Brandt School Universität Erfurt

Experiencing History Firsthand: Willy Brandt School Excursion to Poland

From March 23 to April 1, 2017, a total of 15 students, with backgrounds varying from Egypt, Albania, Bangladesh, Brazil, Jordan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, USA and Zimbabwe, journeyed to Poland with Dr. Herz as part of the mandatory curriculum for the seminar “German Politics and the Shoah- Raison d´être of German Governance”. The excursion took place in two cities, Krakow and Wroclaw, and the students had the chance to visit the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Museum Gross-Rosen. The main objectives of the course were to attempt to understand and deal with the Germany history of the Holocaust, to identify the various dimensions of the crime and the political commitments that resulted from it, to understand the conflict and history between the German society and Shoah and to analyze the extreme importance of the Shoah to German politics.

During the excursion, the participants had the chance to give presentations to their peers, which they had prepared beforehand, about the various topics mentioned above. The presentations allowed the students to receive more information, giving them a better understanding of the depth and importance of the Shoah on Germany politics, while fully immersing themselves, first-hand, into history. The first half of the students presented at the Goethe Institute in Krakow, while the second group presented later on in Wroclaw at the Willy Brandt Center for German and European Studies.

The excursion to Poland prompted many interesting conversations and reflections from the students, as the trip took place during a time when political populism and racism seems to be increasing. Not only during scheduled museum tours, seminars and presentations, did students have the chance to discuss their experiences, but also during their free time. The thought-provoking tours through the former concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Gross-Rosen led to many discussions about current political and social events and dilemmas in Europe, the United States and the Middle East. A statement by William Vallim, a second year Master student from Brazil, shows his reflections on his time in Poland, “During one of these discussions, for instance, we remembered that the prejudice against Jewish people did not begin in the 1930’s, but it was a process developed in hundreds of years, perhaps thousands. The trigger pulled by Hitler and the Nazi regime, however, made the killings possible. This is why we must never forget what happened during the World War II; seeing that nowadays the hate speech against Islamic people, refugees and migrants is reaching high levels and it should not turn into another holocaust in the future. Therefore, as future policy makers, our duty is to make the world a better place in several aspects, combating intolerance and oppression.”

The study trip to Poland offered our students an invaluable opportunity to learn about history up-close. It is through the application of political theory to reality that allows our students to gain practical knowledge, transforming them into critical thinkers, policy analysts and policy makers.