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Students travel to Germany, Poland, other European nations for Holocaust tour

The Parthenon

Published: Thursday, April 11, 2013

Updated: Thursday, April 11, 2013 00:04

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Submitted Photo

The group of Marshall University students that participated in EF Tours’ Holocaust in Europe tour stand outside the Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic.


A group of Marshall University students gained a new perspective on a monumental event in history over spring break.

These students participated in the Holocaust in Europe tour provided by EF Tours.

The tour began in Berlin where the group got to see several historic landmarks.

Each member of the trip had something different they point out that they saw in Berlin.

“We saw the Jewish Memorial and the sections of the Berlin Wall that still remain,” Jessie Horne, a 27-year-old marketing junior, said.

Katherine Erich, a 20-year-old biology sophomore, said she got to see Checkpoint Charlie, an area on the border dividing East and West Germany where guards once kept watch of those trying to cross the border.

“Something interesting that we also got to see was a panel discussion between citizens of East and West Berlin,” Erich said.

A couple other travelers remember some smaller details of the area that stuck with them.

Allison VanDiest, a 19-year-old history junior, said she recalls the local experiences she had in Berlin, such as going to the grocery stores and a flea market.

Jenny Crews Colvin, a graduate student earning her second master’s degree in leadership studies, said she remembers something she saw that related to the history in Berlin.

“There were trees up in Berlin at the time Hitler was ruling that he felt were blocking his flags, so he had them cut down. So, all you could see down the road was the flags,” Colvin said.

Something that every person did not fail to mention was seeing the area of the bunker where Hitler stayed shortly before he died. According to the travelers, it now has an apartment complex and a parking lot over it.

The next stop on their trip was Warsaw, Poland.

Seeing the old Jewish ghettos was something that appeared to stay in everyone’s mind.

“The ghetto was unreal because you could still see bullet holes,” Erich said.

Colvin touched more on this, describing a wall that people were lined up at to be killed, for no real reason.

The ghetto was in much better shape when the group got to see it than it was after the Holocaust.

“Warsaw was about 85 percent destroyed after World War II, and they started building it back two years later. So, a lot of what we saw was newer,” VanDiest said.

Horne said the Jewish ghettos are mostly functional with apartments now.

The group then ventured over to Krakow, another historical part of Poland.

Colvin said she remembers the streets in Old Town and the beautiful architecture that she got to see. Krakow was the only major Polish city that was not devastated by the Holocaust and World War II.

“The cobblestone streets in Old Town were amazing, but hard to walk on and there was no room for vehicles,” Colvin said.

While in Poland, the travelers got to see something they were sure to mention.

“In Poland, we saw the salt mines. Everything was made of salt, and the mines were really warm and smelled like the ocean,” VanDiest said. “Our tour guide told us that if you didn’t know what something was and you were to lick it, it would most likely be salt.”

The salt mine they ventured in was built in the 1300s and was like a small town. It included a tavern, store, cathedral and other structures.

Next up, came the hardest part of the trip: Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Each participant of the trip recalled how memorable and moving seeing these two places was.

“When we went into each of the houses, there were mug shots of Jews who were in the camp, and it was like these victims now had a name, and face. It made it much more real,” Colvin said. “These mug shots were the biggest part for me because whole lineages were wiped out to keep from passing on Jewish bloodlines.”

The students said seeing these places that had only previously been seen in pictures was very moving.

“I think the biggest thing for me was seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau because you see these places in high school textbooks. You see the pictures of these places and then you get to go to them,” Michael Palacioz, a 20-year-old chemistry junior, said. “Seeing the crematory was also moving because so many entered it and didn’t leave.”

Horne said the camps are left in the same state they were in after the Holocaust.

Some of the artifacts that belonged to victims in the concentration camps still remain there.

“They cut off every bit of the Jewish people’s hair and there was maybe 70 pounds of it at the concentration camp. It is estimated that 700,000 pounds of hair total was cut off and some of it made into rugs and sold,” Colvin said.

There were some of the rugs on display at Auschwitz as well, along with piles of shoes, glasses and other items that belonged to the Jews.

As Colvin also points out, the Jews were told to bring their valuables with them when they were told they would be relocated to a safe place. Instead, they were taken to the concentration camps and there is a stack of their suitcases on display now at Auschwitz.

“In Auschwitz, you could feel everything that happened there,” VanDiest said.

The group said they were thankful to end their trip on a lighter note in their last stop in Prague.

“It was a nice end to the trip because it was so happy there,” Colvin said.

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