AUP graduation ceremony at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

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A Transformational Trip into the Recent Past: Poland, 2017

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Over a long weekend in October, students from AUP’s FirstBridge and International Comparative Politics programs took a flight to Poland where they were transfixed by an emotional journey into the past as they learned about the origins and memory of the Holocaust.  Led by Professors Charles Talcott and Brian Schiff, students on the trip were immersed in prewar Jewish life in Poland. They were taken to different sites, including the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polin Museum and the desolate site of the  Treblinka concentration camp.

The trip ­— described as “grounding,” “emotional,” and “mind-blowing” — had a profound effect on everyone. Their responses were as diverse as their backgrounds, but every student came away from their experience in Poland with a life-changing shift in perspective.

The trip made me realize how easy it is to forget to reshape what happened in the past and it’s up to this next generation to remember it and pass it on for those who won’t be here to share their experiences anymore.

Jasmine Paul Major in International & Comparative Politics

Hunter Vandertoll, a FirstBridge freshman, had this to say:  “The most powerful part of the trip had to of been visiting Treblinka, where eight-hundred thousand people were murdered in the woods. Standing in the same field where this incomprehensible act against humanity was committed really brought me to a point of reflection on who I am and what will I do with the blessing I have in my life. Nobody will ever understand why, but getting out there to see for yourself can only help you expand your mind.”

An International Comparative Politics major, Carolin Sahli, explained her own transformation during the Poland trip. “I gained a different perspective ­— also academically, regarding Poland's side in history — ­ and my opinion that silence means choosing the side of the oppressor being complicit was only re-enforced. I was very much impacted by this grounding feeling that takes over when I visited all the sites, that the world which we live in is small, and most things we complain about are irrelevant in the bigger picture.”

The shared goal of both classes was to understand, as Carolin put it, “what happened and how it started to happen,” as well as to come to terms with how different perspectives can manipulate memory. Hunter added: “The trip related to the [FirstBridge] class because we learned about the varying perspectives of what happened during the Holocaust. To walk out of a government-funded museum and have a speaker waiting to explain how the museum creators have manipulated the memory was what really opened my eyes to new perspectives. Different viewpoints and perspectives relate what we learned to the class.”  Hunter went on to say that after experiencing the close interaction with faculty on the trip: “There is something about learning from someone you feel you know personally that engages you fully in the class.” 


The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention sponsored 11 students on this trip. For more information about AUP’s Study Trips, please click here.