Seventy years ago prisoners were liberated from the former German Nazi concentration and death camps. “Auschwitz: The Past is Present,” is a professional development program developed by the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education and Discovery Education.
The non-profit organization is sponsoring a program to give educators an opportunity to learn more about the capture and release of prisoners there. Merinda Davis is a teacher in Orem and is one of only 25 teachers from around the world to be selected to travel to Poland this week.
I asked Davis why she applied and she told me that when she was 12 she was in the public library and saw a book title, “Six Million.”
“That’s when I learned about the Holocaust was, I learned about six million Jews who had been killed for no other reason other than the fact that they were Jewish - their beliefs and their ethnicity. And I was shocked, I was like, ‘How could this happen?’”
“I started studying it. I got hold of different books and started studying it and reading it. I read, of course, The Diary of Anne Frank and multiple other books. I just started diving in and learning as much as I could.”
“One of my heroes that goes along with this though, I guess, is Sophie Scholl. She was a member of the White Roses, a German activist group. Her, her brother and one of their friends were caught passing out pamphlets - like telling people about the disappearance of disabled people and they got caught and they were sentenced to death.”
“And I use that to teach a Bill of Rights, as an example for Bill of Rights and how we have certain rights and this is an example of why they’re so important.”
UPR: You’re taking a different journey here. How do you prepare for this? What do you anticipate and hope to get from this?
“I don’t know how you really prepare yourself as much for this. Going to Auschwitz has been on my bucket list since I was a teenager. To actually say, ‘Yes, this did happen, this is where it happened,’ and to stand in that place where so many ordinary people became heroes.”
UPR: So why do you think at such a young age that this story, this event impacted you the way that it did and has remained to be a common thread through your own ideology and humanity?
“I’ve had the experience where someone didn’t want to be my friend anymore because of what I looked like, because of the color of my skin. It taught me a lot and I was able to put myself in other people’s shoes.
“You know, it’s important for us to treat people as individuals and not as a stereotype.
“I want to find a story, you know. I want to be able to find a way, some way to connect these events that happened more than 70 years ago, to my students today. And help them see that it actually applies to them and see the connection between these events. This is their story and it’s my responsibility to tell that story.”
UPR: What do you want to say to the ‘you’ that returns or what do you hope that person could say to you, does that make sense?
“I really hope that I can come back with a sense of, a real sense of what happened 70 years ago. And not that I will ever be able to ever actually experience that but to be able to bring back an experience that, I won’t say changed my life but, improved understanding of those events and of the people and the individuals.”
Davis said she feels honored to be able to represent teachers from this region. She looks forward to sharing all she learns from an event that, to this day, shocks the world.