2016-04-27 / Voice at the Shore

Stockton Study Tour finds rich Jewish heritage in post-Holocaust Poland

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


The Study Tour visited the Warsaw Zoo, where the former zookeeper and his wife saved 300 Jews during the Holocaust. Pictured here (from left) are: Billie & Alan Staller, Andrew Renny & Barbara Harvis, Gary Mednick, Henry Roth, Tracy Stuart, Mary Hughes, Susan & Rob Lang, Hilda Rivera, and Barbara Roth. The Study Tour visited the Warsaw Zoo, where the former zookeeper and his wife saved 300 Jews during the Holocaust. Pictured here (from left) are: Billie & Alan Staller, Andrew Renny & Barbara Harvis, Gary Mednick, Henry Roth, Tracy Stuart, Mary Hughes, Susan & Rob Lang, Hilda Rivera, and Barbara Roth. Every year at Passover, Andrew Renny’s family tells the story of how his mother and her family narrowly missed being sent to their deaths at Auschwitz. The family, originally from Solnik, Hungary, took the first of two trains scheduled to deport Jews from their ghetto. That first train took them to a slave camp outside of Vienna, where the entire family was able to survive the war. The second train, which they had actually been assigned to, went to Auschwitz.

Last month, during a Stockton University Study Tour to Poland, Renny himself stood on the very spot his family would have stood had they boarded that second train—an area of Auschwitz called the “selection platform,” where Nazis decided whether to send deportees to certain death in the gas chambers or probable death as slave labor for the camp. For Renny’s wife, Barbara Harvis, seeing him on the selection platform—and knowing he likely would not have been born had his family stood there in 1944—was the “most personally moving moment” of the 10-day Study Tour—a life-changing trip that was filled with emotionally-charged moments for all 32 local community members who participated.

Stockton’s 2016 Study Tour to Poland and Germany, March 9-20, was the second study tour to be offered for local community members by the Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. The trip was led by two Stockton faculty members— Gail Rosenthal and Michael Hayse— as well as by internationally renowned scholar, filmmaker and Holocaust expert Michael Berenbaum, the driving force behind the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“Having an internationally renowned scholar like Michael Berenbaum on the trip took this study tour to another level and made it truly special,” said Leo Schoffer, who attended the recent tour as well as the Holocaust Center’s first study trip to Germany and the Netherlands in 2013. “Berenbaum’s style of teaching was to put you in the victim’s place, so that you understood what was going on in people’s minds” as the Shoah unfolded.

An ordained rabbi, Berenbaum also led Study Tour participants in prayer at the many Nazi killing camps visited, including Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Belzec. Berenbaum made a point of calling these “killing camps” rather than “extermination camps,” noted Harvis. “Extermination happens to bugs and vermin, not to people.” As Berenbaum explained it, she said, the Nazis’ use of the term “extermination camps” was part of a deliberate plan to dehumanize Jews and other victims.

Learning about Jewish life in Poland—the enormous, thriving Jewish community that was devastated by the Holocaust, and well as the new Jewish community emerging in present-day Poland—was the most fascinating aspect of this year’s tour, .

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