We wanted to share our incredible gratitude for the life-changing opportunity the United Jewish Federation of Utah provided us with this summer. We were able to build personal connections to the history of the Holocaust which we will share with students for years to come. It shaped the way will approach this topic, how we will use curriculum, and the critical nature of Holocaust education.
Collaborating with colleagues from around the country allowed us many perspectives on how we will construct our curriculum, the difficult conversations we need to have, and ideas for expanding our teaching into the future. We are even exploring the possibility of offering classes devoted to World War II and the Holocaust. We have also had opportunities to take what we have learned back to our fellow faculty members and provide them with more resources to share these stories.
The experiences in Poland were amazing. Warsaw opened our eyes to the vastness of destruction and the importance of sharing the grim realities of the devastation of both World War II and the Holocaust. The chance to walk the grounds of the Warsaw Ghetto, visit the archives, explore the Polin museum, and learn the history of the area were all crucial. Perhaps most moving was seeing the existing sections of the ghetto wall. Knowing what that wall represented and why there are so few fragments left is something that we must never forget.
Seeing the preservation of Jewish life in Krakow was fundamental to helping us to contextualize the history that preceded the Holocaust but also reinforce the devastation that Holocaust wrought. We also learned much about the broader concepts of Polish history and their intersection with the European Jewish experience. We were able to really explore modern Poland and make connections between the events of World War II and contemporary Polish life.
The days we spent in Auschwitz Birkenau will be something we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Even now, it is difficult to put into words the range of emotions that walking through the concentration camps forces people to experience. Each moment from our first day in the camp is a gut-wrenching insight into the scope of the destruction. There are dozens of images from that day that illustrate the inescapability of Auschwitz’s history. The stories of survival and life after instilled some sense of hope in the face of utter, deliberate devastation. We truly understand the burden of sharing the enormity of the event while maintaining close connections to the personal stories of both the survivors and those who did not make it.
Our interactions with the museum staff at Auschwitz were both enlightening and allowed us to comprehend the important work that continues to this day. Collaborating with the education department of the museum, seeing the process of preservation, and learning all of the impacts that Auschwitz can have on modern society were all critical to our understanding of our roles as educators. They helped provide us with the tools to translate what we saw into our classrooms.
This is the most moving experience we have had as educators and will share them with the hundreds of students we now teach and the thousands we will teach for decades. The Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation accomplished a great deal in a few fleeting days.
Again, thank you to the Federation for this experience.
Tory, Anika, and Jason