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How Poland Became Personal

In July, Middle School English teacher Jessica Hecht traveled to Poland with students and teachers from all over the region. This is her story.

In July, Middle School English teacher Jessica Hecht and students and teachers from all over the region traveled to Poland through the Classrooms Without Borders program. This is her story.

The adventure started even before we got there. I, along with other teachers and students from the area, had been preparing for our trip to Poland for months. We attended meetings, watched movies, and even met with an historian to make sure we understood what we were about to see. Needless to say, we couldn't wait to get there, but wait we did. We waited four hours in the Pittsburgh airport only to have a 30-hour layover in Chicago because of a terrible storm. This was truly a bonding experience where students and teachers became equals in exhaustion and frustration. This bond became invaluable as we leaned on one another for support while touring ghettos and concentration camps in Poland.

There was no chance to get our bearings once off the plane. We immediately boarded a bus and went to the Warsaw Ghetto, the sight of the uprising, and learned about the Treblinka extermination camp.

Early the next morning, we boarded a bus and took the three-hour ride to Lublin, near the hometown of Howard Chandler, a Holocaust survivor who joined us on every step of the trip. He walked us in his footsteps and showed us the very place where he was separated from his family and saw his brother murdered. The courage he had to take us there and let us know his story! No one will ever forget his story, and I look forward to sharing it with everyone I teach. There are so many aspects of his story that resonate today: the courage to survive, the ability to face fears, and what can happen when hate takes over a group.

We also toured Majdanek death camp, Auschwitz work camp, and Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. It would take far more than one blog to describe the vastness of the camps and organization that it must have taken to create such factories of death. These moments were made even more personal when Howard, who is in his 70s, stood on a beam in a barrack at Birkenau in 100 degree heat and told his story of his entire experience at the camp. As the teens and teachers wilted in the heat, Howard did not break a sweat. He stood unflinching and gave personal details about the very place we were standing. He said surviving the camp was pure luck, but as we watched him unflinchingly tell his story, we knew it was more. 

Not only did we learn about World War II, the victims of the Nazis, and the history of the country, we also learned about the hundreds of Polish people who risked their lives to save others. We even got to attend an award ceremony to honor “righteous” people who risked their own lives to hide Jews during the war.

Of course, there were moments of pure fun as well. We went to a musical festival and danced all night in a Krakow square; we ate and ate and ate traditional pierogies, schnitzel, and Lodi (ice cream); and we toured the salt mines and shopped in the Krakow square.

Thank you, Sewickley Academy, for allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Before this trip, I had never left North America, and now, I can call myself a global learner.  Because of this hands-on learning experience, I know I will be a better teacher and bring a whole new perspective of the world to the classroom.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Przedzienkowski October 27, 2012 at 12:28 PM
The term 'Poland’s ghettos and concentration camps."' is incorrect. The Nazi Germans established the 'ghettos and camps' on occupied Polish soil. The camps and ghettos were not Polish as implied by the comment. Please correct the error.
Cindi Lash October 27, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Editor's Note: Dear E-_Ma, Paul, Anna and Jim, Thank you for your comments. Blogs by their nature are essays submitted by readers. We have reviewed this submission and corrected the language in question, and we have contacted the writer to explain why that particular phrase has been addressed. We appreciate your concerns and your willingness to share them with us in a prompt and civil way. We want Patch to be a place where residents are comfortable submitting their views and readers are assured that we strive to be ethical and accurate.
Iwona October 28, 2012 at 09:22 AM
FIrst of all, no mention of Germans, who were the perpetrators. "Nazi" is a nebulous term, especially for people deficient in knowledge of history. Moreover, it was not "hundreds" of Poles who risked their lives to help Jews. Over 6,000 are honored at Yad Vashem, but there were thousands of others who will never be known, since Poland was the only occupied country where the Germans executed those who aided Jews.
Sewickley Academy October 30, 2012 at 11:30 PM
Comment from Jessica Hecht - In my recent post about my experiences in Poland this past summer, I described my visits to "Poland's ghettos and concentration camps." As some bloggers observed, this was inaccurate and unfortunate phrasing on my part. I am certainly aware that these ghettos and concentration camps were created and run by the Nazis, not the Poles. I apologize for any distress or misperception caused by my error.
Cindi Lash October 31, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Dear Ms. Hecht, We appreciate your reaching out to address the concerns of those who commented on your blog post. Thank you for doing so in good faith. As noted earlier, we want Patch to be a place where readers can be comfortable and assured of civil discussions and exchanges. Thank you all for expressing yourself in firm but courteous fashion.

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