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NMSU students to study the Holocaust in Poland

New Mexico State University students will journey to Poland this May to join a diverse group of students from throughout the world for the March of Remembrance and Hope (MRH), a dynamic educational leadership program that teaches the dangers of intolerance through the study of the Holocaust.

rch of Remembrance and Hope changed my life," said Todd Savage, an assistant professor in the counseling and educational psychology department in NMSU's College of Education. "Meeting and learning from Holocaust survivors, visiting actual places and sites associated with the Holocaust and interacting with rescuers in Poland brought the Holocaust to life to me in ways reading about it or watching films just could not. I started to relate what I was learning in Poland about the Holocaust to issues of social injustice in my own backyard in the here and now."

Savage participated in the inaugural MRH in 2001 as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky and again for the second event in 2003 as a faculty supervisor. He is now bringing the program to the Southwest for the third trip in 2006.

"The MRH will benefit students in the Southwest in many ways," Savage said. "In the Southwest, we see high levels of poverty; ongoing stereotyped beliefs about and discriminatory behaviors toward persons of color; negative attitudes toward persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; biased perceptions about persons crossing the border from Mexico; and issues in schools related to language. The list goes on and on. The NMSU students participating will have an opportunity to explore issues of social injustice in their lives, how they may contribute to such injustice and what they can do to prevent injustice and/or intervene when injustice does occur."

Ten NMSU students will join Savage for the trip May 22-29, which starts with a two-day seminar in New York to prepare the students. Savage has already begun preparing his students for the event. The 10 participants meet monthly with Savage during the spring semester as part of an independent study course.

"I believe students must establish and participate in a community network of learners who can not only support each other through the MRH preparation process and the actual trip to Poland, but in the months and years to come, as they take what they learned from the overall experience and apply it in their personal and professional lives. The Holocaust and social injustice are huge, complex topics that cannot adequately be addressed in one or two sessions. This type of learning is a process and a journey," Savage said.

Savage recently introduced his students to a Holocaust survivor who spoke to them during their class meeting. Tibor Schaechner of El Paso was born in Budapest, Hungary, and lived there with his family in 1944 when the German army invaded. He lost his entire family during the German occupation, including his little sister who was killed by a bomb three days before the area was liberated by Russian troops. Schaechner was 16 years old at the time and said he escaped from a number of different concentration camps during the occupation.

"Our lives were changed forever," he said.

Schaechner has lived in El Paso for a number of years and until recently was a docent at the El Paso Holocaust Museum. Pointing to genocides in Africa, he said he is not sure we have learned much from the Holocaust, but he believes today's students are receptive and willing to learn, just challenged by their geography.

"Walking through the camps will broaden their experience," he said. "It is hard to understand the conditions and the terror without seeing for yourself."

The March of Remembrance and Hope is a program of the March of the Living, Tel Aviv, Israel, an international leader in educating today's youth about the Holocaust. The inaugural MRH program in 2001 included 400 participants from 20 countries. This May, more than 1,000 students from around the world are expected to participate.

The participants will visit monuments and memorials that commemorate the once-thriving Jewish cultural centers in Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin that were ravaged during the Holocaust. They will walk through the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek and speak with Holocaust survivors and rescuers. Students will discuss applications of lessons learned from the experience and find ways to contribute to a more socially just world.

NMSU students participating in the MRH are Christine Benitez of San Bernardino, Calif.; Jonathan Buttrey of Carlsbad, N.M.; Kelsie Foster of Tinton Falls, N.J.; Phillip Luna of El Paso, Texas; Janette Mialkowski of Peoria, Ill.; Marcia Osborn of Deming, N.M.; Becky Rodriguez of Carlsbad, N.M.; Amanda Rogers of Moriarity, N.M.; Elizabeth Schall of St. Louis, Mo.; Cammaron Trujillo of Los Lunas, N

Julie M. Hughes
April 3, 2006