Holocaust Student Tour: The Impact on Spirituality and Health

By Nager, Alan L.; Nager, Sarah M. et al. | The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences, July 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Holocaust Student Tour: The Impact on Spirituality and Health


Nager, Alan L., Nager, Sarah M., Lalani, Priya G., Gold, Jeffrey I., The Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences


ABSTRACT

Background: "March of the Living" is a 2-week excursion to Poland and Israel for high school students to learn and experience sites of Holocaust destruction.

Methods: This study looked at the effect of their experience on spirituality and health. The sample consisted of 134 Jewish students, ages 16-19 years. Students were assessed initially (before M0TL=time l) by completing a background survey (i.e., demographics, "Jewishness," and Holocaust related information), a World Health Organization, Quality of Life-Spirituality Religion, and Personal beliefs field-test instrument, and the Child Somatization Inventory. Surveys were repeated end-Poland (time 2) and again (after M0TL=time 3) approximately 3-4 months after the trip.

Results/Conclusions: Most facets of spirituality significantly increased between time 1 and time 2, and varied from time 2 to time 3, while strength and hope remained elevated. Faith increased from time 1 to time 2 and was maintained at time 3. Fear of dying rose at time 2, decreasing significantly at time 3. A positive correlation between spirituality and "\ ewishness" was found.

INTRODUCTION

The Holocaust, the systematic destruction of European Jewry that resulted in the killing of roughly 6 million Jews between the years of 1939 and 1945, is an event about which great effort is made to commemorate. One of the largest attempts to educate the current generation of youth about the Holocaust is a program called "March of the Living" (1). This program was established in 1988, functions in North America under the auspices of the International MOTL and is comprised of a 2-week group trip to Poland and Israel. Delegations from countries and regions worldwide participate in the program, including groups from the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Latin America, France, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Poland. The staff is comprised of educators, medical professionals, community and political leaders, and Holocaust survivors. The most recent high school MOTL included 7,500 international high school students; 5,000 of whom were Jewish and 2,500 of whom were non- Jewish participants from Poland, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The purpose of MOTL is to educate high school students about the Holocaust, not only from a historical viewpoint, but also from a personal and emotional perspective. The Holocaust survivors tell their life stories at various points throughout the journey in Poland, and students are encouraged to have discussions with the survivors, as well as with other students and staff members. In Poland, the delegations visit a number of Jewish and Holocaust-related sites, including Warsaw (Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish cemetery, and the restored Nozyck Synagogue), Krakow (including the Jewish quarter and the Ramah synagogue), and Lublin (the historical center of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, i.e., Hassidism). Additionally, the students visit major concentration camps (Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek) and death camps (Treblinka, Belzec). Some of the sites were fully destroyed in the Nazis' final attempt to obliterate evidence of the Holocaust, while others remain virtually intact.

The students visit sites of genocide, something completely outside the realm of the typical high school experience. Many of these students are the descendants of Holocaust survivors and victims. The impact of MOTL is particularly heightened by the presence of the Holocaust survivors who accompany the delegation. Several of the survivors speak directly from the places they were during the Holocaust; for example, from their particular barracks at Auschwitz or from the gas chambers at the camp in which their family members perished. These stories bring the devastation of the Holocaust to a personal, rather than abstract level. Instead of solely learning the statistics and history of the Holocaust, the students hear the emotional account of a person who was, and still is, personally and deeply affected by such horror. …

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