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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To begin

An update from Gracyn, a senior theatre major and human rights minor:

Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the recognition of genocide as a human rights crime punishable by international law. It seems hard to believe this could only be 65 years ago.  This is younger than my grandparents. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is just as young and still quite abused.  Obviously many steps forward have been taken in regard to nations looking out for human rights abuses, with many NGOs and Amnesty International working constantly to protect our rights, but there is still much that we do not see – and a lot we simply choose not to look at because it is scary or inconvenient.

Next week I leave for Poland.  I will be spending Christmas break going daily to German Nazi death camps across the country.  On Christmas Eve I will be in Lublin. On Christmas Day we head to another camp.

When I tell people about my Christmas break, I get various responses. Some people make jokes, others seem confused.  Many people have asked, “Why Christmas?” and I understand the question.  Being at a place where millions of people were exterminated is sobering and humbling enough without spending precious holiday time away from family and loved ones.  But I think there is something special about the time.

Christmas and Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate around this time, have always been a chance for reflecting on the year, on life and appreciating what you have been given.  I have been given a lot.  I have an amazing family, have attended amazing schools, and am blessed with an abundance of amazing friends.  This is one year where I can experience something different.  What’s going on in the world doesn’t stop just because it is Christmas, no matter how much we wish it could.

Our little group of frozen Americans traveling by bus around the country will experience that along with the unity and common humanity that can be discovered by our awareness.  I think the people on this trip, only one of whom I know, will become another family.  Every Christmas after this I will think of my little Poland family and of all we witnessed.  Everyone knows about the Holocaust, but can they really feel the magnitude of it?  I know I do not and probably never will, but this trip will give me a glance.

I suspect I will be changed by this trip.  I’m not sure how, but I already feel different just in preparing for it. Christmas will never again be the same as it has for the last 21 years.  While this scares me, I also feel liberated by more consciousness of the world.  What happened in Europe during World World II is over, but the consequences are still alive.  I plan to prepare a solo performance piece based on my experiences to be performed in March or April 2012.

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