Monthly Archives: December 2012


Our group contemplates Belzec in icy, frigid-cold weather. A hooded down coat, three layers of clothing underneath it, a wool hat, two scarves, waterproof gloves, two pairs of socks, rugged wool-lined boots and foot/hand warmers are still not enough insulation as we plod through the snowy (yet thankfully sunny) landscape of Sobibor. There, less than an hour from Ukraine, the former death camp and current Holocaust memorial feels every bit of 4 degrees. The frigid weather is made to order for SMU Embrey Human Rights Director Rick Halperin. He wants us to experience even just a hint of what people at the death camp had to endure 70 years ago. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for people to [...]

2013-01-05T03:00:27+00:00 December 31st, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|

More opportunities to serve in Dallas and beyond

It's been over a week since the ACE/AB trip working in NOLA. As I reflect on our five days of service, I have a message for those reading this blog. For students: The opportunities to do meaningful service with the Alternative Breaks program at SMU are wonderful. During AB trips, students meet others they would perhaps not otherwise meet on campus. For example, on our trip we had a student from Meadows who did not know many students outside of the Meadows school; we had a first-year student; and we had a transfer student who had just started at SMU in August. The AB program travels to some great locations - including NOLA, Los Angeles, Boston, Austin, Taos and NYC [...]

2013-01-03T03:20:54+00:00 December 31st, 2012|ACE and Alternative Breaks 2012 in NOLA|

Recipes for Survival

Confiscated cookware is displayed with countless other personal possessions at Auschwitz. One of the most powerful displays at Auschwitz, and one of its most sickening, is a darkened room piled to the ceiling with human hair. Behind an expanse of glass is nearly two tons of it, some of it still in braids — all of it shorn from an estimated 140,000 women killed in the camp's gas chambers. (We also see how the hair was used in industrial-grade carpet and upholstery.) Some in our group leave in tears; others wonder how much more they can take. After being shaken to the core by viewing a manmade mountain of hair, then rafter-high piles of vitally important prosthetic legs, [...]

2013-01-05T01:34:46+00:00 December 30th, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|

Remembrance & Respect

SMU student Genesis Reed lights a candle at the former Nazi extermination camp Belzec, near Lublin, Poland. On an arctic-cold day at the Sobibor death camp memorial near Lublin, SMU student Joey Ottolenghi reads from the Jewish "Kaddish" prayer of mourning.                   At each Holocaust memorial site, one of us lights a candle on behalf of everyone in our group. Afterward, one of several Jewish friends traveling with us reads aloud from the “Kaddish” prayer of mourning as we bow our heads. Such gestures are important not only to us, but also to the people around us (which don't amount to many this time of year). Our guides are especially appreciative. Some [...]

2013-01-19T16:56:13+00:00 December 26th, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|


During nine months of 1942, more than 500,000 people were brutally murdered at Belzec, a death camp near Lublin, Poland. It's a place very few have heard of, and even fewer visit, as our group did on this snowy, windy Christmas Eve. What stands on the site now is a powerfully designed and curated memorial landscape and museum. Fellow traveler Paul Lake was born on Sept. 12, 1942, to a Jewish family in Philadelphia. It’s difficult for him, and all of us, to realize that had he been born in Warsaw, or anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe, he likely wouldn’t be alive today. A retired businessman, Paul now volunteers at the Dallas Holocaust Museum. It was there he learned [...]

2012-12-24T22:20:24+00:00 December 24th, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|


In Poland: At Chelmno, Hitler's first death camp, as many as 350,000 people were killed, many in vans that pumped in carbon monoxide from captured Soviet tanks. Sometimes during quiet moments I glimpse a shadowy blur. It’s gone as fast as it’s there. But it’s there. Occasionally what follows is a faint odor I now know well: the smell of death. At nearly every camp we visit, the smell still lingers, even 70 years after it operated as hell on earth, even if there’s a thick blanket of snow on the ground (but especially if there’s not a blanket of snow on the ground.) Am I seeing spirits? Maybe. Perhaps I’m just having sensory hallucinations. Either way, this [...]

2012-12-26T15:22:04+00:00 December 24th, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|

Powerful Doses of Reality

The medical room used for "treating" prisoners at Stuttho, the Nazis' first concentration camp outside of Germany. At snowy Stutthof concentration camp near Gdansk, Poland, we huddle in a stark, damp-cold room with low ceilings, a long wooden examining table and large black & white image of syringes. We learn from our guide that medical treatments were conducted here, but ones usually not for saving lives — for taking them. We discuss that the administering of lethal doses of phenol or Zyklon B didn’t start and end with the Nazis. Their genocidal actions to perpetuate the Aryan race were greatly influenced by America’s eugenics movement — the science of human improvement through controlled breeding. “It’s a parallel Americans [...]

2013-01-01T21:24:56+00:00 December 20th, 2012|Human Rights in Poland 2012|

Our last day on the job

Our last day on the job As usual, we started the day with Dan making pancakes for everyone at 8am, and then we were out the door by 830am to be on site by 9am. Since we've been here for almost a week, we're pretty much trained and are able to work well with minimal direction. (We've actually been on site for so long, we've even become accustomed to knowing where tools are in the house - so if someone is looking for a hammer or a nail gun or paintbrush, we know exactly where we've seen one last!) With this being our last day we went right to work completing the tasks we were working on yesterday [...]

2012-12-20T16:26:59+00:00 December 20th, 2012|ACE and Alternative Breaks 2012 in NOLA|

A productive day and NOLA-style dinner

Hard at work Day 5 with YRNO, and we spent it at the S. Salcedo Street house again. We basically got into the same groups we were in yesterday - Adam worked with Prince and Terrance on the exterior siding; Monica, Karissa, and Dan worked on the exterior as well with Mr. Leonard (who I found out used to teach Religion at the high school Ryan attended); the rest of us worked inside. Again, Shauna and Danny used the chop saw to cut quarter-inch trim to length; Emily and I took measurements for the needed pieces; Anthony and Janice spent the morning painting the quarter-inch round; Kimberly spent almost the entire day countersinking nails hammered into the baseboards [...]

2012-12-19T20:11:38+00:00 December 19th, 2012|ACE and Alternative Breaks 2012 in NOLA|
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