A group of 14 University of Wisconsin System students—nine from UW Oshkosh, three from UW-Milwaukee and two from UW-Madison—traveled to Poland and Lithuania to learn about modern Polish history and the history of the Holocaust. They came back changed and impassioned to make a difference in the world.
“Our goal was to provide a study-abroad trip that was collaborative, international, thought-provoking and challenging,” said Karl Loewenstein, associate professor of history, Faculty Senate president and co-leader of the trip.
Students earned six credits during the spring 2016 interim course in History 336: History Study Tour and History 333: The Holocaust, spending a week on campus preparing for the trip and two weeks abroad. They traveled to Kaunas, Krakow, Lublin, Vilnius and Warsaw.
“We wanted to do study not just about death and destruction, but also about understanding the context of the Holocaust and connecting the Jewish and Polish cultures,” Loewenstein said.
Through the study-abroad trip, students visited some of the most notorious places in history, including Auschwitz, Majdanek and Vilnius and gained insight into the history of Poland, Lithuania and their experiences of World War II.
In Lithuania, the students toured the 9th Fort, where more than 100,000 people were massacred.
“The tour guide downplayed the mass murder of people that occurred there and when our students asked about it, the guide said, ‘That is not our history’,” Loewenstein said. “It is a reminder that history isn’t just history, it is also a reflection on the current state and how Jewish history is separated out.”
As part of the interim courses, students completed research projects by looking at the way historical events were portrayed at different museums and in different locations.
“We had students looking at souvenirs in different areas and reflecting on current Polish society and its reflection on the Holocaust,” Loewenstein said. “It got our students thinking about how to share this experience and communicate what happened. Being at these sites is different than just reading about it in a book and got our students asking what they could do to make sure we don’t fall into this bigotry and racism again.”
As part of the course, students created several blog posts and expressed interest in keeping this going and making the world a better place, Loewenstein said. The students’ blog posts also were featured on the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) website.
Through an anonymous donation, the HERC provided a $900 scholarship to each student on the trip, which was co-led by Shay Pilnik, HERC executive director and adjunct professor at UW Oshkosh.
Read student blog posts from the trip: