Learning from history: Studying the Holocaust and memory in Germany and Poland
During a three-week Global Experience Seminar in Beloit, Wis., Berlin, Germany, and Krakow, Poland, Beloit College students explored the memorialization of the Holocaust. Guided by newly appointed Beloit College President Eric Boynton, a professor of philosophy and religious studies, the students became a learning community, realizing the importance of preserving history and taking responsibility to avoid the mistakes of the past. Kaitlyn Hudetz tells the story from her perspective.
When I was younger, my mom took me and my older brother to Washington, D.C., where we visited the Holocaust Memorial. That experience sparked a deep interest inside me in just the magnitude and complexities of the Holocaust. When I heard about “At Memory’s Edge,” one of Beloit’s summer Global Experience Seminars, I saw it as a golden opportunity to dive into my curiosity about the Holocaust, explore its historical significance firsthand, and engage in meaningful discussions with fellow students and friends.
Diving into such an important and tragic topic was more challenging than I and my fellow students had anticipated, however.
To take one experience: Entering the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a place I had only read about in books, the enormity of the camp became apparent by physically standing in it. Seeing and walking through the buildings that once played a role in the murder of over one million people was breathtaking and cold. The experience was emotionally demanding and had a profound effect on me and my classmates.
To deal with these new emotions, I found myself not only talking to my family at home but the people who were with me. We had much needed empathetic discussions which allowed us to share our feelings and reflections on the experience. This helped realize we were not alone in experiencing our feelings.
In addition to the emotional aspect, there was also a sense of responsibility to learn from history and actively contribute to a world that promotes tolerance, compassion, and understanding. This specific visit definitely reminded me of the importance of preserving history to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.
As the group traveled and learned, we had the opportunity to explore Germany and Poland, specifically Berlin and Krakow, the cities we spent the most time in. Our memories of those will remain with us for a very long time.
That message was really brought home during our final group dinner in Krakow. Eric Boynton, the new Beloit College president and the faculty member who taught the seminar, went around the table to say one thing that stood out for him about each one of us. We in turn then added a nice or funny memory about the person he talked about.
This full circle moment made everyone feel amazing. It also showed how a group of strangers can become a group of friends and supporters over the course of a three-week class.
Beloit’s Global Experience Seminars offer a unique opportunity to learn beyond traditional classrooms. They foster personal growth, result in a deeper understanding of global issues, and encourage the creation of new connections. I highly recommend them.
Kaityln Hudetz’25 majors in business economics.