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Students Trips to D.C. Include a Visit to Holocaust Museum: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors

by Howard Clemens

Student tours of Washington D.C. often include a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A visit to the Museum can be an eye opening experience for students of this generation, who did not live through the war, and were not raised by parents that fought or participated in World War II.

Many of the popular Hollywood films about the holocaust focus on the experience of the Jewish population in Germany. However, the Jewish population throughout Europe was deeply affected by anti-Semitism and genocide. As the war progressed, the Nazis came to invade many different European countries and round up Jewish people for extermination at the camps in Germany.

The First Person Podcast Series by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is a wonderful resource for teachers who want to introduce students to the individual stories of holocaust survivors. It is also a great way to prepare them for a class trip to Washington D.C. that includes a stop to at the Museum on the itinerary.

Visit the U.S.Holocaust Memorial Museum and select the menu ‘Survivors and Victims.’ Page down and peruse the selections of audio podcasts available for online listening.

Genocide of the Jewish Population in Europe in the 1940s
These first person accounts of war and its consequences to families and whole populations will be an awakening for many students. Students may be familiar with the major battles of World War II and the politics of the war. However, these are personal accounts of intimidation, fear and hiding. Jewish people had to disguise their true identities and survive in a small amount of space – or go from house to house. Separation of husbands and wives and mothers and children was all too common.

These stories will leave students spellbound – and should be digested slowly. Post-listening exercises are recommended so students can fully integrate. A visit to the Museum will also assist in learning more.

The Nazi Resistance in Europe
There are also important details about those who courageously resisted Nazi control and aided those who were fleeing. Many of these allies were non-Jewish and taking a huge chance by hiding those who were. Listening to these Survivor Stories adds a whole new dimension to students’ knowledge and learning about the holocaust of World War II.

Each story has its own unique description of the challenge of a Jewish adult or child leaving war torn Europe. With the German army crossing through many war torn territories, this is quite a challenge and took a great deal of courage for the many who aided those who sought refuge elsewhere.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Nazi’s Stalled
One highlight of the First Person Podcast Series includes the story of Estelle Laughlin: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Poland, some of the fiercest resistance to a Nazi takeover came from an ill- supplied but prepared group of urban fighters. The resistance movement in the Warsaw Ghettos helped families to build secret bunkers before the Germans arrived. While war raged in the streets of
Warsaw families hid in bunkers to survive. This actually saved quite a few families, who were spirited away during lulls in this urban war. Laughlin’s story of resistance and escape is compelling, mostly because she was just a child.

Romania: Hiding from a Pogrom in Iasi
Heim Solomon’s story explains what the word ‘Pogrom’ means. After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941, the Romanian Jewish population came under the authority of the Germans. The Nazis pressed upon the authorities of Romania to eliminate the Jewish population. The Jewish men of the town were summoned to the City Hall to be reissued new identification. From this room they were escorted into a stone outdoor enclosure. Here German soldiers would either split their heads or shoot them in the temple of he head. Later a garbage truck would clean up the trash. In the July 29th massacre, 4,000 would perish within the perimeter of the stonewall.

This particularly vicious form of genocide was terrifying to the Jewish population. Two of Heim’s brothers scaled the stone wall that night, and hid for 6 days without food or water. They hid themselves in a space above wood piled to the ceiling. Many more were lined up and sent by train and because it was so hot, one half of those who traveled died from lack of water. Solomon’s family was scattered during the roundup and after the Pogrom calmed down, in 4-5 days, they reorganized from their hiding. His scathing account of the inhumane treatment of the Nazi’s is not easy to listen to, however it gives a perspective not often recorded in history books.

Teachers may have to face hard subjects with students and will find creative ways to help them understand materials.

Resistance to fascism, survival in a hostile environment, and the ability to live in secrecy are just a few of the characteristics many survivors share. Students will learn about the struggles and turmoil of separating from family–immediate and extended. Most of all students will learn about the bravery of survivors and those who helped them.

For more information about a student trip to Washington D.C. that includes a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. Request a Quote.