While some middle and high school students will be spending their summer vacations at the pool, the beach or visiting amusement parks, nearly 20 students who are part of the McLean County Diversity Project will be learning first-hand about the atrocities of the Holocaust.
"My friends asked me if I was excited. I can't really say that's what I'm feeling because I know it's going to be emotional," said Oskar Urquizo who admits he is very in touch with his Hispanic heritage from his father but has rarely been exposed to his Polish heritage on his mom’s side of the family. Urquizo will be joining 16 other students and chaperones on a week-long trip that includes Auschwitz, Oskar Schindler's factory and other sites around Krakow, Poland.
The student scholars and leaders will be traveling from June 25-July 2 with Holocaust survivor
Eva Kor, through her CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana. Kor was 10 when she entered Auschwitz with only her twin sister Miriam in 1944. Her parents and two older siblings were torn away from her at a train platform and were ultimately executed.
Kor has been the subject of two documentaries and countless stories because she is among the estimated 1,500 sets of twins experimented on by physician Josef Mengele, nicknamed "The Angel of Death" for his gruesome experiments aimed at ultimately creating an Ayran race. Kor has also publicly forgiven the Nazis who killed her family and put her through endless misery.
A Learning Experience For All
Urquizo said his teachers didn't spend much time on the Holocaust during history and social studies classes. "We really did not go that much in depth in learning about the Holocaust. I was surprised," he said. The 17 year-old adds, "I didn't know as much as I thought I did. There was a lot more behind everything that happened."
But his social studies teachers have suggested additional reading for him and his favorite book is This Way for the Gas Ladies and Gentlemen. It was written by Tadeusz Borowski who is also an Auschwitz Holocaust survivor whose stories tell of the cruel inhumanity and the selfless desire to help that Borowski witnessed.
Chaperone Suresh Krishna has traveled with scholars for many years including taking Diversity Project trips his own children. He believes this trip will be different from all others. "It will be emotional but we need to know the reality so we can share this with our kids and our community and make sure this doesn't happen in the community in which we live in," he said.
That might sound dramatic but Krishna works at State Farm Corporate South where he said some co-workers doubt the Holocaust occurred. He surprised his fellow interviewee Urquizo when Krishna admitted, "If it was like two years ago, I would have believed them that it didn't happen but after researching for one year, I know the facts." Krishna wrote a reflective essay for the Diversity Project weekly email in which he admits knowing little about the extent of the horrors against millions of Jews.
"I did not have a lot of knowledge about the barbaric actions of Nazis under Hitler’s rule, where people became the victims of the biggest atrocity in European history. As I started to learn more about the history of Auschwitz, I realized it is going to take a heavy heart to absorb the sorrow experienced by millions of people while we are visiting the historic place that was filled with people who were treated like animals - with no help or hope," Krishna wrote in his essay.
The students and their families pay for half of all the trip costs while other support is sought through private donations. If you want to help fund the project ,checks can be made to Illinois Prairie Community Foundation and write McLean County Diversity Project in the memo line.
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