YC Students Visit the Holocaust Museum

Future educators make a strong connection with the past

by Meghan Shruck, Panther Press

Recently, four York College students ventured to Washington, D.C. in search of the past.

With the help of Mrs. Erin DeHart, a grant was written for YC education students to travel to our nation’s capital.  Students were selected through an application process. Students selected for the East Coast trip on October 12-14 were YC students Carrie Berger, Courtney Graff, Sarah Stoutzenberger, and Sarah Strahle. They were accompanied by Professor Erin DeHart and adjunct History Instructor Christi Lones.

Prior to the trip to Washington D.C., the students were required to attend a conference on the Holocaust in Omaha. This conference gave students some basic knowledge and background concerning the Holocaust. In essence, it also let students know what the centerpiece of their Washington experience would be about.

On the evening of Tuesday, October 12, the eager team from York College arrived in Washington D.C.  The following day was a free day. Everyone toured the United States Capitol Building and was allowed to roam a Smithsonian museum of their choosing. Dinner was an exciting event as the group met up with York College alum, Rusty Ridley, who in fact was celebrating his 9th anniversary of service in the military. Together, they ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a popular, greasy spoon restaurant frequented by many celebrities. The evening was topped off by sightseeing of local monuments, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, and Korean War Memorial, all of which seem to leave a deeper, beautiful and mysterious impression after dark.

Senior student teacher Sarah Stoutzenberger says, “I’ve never been a patriotic person, but to feel the names under my fingers at the Vietnam War Memorial, and see the faces on the Korean War Memorial gave me chills and made me truly appreciate [their] sacrifice.”

On Thursday, October 14, the group was admitted into the Holocaust Museum with early entry and each member was allowed to go at her own pace. The students were required to journal two times within the main exhibit and once in the reflection room. The group was allowed to adjourn for a lunch break, but many members were so awestruck and intrigued that they skipped lunch altogether.

While wandering through the museum, junior Sarah Strahle journaled: “After seeing the museum, and especially the pictures of the medical experiments, I realize that I am not very accurate with my own language and that I take things for granted. I have never been hungry. I have never been cold. I have never been in pain. I have never been terrified. I have never been desperate. I never have, and I never will, experience the hell that the victims of the Nazis experienced.”

After lunch, the group had the privilege of hearing some top researchers of the Holocaust speak on anti-Semitism. Mrs. Erin DeHart says: “They really unpacked the question, ‘Why the Jews?’ in a way that I had not heard before.” The students were next allowed to visit one more room before departure. Some chose to view the exhibits on Nazi propaganda, while others chose to view “Daniel’s Story,” which really hit home for certain students looking to teach middle school-aged children.

Particularly leaving an impression on Strahle’s viewpoint of the Holocaust was a pile of shoes that were once owned by the victims.

“This experience made me passionate about teaching my students more than facts. They need to learn how to prevent such horror from happening again.” Strahle continues: “My favorite part of the museum was the shoes. Not necessarily a good favorite, but something that will always stick with me.”

Leaving the Holocaust museum, YC students felt both captivated and devastated. They gathered their belongings and were soon at the airport gate to go home. In a twist of fate, an announcement came over the intercom, welcoming a number of World War II veterans who had arrived in Washington D.C. to view the monuments. As the men walked through the gate, all who were there stood up and clapped for several minutes.

“This was really the capstone of our trip,” explains DeHart. “It was very emotional. We had just come from studying the Holocaust, which was such a terrible thing, and then were standing and honoring the good people who saved them.”

Asked why she wanted to take YC students to the Holocaust museum, DeHart explains: “I think it makes students better citizens. Studying the Holocaust changes how you look at perpetrators and victims and bystanders in history. It changes how you look at propaganda and groups. Do you watch hate? Do you stop it? Studying the Holocaust helps you to make conscious choices to do right. As a teacher, I love watching the students make that connection.”

Strahle clarifies the impact this experience made on her: “I think that visiting the Holocaust Museum has given me a new perspective on the Holocaust.  Learning about it from a book just isn’t the same as seeing the artifacts for yourself. A book doesn’t give you the chance to touch or smell or hear things.”

Without a doubt, this trip has given these four York College students a new perspective on people and everything that we take for granted in life. As Stoutzenberger explains: “The trip to D.C. challenged what I believe about people, humanity, and myself. . . I think the one way that the trip impacted me most was solidifying my desire to treat everyone with love, respect and consideration, and also to teach that to my students.”

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