So let us be alert alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.
Man's Search for Meaning
"Stressful and numbing."
That is how Harlan native Bobby Howard describes his trip to Poland last May.
While working on his master's degree at the University of Kentucky, Howard and several other students were taking a class about social intolerance when they joined the March of Remembrance and Hope, a two-week educational journey into the homeland of the horrific history of the Holocaust, as told by those who survived it.
Howard, 23, felt that the experience would help him become a better educator. He didn't know just how profoundly it would change his perspective on life, though.
"I went over there thinking that I was going to see the Holocaust first-hand that I was going to see artifacts of what the Nazis did to the Jewish people and other social groups. But when I got there, I realized that I was still separated from the Holocaust. It was such a tragic time that I could never totally understand what was going on. It was very numbing to see the sights, because so much has been kept intact. It was very tragic and stressful," Howard said.
During his journey, Howard, along with students from other colleges all across the United States, visited several Holocaust-related sites, including memorials of the ravaged Jewish culture in Lublin, Warsaw and Cracow, and former death camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek.
"The first time that I went to Auschwitz, I was numb. When I saw the first gas chamber, my emotions just shut down," Howard said.
He was brought closer to the sights by his guide, Irving Roth, an Auschwitz survivor, who stayed with his tour group 24 hours a day. According to Howard, Roth told the students that, although extremely painful, showing people the death camps where many members of his own family were killed was his way of "defeating the Nazis today."
Roth, who often followed his name upon introduction by his Auschwitz prison number, emphasized to the students how little respect the Nazis had for the Jews; His people were treated as numbers, not humans.
"Irving painted a picture for us... When we walked out of Auschwitz, he asked us if we wanted to join hands and walk out as a group, because Jews walked into the camp, but never walked back out, so it would symbolize his community leaving the camp," Howard said.
To further enhance his experience, Howard and five other students from his class at UK, assisted Aaron Hutchings, a producer from KT2, in creating a documentary for KET about the March.
Howard worked as a photographer and associate producer of the program. His duties included taking photographs to use as screen backdrops during the show, as well as approaching people for interviews, and submitting suggestions of places to film.
Although he contributed a great deal to the production while in Poland, Howard says it was only a small part of his experience.
"We went there to learn about the Holocaust, but when we came back our whole goal was to (use) what we saw, the death camps and persecution, so that we could have a better base to teach intolerance and fight it in the future. The (documentary), for me, will be the first application of that education...It was only one aspect of my trip," Howard said.
Once complete, the 60-minute documentary, tentatively titled "Remember," will feature interviews with students, including Howard, and survivors talking about how the March has impacted their lives. It is scheduled to be released on KET later this year.
Howard feels that his participation in the March has drastically changed his perspective on being an educator.
"A good many times when people become teachers, they see it as just giving information to their students. But once you go to Auschwitz, and you see the train tracks where Jews were put onto a platform and taken to a crematoria, you get a different sense of what it means to be a human or not to be a human. Teachers should understand that we are not only teaching our students information we are also teaching them how to become better citizens, ones that can learn how to deal with differences in society better," Howard said.
In the future, Howard hopes to return to Harlan County as an educator, so that he may pass on his knowledge about the Holocaust to area youth.
"I always plan to come back to my Appalachian region. I am a country boy, (and) I love the mountains. It would be nice to come back and teach my people the education that I have acquired," Howard said.
In addition to the documentary, Howard is scheduled to speak about his experience at several venues round the region.