Reflections on Heritage

My grandmother always told me growing up that souls evolve, that personalities move from generation to generation. It’s a concept called Gilgul, like reincarnation, that’s more prevalent in some parts of Judaism than others. My grandparents are Yiddish, and Gilgul is prominent in Yiddish folklore. I was always told that I was my Grandma Bebe, who passed away shortly before I was born. We both had a flair for the dramatics, apparently.

So as I walked through much of Poland, I couldn’t help but think, have I been here before?

Has some version of me, or my family, walked the streets of Krakow? The Danielowicz? The Katz? The Gingolds? Where in Auschwitz did my ancestors stand? We know so much about my family history, and yet we also know so little.

It sounds odd, but the entire trip was like a memory that I’ve never had, a dream that I can’t quite place. The chicken noodle soup on the first night tasted so much like my mom’s that I was instantly transported back to my tonsillectomy over spring break. The Klezmer music sounded like every wedding and Bar Mitzvah I’ve ever attended. When they played the Hava Nagila, I wanted to get up and dance. Last weekend, I danced the Hava Nagila at my aunt’s wedding and thought back so fondly on our trip.

This trip was such a life changing experience. Not only did I learn so much about history, about the Renaissance and the Holocaust, but I learned a lot about myself. I made incredible friends. Even during the hardest times of the trip, walking around places like Treblinka and Auschwitz and sobbing, I always thought back to how beautiful these places were, and how nature will always reclaim the horrors of humanity.

Perhaps the best example of how incredible this trip was was who I met at Auschwitz. In a place that sees thousands of visitors daily, thousands of miles from home, I ran into my second cousins on my mom’s side.

They live in North Carolina. I live in Georgia. We met for the first time in a courtyard between barracks in the worst place on earth.

They took me out to dinner that night, and it was my first time on my own abroad, navigating public transit and finding practical strangers in a busy square. We sat at a restaurant and talked for hours and hours about how the food reminded us of our Great Grandmother’s, and about our genealogy. We talked about our love of history, and how we were learning so much about our own. We talked about Poland, and how we wished our grandparents and parents were here with us.

It was a surreal evening and a surreal trip. I’ll never forget it.

Also, I ate so much apple cake. That was pretty awesome too.

Zoe Katz ’19

My cousin Pam and I.

Elinor Reid Hightower Trip Reflection

This trip was very important for me for several reasons. It was amazing to travel out of the country again after so many years. I learned quite a bit, but it was also incredibly helpful to see these places in person after reading and learning about them previously. Auschwitz especially. It was almost surreal to stand in a place I had read so much about  for so long and never dreamed I would ever actually get to see.

I have been trying to decide what my favorite part was, but we saw so many amazing things it is hard to pick just one. The first castle we visited in Warsaw was one of my favorites. I’ve always loved castles in general, but seeing all the details and furnishings that remain was amazing. I also liked that I was given the opportunity to explore it on my own. Some places need guided tours, but this one was better to take in by myself.

The last castle was another favorite. I never learned much about the crusades in school, so having the chance to see that history in person was incredible.

As for cities, Krakow was my favorite stop. Partly because our tour guide was amazing, and partly because we were in a better part of town than before, but also the freedom we were given to explore on our own and the places we visited were some of my favorites. For example, the Lady and the Ermine and the underground ancient city.

Furthermore, despite all the drama that happened, I am so grateful that I had the chance to meet and bond with other amazing scotties. I really needed this time away from my personal life to reconnect with the Scottie community. Sometimes I get so caught up in my relationship with my boyfriend that I forget that I still need friends. This last semester I had really begun to miss having girl friends. This trip gave me the opportunity to forge new friendships.

Without this trip I probably would never have had the chance to visit Poland. Poland has such a rich history that I never knew or thought about. When people think of Poland they think of World War Two and Auschwitz. But, there is so much more to their history and culture. This journey gave us all the opportunity to view Poland from all sides through local food, interactions with local people, and touring through five major cities. We explored all types of transportation and immersed ourselves in the culture. We were guided, but also were given enough freedom to feel like adults. It is an experience I will never forget. I am so thankful for Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Manes. I really can not thank you enough.

Elinor Reid Hightower ’18



Post-trip Reflection

The days before I left for Poland were some of the busiest and nerve-wrecking days for me. I had to take multiple finals and pack up my whole room in last minute. In fact, I was done with everything an hour before I had to go to the airport. I had no time to sit down and think about my upcoming travels until I was in the car with Lexie, her dad, Kat, and Mackenzie. Then it became surreal to me I was going to Poland.

Before my visit to there, I was both excited and apprehensive. I was excited about the travels, seeing the sites, and the history we read about in the course. However, as a Muslim woman, I was also very much aware of what I could encounter in my travels. I am a US citizen and I have my passport; nevertheless, there was still the fear of something could happen. Thankfully nothing major occurred. However, when I was leaving Warsaw, the TSA there gave me a “special” pat down in front of everyone. It made me feel violated and sad that people have to be that scared of Muslims. In that moment, I felt compelled to say “I mean you no harm” but somehow I kept my mouth shut and let it happen.

Going into this course, I was on the quest of learning more about the Holocaust. I felt like it is part of history that was not discussed enough in high school. I wanted to understand what happened exactly and how the world just stood by and watched as people were being slaughtered. I hoped taking this course and visiting some Holocaust sites will give me the answers I was seeking; however I have more questions than I ever did before. After the trip, I learned so much more about the Holocaust as well as what people are capable of and will do to each other when there are differences.

I cannot help but be aware of what is happening in the world today. Decades after the Holocaust, there are hatred, antisemitism and genocide present everywhere. I feel heartbroken knowing we have not learned from history and continue to mistreat one another. My journey to Poland encouraged me to find ways to help fight against injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.

This trip also helped me grow as a person, and it gave me the tools I needed to develop a new perspective on life. I am more open-minded than ever, and I continue to try my utmost best not to judge people no matter how different they are from me. Everyday, I struggle not to lose faith in humanity. I read and watch the news constantly, and I always tear up at the violence that is happening. Sometimes it gets overwhelming and I am more than afraid history will be repeated. However, as long as there are trips like this we will be reminded not to forget and have a chance to make sure that does not happen.


Ifrah A.