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Lessons Learned from My Trip to Eastern Europe and Prospects for Peace–Please Read

I hope you are having a nice summer.

I just returned from a 12-day trip to Prague, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, and two concentration camps—Terezin and Auschwitz— under the guidance of tenured Union College history professor of Holocaust and Jewish Studies, Dr. Stephen Berk.

I felt compelled to take this trip to learn more about my Jewish heritage and understand what transpired during the Holocaust so that going forward I can work to combat antisemitism, racism, and other forms of hate and discrimination.

It is difficult to convey the scope of what I observed and learned on this life altering trip in a brief Newsletter. In addition to visiting these beautiful cities, I was not prepared for the magnitude of “man’s inhumanity to man” that occurred in these places during World War II. I hope to raise awareness of what I experienced in this brief missive to inspire us to stand up to hate and halt it in its tracks.

The goal of the Holocaust was to exterminate the Jews and other persecuted groups to “Aryanize” the world. Instituted by Hitler and the Nazis, it was carried out by the Nazis and “masses of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Romanians, Hungarians, French, and Dutch” from 1939-1945. In many cases these collaborators were more brutal than the Nazis.

The Holocaust dehumanized its victims by systematically removing “rights, property, freedom, human dignity, and life” before murdering 12 million people. Six million Jews and 6 million non-Jews including political and religious prisoners, people who helped the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, alcoholics, criminals, vagrants, and members of other persecuted groups including disabled people were killed.(1)

What I saw and heard about in these cities and camps was beyond chilling—brutality and sadism done to men, women, and children.

One image from the Auschwitz Museum is seared in my mind—it is a photograph of a Nazi standing behind a woman holding her baby. He is aiming so that he will kill both mother and child with one bullet, and save ammunition.

There were many heroes in the War. One such hero, is Jan Karski, a Polish gentile, who witnessed the war firsthand and brought the news of the Holocaust to President Franklin Roosevelt and others. They ignored his pleas to intervene, potentially saving millions of people. I urge you to check out the link to a brief video about him at the end of the Newsletter.(2)

While writing this Newsletter, I read about the violence again in Darfur, the war in the Ukraine, and the vitriol of warring politicians, to name a few examples of discord and hate in the world today.

To try and heal the rifts in society, and to prevent holocausts and genocides from ever happening again, I put forth the following recommendations with the help of ChatGPT(3) to promote peace and encourage us to reflect on and challenge our own biases and beliefs:

1. “Self-Reflection and Awareness: Start by honestly examining your own beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices. Reflect on the origins of these biases and the impact they have on others. Acknowledge that everyone has biases, but it is important to work towards recognizing and addressing them.

2. Educate Yourself: Seek out resources, books, documentaries, and articles that provide insights into different cultures, races, sexual orientations, and religions. Learn about the experiences and perspectives of marginalized groups. Engage with diverse voices and perspectives to broaden your understanding.

3. Engage in Empathy-Building Activities: Practice empathy by putting yourself in the shoes of others. Listen actively and respectfully to the stories and experiences of people who are different from you. Engage in open and honest conversations to gain a deeper understanding of their struggles, challenges, and aspirations.

4. Challenge Stereotypes and Prejudices: Actively challenge stereotypes and prejudices when you encounter them, whether in your own thoughts or in conversations with others. Question assumptions and generalizations, and be open to revising your beliefs based on new information and experiences.

5. Examine Media Consumption: Critically analyze the media you consume, including news, entertainment, and social media. Be aware of biased portrayals and narratives that perpetuate stereotypes. Seek out diverse and inclusive media that promotes understanding and representation.

6. Expand Social Circles: Make an effort to build relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. Engage in activities and communities that encourage interaction with individuals who have different racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientations than your own. This can help break down stereotypes and foster empathy.

7. Confront Personal Biases: Take responsibility for your own biases and actively challenge them. Be willing to admit when you make mistakes and learn from them. Practice self-correction and hold yourself accountable for your actions and words.

8. Support Equality and Inclusion: Actively support organizations, initiatives, and policies that promote equality, inclusion, and social justice. Use your voice to speak up against discrimination and prejudice, both in personal and public settings.

9. Be an Ally: Stand up against racism, homophobia, and religious discrimination when you witness them. Support and uplift marginalized voices. Educate others about the harm caused by biases and the importance of equality and respect.

10. Continuous Learning and Growth: Recognize that combating biases is an ongoing process. Stay committed to self-improvement, continuous learning, and growth. Be open to feedback and constructive criticism from others.

Remember that individual efforts to combat biases contribute to a larger societal change. By actively addressing and challenging personal biases, you can help create a more inclusive and equitable world.” (3)

I couldn’t have said it better.

Thank you for allowing me to share this deeply moving and transformational experience with you. May we all strive to make the world a better place.

Dr. Jill


1. From Deprivation of Rights to Genocide; To the Memory of the Victims of the Hungarian Holocaust

2. Remembering Jan Karski

3. ChatGPT


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