For my STEP experience, I re-traced the steps that my own grandfather took in escaping Nazi occupied Europe as a German Jew, as well as researched the role that Jewish children played in the Holocaust. The primary objective of my project was to research Jewish children who have lived through the Holocaust. The project was guided by written memoirs of my grandfather’s experience. I visited specific places that were important in my grandfather’s life as a child, as written in his memoir and told to me by my grandfather several years ago. My project combined two of the six experiences of STEP: Study Abroad and Undergraduate Research.
The first destination of my trip abroad was Paris, France, which I flew into on July 16th. This is where my grandfather and his parents lived for several years and started a laundry business after leaving their home in Germany due to anti-Semitism. Eventually, after German forces occupied Paris, they were forced to leave and were sent to the camp of Nexon, followed by the camp of Rivesaltes. My great-grandfather was separated from his family and was later found to have died at Auschwitz. In Paris, I visited the old Laundromat storefront and apartment where my family lived. I also visited the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation, which is a memorial to the people deported from Vichy, France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Next, I took a train to Munich and visited Dachua concentration camp. From this, learned about the treatment of people in these camps. From Munich, I traveled to Laupheim, the hometown of my grandpa and his family. There, I toured the bank that my great-grandfather was the co-founder and director of, before he was jailed and forced to resign due to the fact that he was Jewish. A new addition to the bank was recently dedicated to my great-grandfather. I met a man named Kristoff whom my relatives have previously met in Laupheim. He was good friends with a woman who was writing a book about the history of Laupheim. He found the topic interesting and wanted to get involved so he researched specific families including my family history extensively. By chance, my older cousin met him while she was visiting Laupheim a few years ago and was thrilled to discover that he knew about our family, even more than any of my current relatives had known themselves! We have since kept in contact with him and he has extended an open invitation to meet with and any of my family members if we ever visit Laupheim. With the help of Kristoff, I toured the small city to see where my grandpa grew up. I visited a museum in Laupheim that is dedicated to the history of Jews and Christians living peacefully together in Laupheim for many years. It was very interesting to see childhood pictures of my great grandparents in this museum and learn more about the town’s history. On my last night there, I went out to dinner with a few people that work at the bank, as well as Kristoff.
Along with my planned itinerary for both France and Germany, I was able to explore other museums and monuments, which really enriched my experience and allowed me to fully take in the culture of each country.
My trip to Europe was a great opportunity to research my family history as well as learn more about WWII and Nazi Germany. Although my grandpa passed away 7 years ago, I would like to continue learning about his life so I can pass his miraculous story on to future generations in my family. It was wonderful to travel to his hometown and visit places that he described in his memoir, in order to get a better understanding of his experience as a child. Traveling to where he lived throughout his childhood was essential to my understanding of the events that took place. It allowed me to further empathize with the horrors that overtook his childhood. Experiencing Dachau concentration camp was eye opening and emotionally intense as it provided a more tangible experience to things that most just read in history books.
In addition, I gained valuable information on a topic that is fundamental in learning about mistakes from the past, and how we can use this information to build a more tolerant society today. On a different note, I think that researching survivors feelings about the Holocaust could give insight on how past events affect people and how discrimination on a whole group of people might be different than individual cases of trauma. I think that the topic of past trauma and how it affects the rest of an individual’s life is very intriguing. It was great to connect this topic with history and see how the Holocaust affected the lives of survivors. The possibilities of psychology research relating to similar topics are expansive and I would love to delve deeper into this subject matter.
This STEP experience was life-changing for me and I will remember it as I go on with my college experience, as well as with the rest of my life. I will continue to share my experience with other people as will share my photo journal so that others can have the most realistic summary of the trip. It has also reinforced my desire to pursue further education in clinical psychology. My next goals include completing my undergraduate psychology degree and then moving to a clinical psychology graduate program where I can hopefully further research trauma and PTSD. I am very grateful for the STEP program helping me through this experience, which in turn helped me learn about myself and my goals in life. No matter where my career and personal goals take me, I want to keep in mind the fight that my family went through and always stay determined to carry on and accomplish whatever I may be working at.