"…[T]he reality of it was overwhelming. It's something I'll never forget."
That is how Shady Side Academy student Destin Groff reacted after touring the Maidanek concentration camp in Lublin, Poland last week. Groff is one of several area students and teachers spending a week in Poland through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh's "Classrooms Without Borders" program.
The students on the trip were selected for their special talents in music, writing, and art, but the trip is also about experiencing history personally.
"Hearing that one million children died is just a number. It's just a statistic to me. I can't associate with it and relate to it, but I feel like when I walked to the camp I just immediately thought of my brother and my mom and my dad," said Ellis School student Rachel Harmatz.
"How all the children and mothers and the fathers were all separated from each other, and it was just one person — they were stripped of all their identity, basically. I just can't relate to that because, I don't know, I take it for granted, and it's just really hard emotionally to go through that," said Harmatz.
For Winchester Thurston student Jesse Lieberfield, the visit was hard to digest.
"Most of what I saw, I still don't understand how I feel about it and I'm not sure if I ever will, but there was one small bit where I did get a very clear impression of what it must have felt like," Lieberfield said.
Essential Public Radio Fellow Emily Farah is traveling with the group of students and teachers as part of a Duquesne University class project.