World War II and the Holocaust – An Examination of Basic Moral Issues

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Students visit remnants of the Berlin Wall while studying WWII and the Holocaust in Germany during Olivet’s Intensive Learning Term.

The jet lag is still wearing off a group of students who traveled through four European countries on a quest to deepen their understanding of the capabilities of humanity through the course, World War II and the Holocaust. While the subject at study was emotionally challenging and the travel took a physical toll, the students who participated collectively agree that it was all worth it in the end.

The world was changed forever between 1939 and 1945. It saw the rise of Hitler’s fascism, a total war between European nations, and the first-ever mechanized mass extermination of a people. Students visited concentration camps, museums, synagogues, burial sites and memorials across the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, while studying the history of the events, as well as the many attempts by philosophers, theologians, writers and poets to explain the senseless slaughter. By traveling to many of the places where such atrocities happened, students experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look through the eyes of those who were there, sense the horrors they endured, and come away with a deeper appreciation of life.

The importance of studying these events cannot be understated. Not only do global learning opportunities provide diverse and innovative educational experiences, travel broadens students’ perspectives and opens their eyes to other cultures, further creating acceptance and understanding of other people and their beliefs. Many of these chances come during Olivet’s Intensive Learning Term (ILT), a session of classes at the end of each spring semester. A select number of unique courses are available to students, each just three weeks long or less, and often include global learning opportunities.

“For many students, their travels to other parts of the world is what cements the idea that they are an integral part of the world community. A community that must look out for the well-being of each other or perish in wars and conflicts against each other,” explained Dustin Byrd, associate professor of humanities, who led the class and played an integral role in planning it. “In providing these opportunities, Olivet is helping to ensure peace throughout the world, one student at a time.”

The trip began in Amsterdam, exploring buildings, canals and sites that reflect the city’s impressive history. The class visited one of the most well known museums of not only the Netherlands, but in all of Europe, the Anne Frank House. Over the following days, students traveled to Germany and explored significant sites such as the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Wall remnants, and many museums and memorials, including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Jewish Museum of Berlin, among others. The students also visited the site of the Wannsee Conference, a meeting between senior Nazi officials who planned and implemented “The Final Solution” in 1942.

Continuing on to Poland, the class visited the Warsaw Ghetto, once a thriving Jewish community that now serves as a memorial. Then, the class focused on Krakow, one of the cities most devastated by the Holocaust, beginning with the Kazimierz District, the prospering Jewish Quarter from the 15th century to the outbreak of WWII. Also while in Krakow, students visited the Schindler Factory where the German businessman Oskar Schindler saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jews by employing them in his enamelware factory. This emotion-filled day ended at Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp.

“When we were in Auschwitz, our class had all walked a long way through the camp and many of us, including myself, were very depressed due to the horrible things we learned went on in the camp,” said senior Jeff Humphrey. “Suddenly, from one part of the camp, I could hear a group of women singing. They were Jewish women singing and praying in the camp and at the camp memorials, where so many of their people had died. It was so overwhelming I just started to cry.”

The class traveled to Prague to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Pinkas Synagogue before returning to Germany for a tour of Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp established in 1933. “On the trip, I was most surprised by the horrific living conditions in the camps,” said senior Dallie Flower. “We are taught about it in school, but severity never really sets in until you see it in person. Even now I do not think anyone could fully understand unless they had lived there themselves.”

“Traveling to other parts of the world, studying events, individuals and movements that have shaped our society and our world is necessary for a well-educated populace, especially a self-governing populace,” Professor Byrd said. “It’s most important that students take away a future-oriented remembrance of past suffering in order to contribute to the arrest and elimination of unnecessary suffering in the present and future. I hope that students learned what fascism is, what hate is, what demonization is, so that they can recognize it when it occurs closer to home. They have to see themselves as part of the solution to this kind of madness, and not to settle for being complacent or apathetic.”

“I highly recommend students experiencing an ILT abroad,” said senior Bill Morris. “I expected to return from the trip a changed person. I now possess expanded knowledge and account of the industry of destruction and dehumanization. Theory and history became living proof. My entire academic experience was significantly enriched by this one class experience.”

Global learning opportunities, such as this, are just one of the four core values guaranteed to students as part of the Olivet ADVANTAGE. In addition, service learning projects, with hands-on experiences at the core of each program; industry-leading internship and research opportunities; and graduation in four years or the fifth year is tuition free (when an agreed upon schedule is followed) make The University of Olivet the best decision ever. Learn more about all the advantages of a The University of Olivet education by applying now or scheduling a visit.


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