Diary of… a student who visited genocide memorials abroad

Lindsey Farah Goldstein is a sophomore education major and leadership minor. She is the vice president of Hillel, is in the Razor’s Edge Leadership Scholarship Program, is the Relay for Life Committee Team Development Chair, is the Office of Student Activities SEA Thursday Chair, is the Secretary and Historian of CAUSE and an Orientation Assistant for the 2012-2013 school year. Her favorite quote is, “Life is like photography, you develop from the negatives.”

For most students spring break means partying at the beach or lying out by the pool. Well, my spring break was pretty much as opposite from that as you can get. I traveled to Poland, Bosnia, and Serbia with my “Genocide in the Twentieth Century and Beyond” class. I know you are probably thinking, why would I take a class like this? Instead of taking an “easy,” or irrelevant elective, I wanted to take something more meaningful. When I heard about this class, which Professor Gary Gershman offers every two years, I knew that if I took it I would be a part of something greater than myself.

This class and the trip component were particularly meaningful to me because my late grandparents were Holocaust survivors. One of the most emotionally intense days of the trip was while we were in Krakow, Poland. We went to Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp used during World War II.  I had seen pictures and heard about it, but actually being there and walking the same steps that so many victims (including my relatives) walked, it was one of the hardest experiences of my life.

With every step I felt as though knives were piercing my heart.   When we reached the last remaining gas chamber, I stood outside and stared at it in silence for several minutes. I walked up to the door and turned around, walked back up to the door and turned around multiple times. As I paced back and forth, I tried to decide if I should go in or not. I didn’t know if I could handle seeing the last sight that millions of people saw before their death. I figured I had come all this way to be there and I would kick myself later if I didn’t go in. So I took a deep breath and opened the door. I could only bear to be inside for a few minutes. Tears burned as they poured out of my eyes.

The support of my classmates and Professor Gershman made this process a little easier. I was surprised that I was the only Jewish person in the class besides Professor Gershman. It was incredible to have so many different perspectives. I’ve learned about the Holocaust for years and always associated it with the phrase “never again,” as if genocide was something of the past. But this class opened my eyes to so much more, not just about the Holocaust, but about more recent genocides in the Balkans, Darfur, Rwanda, etc.

Before this class I could not even tell you where Bosnia and Serbia were on a map. And just a few months into the class I was on a plane (actually several planes) to go to these countries.  In Bosnia and Serbia, we learned about the Srebrenica Genocide of 1995. More than 8,372 people died and I had no idea about it! I use such an exact number because this is the number on the stone outside the cemetery which was followed by three dots (…) to show that more bodies are still being found.

Walking around the cemetery and seeing all the headstones was emotional, but not nearly as emotional as actually meeting the “Mothers of Srebrenica,” who lost their entire families to this genocide. While listening to their stories, horrific images flooded my head that I couldn’t shake. I couldn’t believe how clueless I was about something that happened within my lifetime. As I gave the women who told us their stories a hug and donation, I wish there was more I could do. This class and experience taught me that there is.

Studying genocide has allowed me to educate others. This class and this trip have made me an advocate against genocide for my generation. For me it was taking this class and trip. For others it can be helping hang posters for Kony 2012, or learning more about Uganda or other areas of genocide.

The difference between my generation and all of those that have come before is that we can no longer plead ignorance. The internet and all the information in the world are at our fingertips and we have the social media to spread it. We just have to seize it and take the opportunities to educate ourselves and others.

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