In August of 2022, following a four-week class, 15 UNO students and their professor Mark Celinscak, Ph.D., traveled to Poland for a 10-day trip to see first-hand the markers of history they learned about in the classroom. The Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Academy partnered with Yahad-In Unum — a Paris-based organization committed to investigate, educate, and engage in order to learn from the past and inform the present — for this summer abroad course, “Holocaust by Bullets” in Poland.
“Watching students connect what they learned in the first part of the course to their experiences in Poland was interesting to see,” says Angela Brown, project & design manager with the Fried Academy who also traveled with the students. “They have gained a unique understanding of the Holocaust that they will carry with them from UNO to their passions and careers in our community.”
The trip explored the more rural locations where more than 2 million people were executed in fields, forests and ravines of the former Soviet Union and other countries of central Europe. Between 1941 and 1944, the “Holocaust by Bullets” was a period where entire Jewish communities were slaughtered in mass shootings perpetrated by specialized Nazi units, the Einsatzgruppen, and buried in mass graves all over Eastern Europe. Many of those places remain unknown, unmarked and unrecorded to this day.
The trip provided students an opportunity to not only visit historic museums and landmarks but also travel to rural areas in Poland to see how for more than a half a century, these killing sites were all but forgotten by the outside world.
“We traveled up the walkway of one home, through a backyard to a small field only a few feet from the house,” Celinscak says. “As we stood under some trees with grass and weeds overgrown around our feet, an unmarked grave was pointed out to us. There was nothing visible to indicate this was a crime scene. It demonstrated both the scope of the Nazi objective to destroy European Jews and how much more research is required to fully understand the genocide.”
One student who participated in the trip, Ashton Linthicum, was able to further her experience by securing an internship at the Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja (Galicia Jewish Museum) in Kraków, Poland. There she will continue her thesis research, “The Long Way Round: European Jews and their Journey to the U.S. through China,” as part of her graduate studies in the UNO Department of History.
“I hope to shed light on a topic not often researched or discussed,” Linthicum says. “I hope to give a voice to those whose stories have not been told yet.”
Yahad-In Unum (“Together in One”) is a Paris-based organization established in 2004 by Father Patrick Desbois and dedicated to investigating and documenting those crimes all across central and eastern Europe. As of today, the organization has been able to identify over 3,100 killing sites and to interview nearly 3,400 eyewitnesses to the mass shootings of Jews as well as Roma and other minorities in countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and other countries of the former Soviet Union as well as Poland and Romania. You can learn more at https://www.yiu.ngo/en