McWhirter Shares Thoughts in Advance of Holocaust Studies Trip

May 8, 2015

Jocelyn McWhirterJocelyn McWhirter (right) has a busy weekend ahead. On Saturday, May 9, the Stanley S. Kresge Endowed Professor in Religious Studies will introduce the Rev. Faith Fowler, '81, who will address the Class of 2015 at Commencement. The next day McWhirter will board a plane with eight Albion College students, three fellow faculty and staff members, and four students and two Hillel staff members from Michigan State University to embark on Albion's biennial 10-day visit to Poland that caps the College's Holocaust Studies Service-Learning Project.

The first two-thirds of the trip sees the group hard at work clearing brush from a Jewish cemetery in Wroclaw. The group then shifts its base to Krakow for the latter part of the trip, where they will visit Kazimierz, the city's historic Jewish quarter, as well as Oskar Schindler's former factory. The trip concludes with an excursion to nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Since 2001, the experience has greatly impacted dozens of Albion students as they make their own visible impact in uncovering parts of a community's history. For McWhirter, this will be her fifth Holocaust Studies trip; earlier this week she wrote the first post in the 2015 trip blog, and shares a few additional thoughts below (some from a previous year's blog post).

Uncovering a tombstone at the New Cemetery, Wroclaw, Poland.
From the 2013 trip blog: "During the days, the group pulled weeds, ivy, and hauled piles of brush and logs in the cemetery even when getting scratched, muddied and bitten by insects. Yet, when uncovering a tombstone, one that perhaps had not been seen by anyone for decades, they gathered around to clean it off with reverence and respect, restoring a forgotten name to the world."

"The cemetery where we’re working is one of two Jewish cemeteries in Wroclaw. The 'Old' Jewish Cemetery is now maintained as a historical site. The 'New' Jewish Cemetery is still in use. Polish Jews are buried near the front gate. As you walk farther back into the cemetery, however, you begin to notice German names and German epitaphs. This cemetery served the vibrant Jewish community when Wroclaw was the German city of Breslau.

"Before 1933, about 30,000 Jews lived in Breslau. They accounted for five percent of the city’s population and included several wealthy businessmen and university professors. Many Breslau Jews won Nobel prizes. Today, Wroclaw’s population includes about 1,000 Jews—too few to maintain their 40-acre cemetery.

"That's where we come in. Since 2001, Albion College students have cleared the pathways and uncovered six sections filled with marked graves. This year, at the 70th anniversary of VE Day, we will be especially mindful of the families represented by each tombstone—those who fled Breslau in the 1930s, those who were liberated from the camps in 1945, and those who were deported and never returned."