Human Rights in Poland 2016

Thirty-eight members of the SMU community took a study tour of Holocaust sites in Poland Dec. 18-30. This year marks the 20th anniversary of SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin leading the two-week immersive experience. The group visited cities and death camps throughout Poland, where, during World War II, some 5,000,000 people were murdered during the Nazi, Germany, occupation (1939-1945).

Open Letter

An update from graduate student Nick Weilbacher: Dear Reader, I wish we lived in a world that saw the inherent value of every person, and worked towards preserving all human life. In this ideal world, if you had a beating heart, at minimum you would be honored and treated with respect and dignity deserved by every living creature. Sadly, so much of the social currents that allowed for the Holocaust, mass-shootings, war and genocide continue to exist today. And in order to learn from the past, we must understand where we are coming from. Thanks to the generosity of SMU’s Embrey Human Rights Program, I had a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to see where we are coming from first-hand. In previous classes, [...]

2017-06-01T14:44:33+00:00 February 6th, 2017|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Krepiec Forest

An update from Maggie S., a junior majoring in engineering management, information and systems (EMIS) and pre-med: The location that hit me the hardest was the memorial in the Krepiec Forest. Here the memorial was very simple, just a big pile of grass surrounded by bricks. This hit me the hardest because it was easy to understand where the human remains were sitting in the ground. My partner and I had our memorial here, and she told a story of a man who lived on the border of the forest and watched trucks full of children walk into the forest and never come out. She spoke of how he could hear the gunshots and the screams of the children, but [...]

2017-01-09T14:23:54+00:00 January 7th, 2017|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Only This

Charlotte J. is a graduate student at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology: I am at home now, safe and warm. Yet, the encounters of the Holocaust camps has shut my mouth. I haven't been able to share with my family and friends the horror realized in the camps. I can share only this: Reflection on the Holocaust What were they here, What did they do, How does the Holocaust involve me and you? We heard the stories, we see the shame Who will take the blame? Why are we here, What can we do, How does the Holocaust involve me and you? No longer silent, no more denial, The whole world is on trial. Why are we here, What can [...]

2017-01-05T14:38:27+00:00 January 5th, 2017|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Unanswered Questions and Banging Doors

Rachel M. is a senior majoring in environmental engineering and minoring in global development: At the Belzec memorial I was interviewed by Gordon, a guy who is filming the entire trip. The interview (remembered to the best of my recollection) is below: Gordon: What did you think of this camp? Me: (nervously laughing because how can I possibly say what I thought of this memorial) What did I think of this camp? I think it is like death. The black rocks and mangled edges…I think it is like death. Gordon: Is there something that stood out to you at this camp? Me: It’s hard to say something stood out to me in particular because everything here is difficult and emotional. [...]

2017-01-04T09:19:14+00:00 December 31st, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|


Rachel M. is a senior majoring in environmental engineering and minoring in global development: It seems like every day in Poland is colder than the day before. As everyone slowly piled out of the bus, I pulled out a second scarf and covered as much of my face as possible to prevent wind burn and a chapped face. Suddenly, large huskies ran up to the group and lovingly weaved through people looking for attention. One of these huskies stuck beside our group during the entire tour of the Sobibor death camp, which is less than a mile from the Ukrainian border in southeast Poland. Unlike the other camps, this one has no museum and almost no landmarks. One however can [...]

2017-01-04T09:02:28+00:00 December 31st, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|


Jasmine T. is a senior majoring in political science and statistics: Perhaps this is the most well-known concentration camp in the world. Throughout middle school and high school, this camp was presented as the final stop and death point for many Jewish people. I've read countless books from survivors about the horrors of this wretched place. Upon arrival at Auschwitz we were given a tour guide. We crossed under the infamous gate with the words "work will set you free". This sign resonated so much with me because I know the false hope it presented in this place where many lost their lives. I related it to the enslavement of African Americans in the United States where slaves were worked to the [...]

2017-01-05T13:24:51+00:00 December 30th, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

What About the Children?

Rachel M. is a senior majoring in environmental engineering and minoring in global development: Today my youngest niece turns one year old. When I think about her and my other two nieces, I struggle to understand how a human could look at their beautiful innocent faces and see only something that should be destroyed. Yesterday we traveled to the Children’s Memorial in Lodz, the railway station where Jews in the Lodz ghetto were packed into trains and taken to the Chelmno death camp to be gassed and thrown into massive pits, and finally we traveled to the Chelmno death camp memorial. On the main monument in the Children’s Memorial a naked child hangs beside a hole going through the monument [...]

2017-01-04T08:49:44+00:00 December 28th, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Holocaust Did Not Succeed

Rosa P. is an M.B.A. student at SMU’s Cox School of Business: Going to Krakow – the Holocaust didn’t succeed. It is Christmas, and even though I missed my family today I am happy because I heard something that gave me back hope in humanity. The previous day we were in Belzec, and after that visit I was really angry and desperate to go home. Today, we tried to enter to  Majdanek, a concentration camp, where in past years it would be open even on Christmas. But with a new director, many things are changing and we couldn’t enter. Instead our tour guide, Magda, took us to a Jewish synagogue. She told us stories about some different Jewish traditions before [...]

2016-12-30T12:01:11+00:00 December 27th, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Redemption for Poland?

Ceci W. is a sophomore majoring in human rights and business and minoring in Chinese: As I've been in Poland, I've developed mixed feelings about this beautiful countryside. On the surface, it is  gorgeous. Large expanses of fields dotted with quaint, gingerbread  cottages give a very picturesque view of Europe. It is typical of what one might expect of an Eastern European country. We have driven past this beautiful scenery for about nine days now, and every single place looks like it could come out of a fairy tale. Even the cities are beautiful with facades that hearken back to bustling 18th century streets and a time filled with nostalgic simplicity. However, we have also seen the very worst of [...]

2016-12-30T11:47:13+00:00 December 27th, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|

Remembrance vs. Respect

Sara E. is majoring in human rights & journalism: A group of 30 in big coats shuffling on and off a charter bus with cameras in tow clearly stand out as tourists. And though the sites we're visiting aren't traditional holiday destinations, many of us are struggling with paying homage to the thousands of lives lost at these camps without seeming insensitive due to the constant shutter clicks. It's a line between remembrance and respect, and it's impossible to appease everyone either way because we all process things differently. It took years – decades – for some survivors to come forward and tell their stories, and perhaps some never came forward at all. Some of them think creating memorials and [...]

2016-12-25T16:39:01+00:00 December 25th, 2016|Human Rights in Poland 2016|
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