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 tell us that few people other than older adults with direct connections to the Holocaust pay their respects in this way anymore.

SMU Professor Rick Halperin offers an Embrey Human Rights Program wristband to our Auschwitz-Birkenau guide, Lucas Lipovitz. His grandfather had been imprisoned at the Nazi death camp near Krakow, Poland, but luckily managed to survive. Some 1.1 million other people would not.

Another guide, Lukasz Lipinski, who led us through the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, tells us how meaningful our words and actions are, especially since his grandfather had been a prisoner there. Hearing this makes us realize how important it is to be there, especially at a time when no one else really is — the day after Christmas, in our case.

As we leave the grim, vast expanse of Birkenau, we see a Scottish bagpipe player in full regalia playing “Amazing Grace.” His backdrop is a formerly electrified barbed wire fence and an eerie steel-gray sky.

Dr. Halperin says it’s the first time in his 30 years of visiting the camps he’s ever witnessed such a moment. Knowing the uniqueness of the occasion makes us feel even more privileged to be there.

A Scottish bagpipe troubadour performs “Amazing Grace” at Birkenau.