Local students, parents and teachers are preparing to learn about the Holocaust firsthand with an upcoming trip to Europe.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Sitting at the far end of the table, Carlton Comprehensive High School history teacher Kelly Klassen (left) and social studies teacher Adie Schenk (right) lead a Tuesday meeting with students and parents to plan their upcoming trip to Europe to learn about the Holocaust. The trip includes stops in Germany, Austria and Poland and will take place from April 18-30.
Set to take place from April 18-30, the journey will include stops in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic as participants strive to understand “the human side of history.”
Accompanying the 10 students (ranging from Grade 9 to 12) and two parents are Carlton Comprehensive High School teachers Kelly Klassen and Adie Schenk, who respectively teach history and social studies.
Regarding contemporary developments in study of the Holocaust, Klassen noted, “It’s less about the event and the amount of deaths and it’s now more about people … There's not just victims, but there's survivors, and I think it’s important for kids to go and see the place that this happened.
“They’ll meet people that might have firsthand accounts or have a connection to that,” he added. “It’ll be more meaningful to the kids to learn about the human factor in this kind of event that could be translated and applied to things that are happening today.”
The trip is offered through EF Education First, an international education company that provides cultural exchange programs and other services.
Schenk noted that the idea for the Holocaust trip first arose during a 2012 trip with students to mark the 95th anniversary of Vimy Ridge, when the teachers discovered that EF had started to offer it as a travel option.
“It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Klassen said. “It seemed like a good way to incorporate what I wanted to do and then take kids on a journey and experience that type of history firsthand without pulling out textbooks.”
Planning for the trip began in September. While open to all students, the majority of those who applied had either taken relevant classes or were intrigued by the subject matter.
Grade 12 student Nicole Matheis had long been interested in learning more about the Holocaust and embraced the chance to learn about it in a more direct manner.
“It’s such a tragic thing that happened in our past and I think it’s something that definitely people need to know more about,” she said.
“I don’t know, it’s just always been something that’s fascinated me and I’m really excited to be actually going to different concentration camps and museums and learning more about the people that suffered through it.”
Fellow Grade 12 student Reid Braaten first heard about the trip through Klassen and resolved to follow take part after discussions with his family.
“I thought it would be a good trip to go on because I’ve always wanted to go to Europe, and I like history and World War II history,” he said.
One obstacle to the trip for many students was the $4,000 price, which included flights, hotels and meals.
At the first fall meeting, teachers outlined various fundraising ideas, ranging from co-ordinated group efforts to raising the money on an individual basis.
“Kelly and I don’t spearhead any fundraising activities,” Schenk said. “We’re kind of hands-off on that, but are there to support the kids if they need ideas or need help.”
It’s such a tragic thing that happened in our past and I think it’s something that definitely people need to know more about. Nicole Matheis
She noted that one student had managed to raise some money for the trip by selling eggs.
Matheis was planning to pay off the necessary sum gradually through her job.
“My mom is helping me pay for it right now, but I’ve also been working it off,” she said.
“I’m paying for it myself because it’s something that I really want to go on.”
Upon their departure in April, the travellers will have a packed schedule ahead, with a city tour around Munich soon making way for the dark heart of the trip.
“Our first stop is going to be at the Eagle’s Nest where Hitler had his vacation home, and then we’re going to go to Dachau the next day,” Klassen said. “So we’re going to start out at a pretty heavy part right at the beginning.”
Next the group will head to Nuremberg, where the Third Reich’s most notorious war criminals were tried.
Travellers will then move on to Prague, getting a glimpse of the old city and numerous focal points of Jewish culture, before journeying for a day to the infamous death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Polish stops on the trip will include visits to Krakow and Warsaw, where the travellers will see locations and memorials for former ghettos.
From Warsaw, the group will take a train to Berlin to see the Holocaust memorial museum as well as some Cold War-era sites such as the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie.
With a trip centred around such heavy subject matter, the teachers have offered some advice to students on how to prepare.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of reading,” Klassen said. “There’s lots of literature that’s out there that we can read. We have a few people that have gone on this trip before that are going to be speaking at future meetings.”
“But talking to them, it’s hard to prepare,” he added. “It’s almost impossible. We can prepare as much as you want, but when you get up there, it’s not going to be easy no matter what.”
Matheis noted that she was currently reading The Diary of Anne Frank after receiving the book for Christmas.
Though she anticipated some depressing sites on the journey, she added, “I think it’s something that I really have always wanted to see and so it’s going to be something that I’ll get through.”
“I guess I have a little bit of trepidation, because I can get pretty emotional sometimes,” Braaten said.
“But you’ve just got to power through it. You’ll be with your friends and your peers and they’ll help you along.”
Updates will be posted before, during and after the trip on the official tour blog at http://holocaustineurope.blogspot.ca.