Earlier this year, Marist School welcomed back transformative travel experiences
that build upon the learning Marist students gain in the classroom. Here John Sansone ‘23 shares his thoughts after participating in the Bearing Witness trip in June.
"For the living and the dead, we must bear witness.” Elie Wiesel, acclaimed author and Holocaust survivor, wrote that line in his memoir “Night,” a story about his experience during the Holocaust. Six million people died during what has been remembered as the largest systematic genocide this world has ever seen. Marist Social Studies Teacher Mr. Brendan Murphy taught me and my peers how to bear witness to these atrocities during the “History and the Holocaust” seminar my sophomore year.
Arguably the most popular part of the seminar is the Bearing Witness trip, where students are drawn from a lottery to take a 10-day trip to Europe to visit sites from the Holocaust, as well as to experience famous European cities with their peers. I was part of the lucky few to be chosen to take this trip, and I was thrilled that the spring break of my sophomore year (March 2020) would be such a transformative experience. Instead, due to the pandemic, the 32 students and chaperones of Bearing Witness XII departed for Munich 15 months later, in June 2022. Here are the three lessons I learned while I was there.
Firstly, live in the moment you are in. When you are halfway across the world with a group of 31 other people for a week and a half, you have no choice but to be present at the moment. All of the joy of traveling exists at that exact point in time. Being present also helped me to react to seeing remnants of the history of the Holocaust. By understanding the moment, and how the hate in the present could lead to a grim future not unlike what we bore witness to, we can effectively seek to prevent any future injustice.
Secondly, connect. When you travel, it is very easy to feel out of place. Remember that you are human, just as everyone else around you is. If you feel lost or out of sorts, there will always be someone willing to help. Traveling in a group is a great way to connect because you can gain the perspective of others on incredibly difficult topics that you might not have the answers to alone.
Thirdly, understand. The Holocaust occurred over half a century ago, and a common issue when studying it is the inability to imagine how it happened. Mr. Murphy frequently told our BWXII group that the more we know about the Holocaust, the less we comprehend. Having tangible evidence of the Holocaust, such as the pile of eyeglasses at Auschwitz, was exactly the type of anchor we students needed to begin our journey of understanding.
In retrospect, I am so grateful for the opportunity to witness and walk through history with my peers, who I now call some of my closest friends. I also am incredibly grateful to Mr. Murphy, our tour guide Dom, and our chaperones, Ms. Daniels and Mrs. Westfall, for all of their extensive work in making sure that our trip stayed efficient and educational.