Human Rights, Poland 2011

During winter break 2011, SMU students and professors and Dallas community members are traveling to Poland with SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program. The group will visit Holocaust sites to pay tribute and bear witness to those who perished and survived.

Included in the group are six professors traveling on behalf of the Boone Family Foundation’s Texas Project for Human Rights Education grant. They are: SMU’s Perkins School of Theology Professor Sze-kar Wan, Dedman College Psychology Professor George W. Holden and Cox School of Business Assistant Professor Robert W. Rasberry, along with TCU Associate Professor of Social Work Harriet L. Cohen, South Texas College of Law Associate Professor Katerina Lewinbuk and University of North Texas Assistant Professor of Political Science Jacqueline H.R. DeMeritt. Also with the group is Alice Murray, president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, so stay tuned in.

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A rally of the human spirit

An update from Heather Cordova, a graduate student in liberal studies with a concentration in arts and cultural traditions:

A group of students, professors and community leaders from the D/FW area came together in Poland for a common purpose. I came on this trip as a journey of the human spirit. Over a 12-day period, we have been concentrating on the Holocaust, but along the way, I have been inspired by speaking with Holocaust survivors and learning about other aspects of Polish culture. Instead of writing about the tragedy of what happened more than 60 years ago, I would like to focus on hope, resilience, strong will and endurance.

We had a chance to listen to survivors at the only remaining synagogues in Warsaw and Wroclaw. They were children during the war, but they still have vivid memories of life in the ghetto and told us of their escape. Their life after the tragedy is a source of inspiration for me because even after losing family members and homes they were able to rise above the misfortune. Being able to make meaning out of their lives by having families and successful careers shows true resilience.  Some of the survivors went on to become professors. Only a few of the survivors actually identify as Jewish because they were either saved by Polish Catholics or still live in fear of religion as a defining characteristic.

I’m sure that recovering from the 1940s was not easy for the survivors or for Poland. The culture as a whole suffered; the Holocaust stretches beyond the people to the cities. Poland witnessed buildings with unique architecture destroyed and business owners who never returned to their daily functions. Imagine all the recipes surrounding the culture of food and traditions that were lost.

In visiting these places (Holocaust sites, walking tours, hotels and restaurants) I feel that some hope has been restored. While we spoke with the survivors, both groups were surprised and impressed that we wanted to learn their stories and that we took the journey all the way from Texas during the holidays to continue their legacy.

The survivors also shared a strong will and a belief in fate. So, I look forward to the future and will try to live each moment to the fullest in honor of those who lived. A wish that I have out of respect for those lost is that as a human race we all strive to practice tolerance and peace.

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