perpetrated against those who came to speak up against hatred. At the same time, it is incidents such as these that strengthen our resolve to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. We will continue to fight racism and anti-Semitism whenever it rears its ugly head, with an arsenal of books and teachers, witnesses and speakers who represent those who have seen first-hand what such hatred can unleash. We join our community here in Milwaukee and elsewhere in condemning these acts. Moreover, we join others both here and in Charlottesville in standing to be counted, and promise to continue spreading the lessons of tolerance and peace.
I am one of only fifty Jewish students at my Catholic University. At first it was very difficult being away from my family on all of the holidays, and feeling like I didn’t have a community to celebrate with. Fortunately, I have met some amazing people and have been introduced to outstanding organizations in the Milwaukee Jewish community that have welcomed me with open arms and have made me feel like I have a home away from home. I started getting involved in the Jewish Student Union at my university my freshman year, which at the time did not have a large outreach or presence on campus. Although there are not a lot of Jewish students at my school, I found that there are many people who love to learn about different faiths and cultures. I found that educating others about my Jewish faith was a true passion of mine, and I became an advocate for interfaith and intercultural programming.
This year I started as an intern at the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC), which is a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. I came in under the assumption that the organization was one that was run by Jews and that its programming and outreach was marketed for Jews. I soon learned that the staff is very diverse and comes from many different backgrounds, and that the educational programming is in fact focused on all members of the community, especially those who do not have any background knowledge on the Holocaust. This realization resonated with me, as I have been an advocate for interfaith and intercultural educational programming intended for a diverse group of people. At one of HERC’s most highly attended annual events, the Kristallnacht Commemoration, I was truly impressed and inspired by the twelve faith leaders from different Milwaukee communities and the local students who shared their prayers, poems, and artwork in remembrance of a day of violence and intolerance in order to take a stand against racism and bigotry. This event and all of the work I have done with the Holocaust Education Resource Center has given me hope that through education and kindness between diverse communities, we can live in a society that is more tolerant and understanding, and one that celebrates both our similarities and our differences.
– Anna Goldstein, Marquette University
In the wake of his passing this past Saturday, we honor the life and legacy of Elie Wiesel. Holocaust survivor and author, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chairman of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, husband and father, Elie Wiesel brought a voice to the horrors of the Holocaust and championed the remembrance of all those who perished. Though Wiesel penned many books on the Holocaust and humanity, his first book Night which recounts his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald, continues to be used to teach about the Holocaust in classrooms today. He also founded the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity which engages youth in discussions about the importance of tolerance and humanity around the globe. We thank Elie Wiesel for his precious contribution to Holocaust remembrance and education, and we strive to continue his life’s work.
Hello! My name is Kaila Klawes and I will be a senior at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this coming fall. I am pursuing a degree in Social Work with a minor in Psychology. History is something I have always been interested in, especially regarding the Holocaust. When I learned about this trip, I was excited and thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about this important and tragic time in history, first hand.
Today we visited the Ponary Forest near Vilna. It was hard to imagine anything horrible happening in this place because it was so peaceful and beautiful, yet many people perished here. Next, we went to the Ninth Fort where we learned some of the history of Kaunas and what life was like for prisoners who were kept there. Overall, today was very somber, but I am glad I had the opportunity to experience these places and learn about the horrendous acts that occurred here so that I can pass my knowledge on to others. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Kaila Klawes, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Hello, my Name is Nora Leigh. I am a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and a history major. I was very happy to see this study abroad trip being offered because I have always liked learning about the Holocaust in history class. Also, to be able to visit the places I only just learned about from a book is an amazing experience for me.
I will be telling you about our first day in Vilnius, Lithuania. We visited the Old and New towns of Vilnius and learned about the Jewish people who lived in these two places before and after the war. We also visited “Pace Cathedral” which has amazing architecture inside that was sculpted in plaster. Next we went to Vilnius castle or Gedminas Castle. This castle was ruined by bombs from WWII. However one of four towers is remaining and we were able to climb up to the top of it and see a panoramic view of Vilnius. It was an amazing opportunity to see this beautiful town.
This trip has been an amazing experience for me and opened my eyes to many new experiences as well as opportunities to share my travels with all of you and my family, friends, and community. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Nora Leigh, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Hello, my name is Rachel Bogatay. I’m currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as a Secondary Education Major. My main areas of focus are Psychology, History, and Sociology. This trip has been very educational and I intend to use as much of my experience to reach students as I can.
Today our group got to visit the office of the Forum for Dialogue. There we met a woman named Olga who guided us through the organizations efforts to educate Junior high and High school students about their specific town’s Jewish history and how it’s connected with the Holocaust. At the end of the 4 day event, the students are given a task of guiding anyone they choose around their town. One girl even coordinated with a group from Israel to have them flown out to Poland so they could share different cultural and historical experiences. It was a very powerful presentation that specifically stuck out to me since I want to be a High school teacher.
After that meeting, we moved on to the Polin Museum. This museum is dedicated to the 1000 year history of Polish Jews. Not only was this a very educational experience, it was also extremely fun. They had different prompts that would guide us through books and a traditional Jewish town. I can’t wait to go back and see it all again! View the trip’s photo album here.
– Rachel Bogatay, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee