Dzień dobry! (Polish formal expression meaning “Good Afternoon”). My name is Tim Zaborowski and I am a senior at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and plan to graduate in the fall. I am a History major at UWO and throughout my time there I have taken multiple European History courses but never one that was specifically about the Holocaust. I’ve always had a particular interest in the Holocaust as it is arguably one of the most prominent events in history, so naturally I was intrigued at the opportunity to see these Holocaust related sites firsthand. Additionally, I am part Polish and the program offered me the ability to learn about and explore my Polish heritage in greater detail. Plus I was excited to travel to Europe for the first time!
Today was our first day in Lublin after being in Krakow the previous five. After arriving in Lublin in the afternoon, we were given a guided tour of the Lublin Castle which was originally built in the 13th Century. Inside the castle walls, we toured the Lublin museum and gazed upon the inside of the Holy Trinity Chapel. The Holy Trinity Chapel is one of the finest examples of Medieval art in Poland. Its Gothic architecture, combined with Russian-Byzantine polychromes, makes up a unique synthesis of Eastern and Western cultures. From the 17th-19th Centuries, the Chapel was considerably damaged and eventually covered by plaster by the Russians. However, in 1897 they were rediscovered and restored as best as possible. After gazing upon the beauty of the Chapel, we toured the tower inside the Lublin Castle. Interestingly, the tower and the castle chapel were the only buildings that had survived the destruction of the castle during wars in the 17th century. One possible explanation for this could be because the brick walls of the tower are 4m thick. Also, the tower, along with the castle, served as a prison for the nobility. Overall, the first day in Lublin was one I will never forget due the beauty of the paintings and the view of the city from the top of the tower! View the trip’s photo album here.
– Tim Zaborowski, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Pozdrowienia, my name is Jordan Pachefsky. I am a junior attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in Applied Economics. After graduation I plan on entering the real estate industry with a focus on development and portfolio management. With a strong base of Holocaust knowledge which has progressed throughout the course of my education, this trip is very meaningful to me as it is no longer a page in a book, but the post era environment in which “…hatred and intolerance paved the road to Auschwitz” (Elie Wiesel) several generations prior.
Today, 71 years after the end of the Holocaust, I had the opportunity to walk through Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of Kraków. Although the structures of this community remain, the inhabitants of the once thriving center for cultural life no longer resemble the population prior to the war. It was difficult to see the wall constructed of vandalized head stones surrounding The Old Jewish Cemetery as my family’s cemetery in Biolystok no longer bears the name of my ancestors, rather the graves go unmarked and the headstones used within the gardens of neighboring villages. The head stones within the wall serve to honor the memories of those that they belonged by encompassing the cemetery of The Remuh, adjacent to his former Synagogue.
Later in the day, we had the privilege of visiting the Jewish Community Center of Kraków and meeting with Executive Director, Jonathan Ornstein. After a discussion with Jonathan regarding the Jewish community of Kraków and a personal demonstration of Shofar Kraków, designed by Milwaukee native Richard Edelman with a twin Shofar outside the Milwaukee JCC, we visited the Izaak Synagogue which I later attended with Dr. Shay Pilnik and Dr. Karl Loewenstein for Friday evening Services. As the echoes of a hundred voices carried to the impressive arches, I felt the past 372 years of the Synagogue come alive, a powerful moment that will forever resonate within me. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Jordan Pachefsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Hello, my name is Carly Cohen. I’m a junior from UW-Madison and I’m majoring in management and human resources with minors in Jewish Studies and Leadership. I’ve been studying the Holocaust since I was four years old, when I started as a student at Milwaukee Jewish Day School. The Holocaust has always been a large part of my life. I’ve studied about it a lot, I have many friends who are survivors, and I’ve made it a priority in life to educate others.
I’m writing this as I’m sitting on the bus leaving Auschwitz-Birkenau and all I can think about is that I can say I left the camp. During the Holocaust over 1.5 million people walked past the same gates I did…but they never walked out.
This has been an intense day filled with lots of emotions. I’m happy, confused, sad, angry, and upset. We started the day at Auschwitz 1 and walked through the whole camp. We learned about what took place and got to see historic artifacts such as hair, shoes, pots and pans, and personal items (toiletries). We walked through the gas chamber and walked the roads passing all the different blocks. After, we went to Birkenau – I wasn’t prepared for what I was walking in to. It is massive. We saw the hundreds of barracks; the memorial that was created; the destroyed gas chambers/crematoriums; the toilet house and wash house for the women; and the railroad tracks.
I need time to process what I just experienced but am confident this experience is one that I will be able to talk about for the rest of my life.
You might be wondering why I put happy as one of my emotions that I’m experiencing. Today, I was part of 7,500 people who toured Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over 1.7 million people visit every year and that makes me happy. I’m happy that our world isn’t forgetting and I’m happy that so many people travel to see the horrors that took place and to make sure that this never happens again. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Carly Cohen, University of Wisconsin-Madison
My name is Trinity Elmer. I just finished my junior year at UW-Oshkosh and am so excited to be able to be on this trip. My majors are political science, history, and religious studies, and having taken classes on The Holocaust and Judaism in general, it is amazing to be here to actually witness and experience the places where so many important events took place. It’s a whole new level of learning. Today we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were so many emotional parts, but there were a few that stood out in particular. In the first part of the camp tour, seeing the huge numbers of items that were left behind from the victims and seeing the real pictures of those who had been through Auschwitz while being in the very places that they stood, was overwhelming. The prison portion, especially Father Kolbe’s cell where flowers were left was equally disturbing. Of course entering the hallway where the pictures of prisoners lined the walls and seeing their occupations and death dates as well as stepping into the gas chamber were also huge moments. In the Birkenau portion, the enormity was shocking to me. The openness of the land around us was somehow so stifling when I saw the fences and guard towers. The worst part though, was being in the barrack known as the Death Block where women waited to be sent to the gas chambers. Here women were crammed into tiny beds in misery and waiting for their last moments. This was the most surreal and sobering experiences I have ever had. Just learning about the experience is not remotely equivalent to the emotions and connection I felt with the victims in that moment. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Trinity Elmer, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
Hi, I’m Andrea Adams. I’m a sophomore at UW-Milwaukee double majoring in Criminal Justice and Social Work . The career path I want to take is to be able to help sexual assault victims, but I’m not sure exactly in what capacity. The reason I am on this study abroad trip is because I have never been out of the country and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to learn new things about another culture and the Holocaust.
Today, we learned about the rich history of Kraków. We went to the Rynek Museum and had a tour about what makes this city special. For example, the Museum had a lot of interactive elements to engage tourists while teaching them about the city. Next, we ventured to the University of Kraków and had a quick tour of the campus during which we learned about the University’s history. I learned that Nicolaus Copernicus attended and graduated there and some of his original instruments are still at the University. Lastly, we had the choice of going to the salt mine – the oldest in Europe (over 800 years old!). While there was quite a bit of walking, it was worth it because the views were breathtaking and I won’t see anything like it ever again. Overall, I had a great day today! View the trip’s photo album here.
– Andrea Adams, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Hello, my name is Alex McCarville and I just finished my sophomore year at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I am an accounting major with a minor in political science. I grew up in the Madison area. I have become increasingly interested in traveling since I started college. This study abroad experience is my second time being out of the United States, and my first time to Europe. Last summer I went to Haiti for a service immersion trip. Aside from traveling I like hiking, biking, and kayaking. I plan to do as much traveling as I can throughout my time in college, and hopefully travel for work once I graduate. I hope to get a job at an accounting firm once I graduate.
Our tour guide met us at the hotel at 9am for our tour of the city. She told us a lot about the famous and most important people of Krakow, which was very interesting to learn about. One place we saw was the home of the pope, John Paul II. We also learned that the surroundings of the old city used to be surrounded by a wall, but then it was torn down and made into a park. Our destination for the day was Wawel Castle. There was a church within the grounds of the castle. It was a very beautiful place, with tombs of various kings, including Casimir the great who brought Jews into the community despite his role in the Christian community. We then moved on to the castle. The most interesting part of the castle that I learned about was in the 17th century, a king was doing an experiment, and accidentally set part of the castle on fire. When it was restored, that part of the castle was rebuilt with 17th century art and design, so that part looks a little different than the rest of the castle. There were tapestries around the entire castle, which depicted testaments shared by the Christians and Jews. Everything we saw was only relating to the Old Testament, which allowed for Jews to feel more welcomed into the community. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Alex McCarville, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
We have arrived in Poland after a long day of travel from Chicago to Krakow, with a brief transfer in the Warsaw International Airport. While the original intent of this trip was to offer a group of fourteen bright and gifted Wisconsin students the opportunity to visit the Holocaust sites for the first time in their lives, it soon occurred to me that for many of them, this was an even more momentous opportunity: for some – their first ever outside the country, for others – first trip to Europe; and for still others – the first time in their life boarding a plane….
Needless to say, some of our folks, coming from small towns throughout Wisconsin, saw this trip as an opportunity to “see the world.” And what could be a more compelling way to see the world and explore the deeds of human kinds in its most extreme forms? On the one hand, our itinerary will include some of Eastern Europe’s most magnificent cities, with Krakow topping the list with its brilliant combination of Romanesque, Baroque and Renaissance architectural treasures. And on the other hand, we will bear witness to the low-point of humankind with a visit to the Nazi industrial death centers at Auschwitz, Majdanek, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the killing fields in Ponar and the Ninth Fort.
Out trip begins with an exploration of Poland’s historic cultural capital – the city of Krakow, where our students will appreciate hundreds of year of Catholic-Jewish co-existence, in a country that welcomed its Jews, who had fled persecution in West and Central Europe, and found refuge in a country they lovingly called in Hebrew Po-Lan-Yah: “Here G-d Resides.” A country that was home of Jewish life for nearly a millennia, ending abruptly during the Holocaust. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Dr. Shay Pilnik, HERC Executive Director
“Auschwitz was a different planet,” wrote Holocaust survivor and novelist Yehiel Dinur, known by his pen name Katzetnik. Over 70 years after the liberation of the Nazi Death and Labor camps, humanity can still not provide a decisive answer to the question “Why?” – how could a crime of this magnitude happen, the destruction six million Jews and five million non-Jews, murdered for the sake of a racist, hallucinatory and hateful ideology?
At The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC), we teach the lessons of the Holocaust to a variety of ages, exploring different related themes and employing different methods.
HERC is proud to offer a new program to college students: in the next two weeks we will teach the lessons of the Holocaust by bearing witness to some of its focal points: Auschwitz, Majdanek, the Warsaw Ghetto, Ponary, and the Ninth Fort – these terrifying names will stand at the heart of our trip.
Through a gift of an anonymous donor, granted by the Jewish Community Foundation of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, we were able to provide scholarships to 14 fortunate students from UW-Milwaukee, Madison and Oshkosh. The grant allows our students an incredible learning experience: an appreciation of Jewish life in Eastern Europe from the Middle Ages up to WWII, and a profound understanding of the Holocaust by standing on the soil, on which it took place. View the trip’s photo album here.
– Dr. Shay Pilnik, HERC Executive Director