Two Helias Catholic High School teachers have been given the opportunity to travel to Poland this summer. And while the experience will be emotionally grueling at times, both teachers hope it will improve their abilities to teach students about the Holocaust.
Helias sophomore English teachers Kathy Jarman and Sarah Kempker have been selected to attend the seventh "Auschwitz — History, Memory and Education" International Summer Academy for a week in late July.
"This is not going to be a fun or uplifting experience," but a meaningful one, Kempker said.
"It will really intensify what we can do with our students," Jarman said.
The program of the International Center of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust has participants study the history of the Holocaust in Poland and beyond through lectures, discussions and guided site visits to the old Jewish quarter and former ghetto in neighborhoods of Krakow, various parts of the Auschwitz death camp, a synagogue and museums.
Kempker said it's their understanding that only 25 teachers in the world get to go.
"We thought it was a long shot," she said of their expectations when they applied, after Jarman noticed information about the opportunity on social media.
Kempker said all she and Jarman had to do to apply, though, was write a cover letter.
"We believe the opportunity to attend the Summer Academy 2019 would enable us to strengthen our curriculum by strengthening our own knowledge with first-hand experience. With the resurgence of anti-Semitism and intolerance of others in today's world, we believe it is just as important as ever to teach our future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past," their cover letter read.
Helias sophomores read Elie Wiesel's "Night" in their English unit on the Holocaust. "Night" is the memoir of the late Romanian-born Jewish writer, philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who chronicled his experiences at Auschwitz, which is located just outside the Polish city of Oswiecim, about an hour from Krakow.
In addition to reading the book, Kempker and Jarman have invited several Holocaust survivors to speak at Helias, have had a yearly memorial service for children of the Holocaust, and created a "cattle car simulation" using a trailer to have students experience something that approaches what it was like for people to be shipped in railroad boxcars like animals to concentration and death camps.
Kempker and Jarman said they hope to bring back things from Poland that students can touch and hold, in addition to pictures that show their teacher standing in a place they're learning about in class and the first-hand insights Jarman and Kempker will gain.
"We're going to this place we've talked about for so long," like visiting the place where one's family came from or visiting a cemetery and leaving flowers, Kempker said.
She said she doesn't know if she would have had an answer before about whether she would step into one of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. But, she added, "I think we have to," given what people experienced at Auschwitz — including survivors they've personally met.
Kempker said it's a big deal for her to walk where Holocaust survivor Ben Fainer did. Fainer was a survivor of camps including Auschwitz, and he spoke to Helias students twice before he died.
As part of an optional program on one day of the academy, Jarman and Kempker will be able to have a guided tour of the factory in Krakow where Oskar Schindler — a German member of the Nazi Party and an opportunistic wartime businessman — rescued more than 1,000 Jewish people from deportation to Auschwitz. The story of Schindler and the Jews he rescued was famously portrayed in director Steven Spielberg's 1993 film "Schindler's List," adapted from the 1983 book "Schindler's Ark" by Thomas Kenneally.
The cost of attending the seminar is 550 euros — approximately $621, according to exchange rate information Friday. The cost covers accommodation, meals and the program activities, but not airfare.
Jarman said Helias Principal Kenya Fuemmeler told her professional development funds will pay for airfare and participation costs, but people from the community are welcome to privately donate to support their trip — as at least one person already has.