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Students Confront the Holocaust on Annual Trip to Washington, DC

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Dr. Hank Knight with students at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

You can read about the Holocaust and watch movies and documentaries; you can even study the Holocaust and genocide in class, but there isn’t much that will prepare you for the emotional impact of coming face-to-face with the details of this gruesome chapter in history.

Each year, the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College sponsors a trip to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. The trip is open to all Keene State students, not solely those in the Holocaust and genocide studies program, the only undergraduate degree in the country dedicated to the study of genocide and mass atrocity. The annual visit is always popular because it gives students the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom. It’s also very affordable; the $100 cost covers transportation, lodging, and entry and lunch at the museum.

A year ago, senior Alexis Sanborn, a secondary education and Holocaust and genocide studies double major, was studying abroad in Poland. “This is my third time on the trip,” she says. “This visit, I focused my attention to things that happened where I was in Europe. Everything that happened in Poland, I was hyper focused on that and to other places I had traveled while I was abroad, such as Slovakia and Hungary.”

It was Liam Vreeland’s first tour of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. A sophomore studying history and secondary education, he came on the trip out of curiosity and an interest in the topic. “It’s indescribable talking about what I took away from the experience. I knew a lot of the history, but seeing the permanent exhibit further instilled how wrong it was.”

“It was an intense experience,” echoed first-year student Sean Delson. “It felt to a degree that I was mourning for the people of my ethnicity and of my faith. It was very cathartic in that way and it was facing my fears of anti-Semitism that I see every day.”

Students did a self-guided tour through the museum’s multiple levels, which typically takes three hours. After lunch, the group gathered with Dr. Hank Knight, director of the Cohen Center, and Dr. Robert Ehrenreich, director of national academic programs at the museum, to debrief and reflect on individual experiences.

“I think it was really cool that we all got to say what we found interesting in the museum. It gives you other perspectives, besides your own, of what other people take away from the experience. I’d highly recommend anyone to visit. It’s very important,” added Liam.

“In the end, it made me realize how lucky I am to be alive,” continued Sean. “Of course you need to learn about the Holocaust, just as you need to learn about any other genocide, but the fact that the museum had so much first-hand documentation of such brutality and such human evil, it really changes your viewpoint, not only of the Holocaust, but of life in general.”

Students interested in becoming actively involved in genocide awareness and prevention can join the Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Club, which meets Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. in Rhodes S215.

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