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''Never Again'': Trip Brings Holocaust Home

In June 2005, a class of twenty-one students, five faculty members and three guests set out to explore European sites connected with the Holocaust. Along with many other sites, they visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi German concentration camps, where over a million people were put to death. Even just the pictures taken on the trip are chilling.

Now chronicled in an exhibit located on the ground floor of Hutchins Library, the trip to the Holocaust sites was coordinated by Dr. Steve Gowler and Dr. Susan Yorde. The class visited locations that figured prominently in the Holocaust, to learn more about the Holocaust as well as get a first-hand idea of the atrocities that were committed. Their stops included Berlin and Weimar, Germany; Prague, in the Czech Republic; and Kazamirz Dolny, Krakow, Lublin, Warsaw and Zakopane, Poland. Other members of the faculty that accompanied the class were Dr. Jackie Burnside, Dr. Martha Beagle, and Dr. Dianne Hellwig. Beagle and Hellwig were also the organizers of the Hutchins Library exhibit, and were willing to answer some questions about their experience.

"I have always had an interest in this part of history," said Beagle. "I have read a tremendous amount about the Holocaust and this trip put a visual and hands-on for me that really was profound. …At first I was uncertain how I would feel and what to expect. The two weeks prior to our trip and in the classroom setting, Steve and Susan began to prepare us. But being on the actual sites of killing, discrimination, torture, and cruelty brought it to another level for me."

Hellwig had an even more personal take on the experience: "I have relatives that were lost in the Holocaust," she said, "and I [went] on the trip to pay my respects to them. It was very interesting to learn how the Holocaust affected Eastern Europe. Everyone, including the Jews, Polish people, Gypsies, homosexuals, and thousands of others."

Some of the most unsettling places seen on the trip were the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, as well as Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany. However, there were positive moments to the trip as well; in Warsaw, they met a Polish woman named Wanda who had hidden Jews during the Holocaust despite the danger to her own life. "She was a wonderful woman," said Hellwig.

With such an important subject, when it came time to put the exhibit together from the many photographs taken on the trip, Beagle and Hellwig had their work cut out for them. "There were many beautiful photographs and poetry submitted," said Hellwig. "We were not able to enlarge some of the photos because of the pixels, but we managed to use everyone’s photo in the montage. We displayed all of the poetry and journal entries that were submitted. Some of the photos are difficult to look at, but we felt that they were very powerful images."

The exhibit contains numerous photographs taken by the travelers. Some of the images can be seen in the slideshow above. It also contains poems and writings by the students, as well as excerpts from Holocaust-related narratives. Two glass display cases include numerous items from their travels, such as a paper kippah from the Jewish Community of Prague, postcards, brochures and pamphlets, and other artifacts relating to their journey. "This was the most time consuming part of our work for me," added Beagle. "We wanted to represent everyone and still be able to tell our travel story."

When asked what feeling they wanted people to get from the exhibit, Hellwig said she wants people "to become aware of this very important 'moment' in history and to do everything they can to prevent something like this from happening again." Beagle echoed her sentiments, and added, "Hopefully, something as devastating as the Holocaust will never happen again. But it would be my hope that people practice gentle kindness to all peoples of the world."

One of the student writings displayed as part of the exhibit is that of Grace Todd, who offered some final words on her own experience: "I don't have any profound thoughts about all this, just a better grasp on my responsibility as a human - to teach things such as this and to show that such are the consequences of greed, fear, hatred and ignorance. Putting this into action is more important than putting it into words."

The Holocaust exhibit is located on the ground floor of Hutchins Library, and will be up through the end of April.

(Slideshow images, in order: photo montage from the Hutchins Library exhibit; the entrance to Birkenau; railway heading into Birkenau; Star of David at Terezin Cemetery; a passageway; the bunks in women's block of Birkenau; the entrance to Auschwitz; map of the travel route; some assorted images of the exhibit.)

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