This morning, Jonathon told me one of his co-worker’s sons is on a band trip to Poland.
I laughed. “What? Why Poland?” I mean, when Jonathon and his band teacher colleague took the band and choir trips to Honolulu many years ago, we toured all the malls on the island. Great acoustics at the mall. People would wander by, stop for a few minutes to listen out of politeness and curiosity, and then keep on walking. It certainly didn’t make for a great venue. We probably should have put out an empty instrument case for donations.
I kept wondering about this. Why take high schoolers to a formerly Eastern Bloc country? Why not Disneyland, like my high school band did? We marched in one of their many parades, down their two-foot-wide streets, complete with dance and flag teams. Of course, we also rode rides and had a blast. Or attend a festival of some kind? We did that, too, in Victoria, B.C. for their annual Victoria Days Parade. That was a parade where you were judged as you marched and played. A solidly competition concert band, we stank at marching, but it was a great excuse to travel. One year, we even attended the World’s Fair.
I inquired more about this trip to Poland. The choice of that particular country seemed random to me, at best.
“Well”, Jonathon said, “They’re going to Krakow next.”
Of course. Touring concentration camps makes for great memories. And then the conversation started.
“Concentration camp? What’s that?” Zac asked, sitting on the heater next to his sister.
I couldn’t believe he hadn’t heard about this at all in school. By the 8th grade, we had read The Diary of Anne Frank and seen the movie. We had discussed, at length, what happened to the Jews in Europe due to Hitler’s influence. How many remember Anne’s angst at realizing she would never get married and have children, knowing she would soon die?
I simplified it greatly for Zac. I was also pre-coffee. I told him that after Germany’s defeat in WWI, Hitler rose to power and cited the Jews as the scapegoat for the loss. Gradually, over time, he herded the Jews into ghettos. He marked them with a yellow star of David armband. They had rations and a curfew. These were some of the most influential people, people of wealth and culture and great intellect. Once in concentration camps, they were tasked with splitting rocks. I didn’t even touch on Hitler’s desire to promote the Aryan race and purify the “Fatherland”. (Again, I was pre-caffeination, so if anyone has corrections/additions to my bullet points, feel free to add them.)
Zac listened in silence. He looked sort of stunned, especially when I mentioned 6 million Jews died by being gassed. They were tricked into taking “showers” from which they never emerged. I tried not to tear up, thinking about it. Jonathon mentioned that millions from other races were killed, too. Hitler was on a mission.
As Zac left to get dressed, Jonathon told me more. He said the people of this town where the band was staying had raised the Washington state flag, flying it alongside the Polish flag. The DJs on the radio took calls to answer the question: “Who knows what flag this is?” They welcomed the kids with open arms. The old suspicions between the U.S. and Russia ended long ago and the era of embracing the West is in full swing. Perhaps these kids from Tumwater, WA, promoted international relations in some small way by coming to visit.
So, maybe getting a bigger picture of the world by viewing painful historical sites is a good thing. I don’t ever want to forget the systematic Final Solution of Jewish genocide. The hope and resilience of people are a beautiful thing to witness. Not all school trips need to be “fun”. Some might even be educational. Heck, they might even change your life.