Visiting Warsaw

Posted on: June 2nd, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - WillHello. My name is William Wasielewski and I am a History major at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. I’m also minoring in Geography and Political Science. The Holocaust and its effects on the world have interested me since I was a child, but particularly since we interrupted our normal school schedule in 7th grade to spend a few hours of each day, over the course of a week, learning about the Holocaust. I firmly believe its importance cannot be understated, as it shows both what hate and racism in the modern world can do and demonstrates the resilience that can be found in the human spirit. I am also on this trip as a 3rd-generation Polish-American who has family roots in Warsaw and I have always wanted to return to my motherland.

Today we visited the many memorials and plaques dedicated to the Warsaw Ghetto as well as other peripherals of the Jewish community which once existed in Warsaw. Warsaw wasn’t like the other cities we visited (Lublin and Kraków). Its Jewish community was only around 140 years old when WWII started. However, it was booming. At the start of the war, the only city in the world with a larger Jewish population was NYC. This can be exemplified by the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw which is still standing; it has over 220,000 people buried there, most of them from before 1945.

One of the biggest takeaways of our trip to the areas of the former ghetto today was that even if a time of such despair there were still heroes. There were multiple statues of Janus Korczak who was the director of the children’s orphanage in the ghetto. When the Nazi’s came and said they were going to send the kids to the east for a better life (a euphemism for the extermination camp Treblinka), Janus refused to let them take the kids by themselves. Instead, he willfully accompanied the children to their death in Treblinka, comforting them the entire time. To willfully go to your death to ease the pain of others truly shows the heroism of some of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto.

One final note about many of the memorials we saw today around Warsaw is that many of them shared a similar theme. These memorials, such as the one at Umschlagplatz (where the Jews of the ghetto were shipped off to Treblinka) contain a very large open space in the monument. This is to signify hope. Even in the darkest hour of humanity, it’s important to have hope. Before I came on this trip I didn’t understand how people could have survived the Holocaust or how they could hold on to any hope. I’m not sure if I understand any better now but I do know now how important it was to those who survived and how important it is today. View the trip’s photo album here.

– William Wasielewski, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Warsaw: Old & New

Posted on: June 1st, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - AndrewHello from Warsaw, Poland! My name is Andrew C. Smith and I am a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh where I earned a degree in History.  Growing up, I have been surrounded by Polish influence. I lived in a town called Sobieski and went to school in the neighboring district of Pulaski (which annually hosts one of the nation’s largest polka festivals: Polka Days). I decided to take this trip because of my Polish background, but also because I have always been intrigued by the Holocaust.

This morning we left our previous hostel in Lublin and boarded a train to Warsaw. The train ride to Warsaw was a great opportunity for us to see the countryside of Poland; which looked a lot like the landscape of Wisconsin .When we reached our destination, we met our new tour guide, Thomas. Right away, Thomas connected with our group. Born in Warsaw in 1930, Thomas and his parents were the only three out of an eleven-person family to survive World War II. He loves this city and it was evident through his words as we began our tour. We first explored Warsaw’s Old Town. One of our first stops was at the Holy Cross Church. This church was not only significant to the city of Warsaw, but for Thomas too. Inside the church is the resting spot to famous Polish pianist, Frederick Chopin. And to Thomas, this is where his parents got married and he got baptized. Throughout the city there are benches dedicated to Chopin and when a button is clicked, music is played.

From here we walked to the Saxonian King’s Square. Established in the 1700s, this Square of great size and consisted of many arches and columns. However, after World War II, only three arches remain. Having defeated the Russian army, the Square was renamed to Pilsudski Square after military leader Jozef Pilsudski. Today under the remaining arches is an eternal flame guarded by Polish soldiers. The eternal flame is in memory of all those who have died fighting for Poland.

We continued into Warsaw’s New Town. Here we saw a church that served as a hospital during the German bombings. Nuns raised a Red Cross flag above the church and provided shelter and aid for those that needed it. Unfortunately, the Germans eventually bombed the church killing many inside. Throughout the New Town, and parts of the Old Town, there were statues of bears. Thomas explained that these bears were brown bears and they represent protection. The weather was very inconsistent today and we experienced a small patch of rain. As the rain dropped down, the streets became vacant. We took shelter in a church and waited for the clouds to pass. View the trip’s photo album here.

– Andrew C. Smith, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Jewish Lublin & Old Town

Posted on: May 31st, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - LukeHello! My name is Luke Peter and I’m a senior at UW Oshkosh, graduating in the fall. I’m majoring in geography, although history is also an interest of mine. I’ve been fascinated with WWII history for awhile now and have always wondered why something as horrifying as the Holocaust could happen to people who aren’t that much different from myself. Being a geography major, culture and places have always been a focus of my studies, which have covered other genocides in history around the world, yet none as terrible as the Holocaust.

Today we took a tour around Lublin, visiting places that were once part of a thriving Jewish community. 43,000 Jews once lived in Lublin and now there are none.  Zero. Completely erased from a place they had inhabited for hundreds of years. Our amazing tour guide, Magda, made many good points about the Jewish/Polish relationship here. Even looking at old pictures of the different parts of old town, it is evident that even before the war the relationship with Jews was strained. There was a clear divide between the city which explains why there is no Jewish population here today. As days go by, the world forgets what happened here and that is unacceptable. Magda explained that they have a program here called Project 43,000. It’s a perfect way to remember the people that were unjustly persecuted and have since been forgotten. The plan is to find relatives and other people who might have known these people and find more information about them. Although it could take many, many years to complete, I think it is a great start to remembering these people. I for one will not forget the pictures, places, and the people I’ve met and learned about in Lublin.  View the trip’s photo album here.

– Luke Peter, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

A Visit to Two Death Camps

Posted on: May 29th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee


Hello! My name is Emily Marie Colon and I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. I am majoring in History with a minor in Journalism. I have always loved history, and studying the Holocaust has always been one of my favorite topics to study. I find it incredibly interesting and am someone who thinks that it is important to study history so that it does not repeat itself. I believe that education is power and the more I know, the more I can help educate others.

As a young girl I always dreamed about what it would be like to visit a former concentration or death camp and how I would feel and react being there. I never imagined that a young girl who grew up in Milwaukee would get the opportunity to go.  When I first heard about this trip I did not even know that we would be visiting a concentration camp, but I knew that I had to go because it was an opportunity to learn more about Eastern Europe and the Holocaust first hand.  When I found out that we were going not only to Auschwitz-Birkenau but also Majdanek, I knew I made the right choice and could not wait for this opportunity to arrive.

Today we visited Majdanek and I still can’t believe that I was actually there. Visiting a concentration camp for me was a surreal feeling. I actually felt more emotional at Majdanek than I did at Auschwitz and I can’t really explain why. Though most people think of Auschwitz when they think of a Nazi death camp, they need to realize it was not the only one and that many people perished at the other camps as well. The fact that Majdanek is still almost completely intact is both impressive and shocking. We literally got to walk in the gas chambers and got to see the crematoria which was an experience in itself. We also saw a bunker full of shoes as well as a bunker that showed their living conditions. They also have a semi-recently built mausoleum filled with ashes found at Majdanek. It does not matter how many pictures you see or how much you study and read about a concentration camp or the Holocaust nothing compares to standing and taking in the place where it all happened.

It was definitely an emotional experience, but I am not sure what emotions I am feeling as a result; I will need some time to process the day. One thing I do is that it was a once in a lifetime experience that I will remember and share for the rest of my life. The number of visitors to Majdanek is much smaller than Auschwitz and that is a shame; both are very important places in history and both should be remembered. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have visited here and for the chance to be able to leave, when so many who came here did not have that option.

Today we also had the wonderful opportunity to visit another death camp: Belzec. It is not a place that many people visit so it was a unique opportunity. It was definitely an interesting experience.  View the trip’s photo album here.

– Emily Marie Colon, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Majdanek & Belzec

Posted on: May 29th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

ToriMy name is Tori Raymond and I am a history major at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Studying Nazi Germany and the Holocaust are my passions and my primary areas of study. Today, we went to Majdanek death camp.It was personally very emotional. I felt a real connection to the past. We learned about the way the guards treated those who were imprisoned and how sadistic they were. It was eye-opening and sobering. After that, we went to the the Belzec memorial and museum. They had a replica of a gas chamber and it was chillingly quiet and calm inside. We went in one-by-one and were able to feel a little bit of the past.  View the trip’s photo album here.

– Tori Raymond, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Lublin Castle

Posted on: May 28th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

TimDzień 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

Kazimierz & Jewish Krakow

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

PachefskyPozdrowienia, 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

The Emotions of Auschwitz

Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - CarlyHello, 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


Posted on: May 26th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - TrinityMy 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

History of Krakow

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 by HERCmilwaukee

UW Study Abroad - AndreaHi, 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