Campus & Community

PBSC students earn trip to Holocaust Museum in essay contest

Long before boarding the flight to Washington, D.C., Palm Beach State College student Joseph Schlicher had been trying to comprehend the thoughts of his German ancestors who witnessed the torture and murder of Jews at the hands of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi regime.

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From top left: PBSC students Joseph Schlicher, Alyssa Plotke, Samuel King, Jacob Fettig, Jarred Fettig, James Burns and Shelby Swiderski visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with Professor Emmanuel Alvarado. The students were selected for the trip in an essay contest.

“I was more curious about why one person could do as much damage as he did and about the Germans that were against it and what was going through their heads. Maybe in their hearts they didn’t agree, but they were too afraid to speak out,” Schlicher said.

Although Schlicher had been to Frankfurt, Germany twice in the past and visited concentration camps in Europe, his first trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum last weekend gave him a clearer understanding. He gained a greater appreciation for freedom, tolerance and compassion, and he took solace in learning more about the Germans who were against Hitler. “There were a couple of different stories like that,’’ he said. “Hitler was very ruthless. He had no heart. If there would be no hesitation in taking you and your family out, you can get a sense of why some [Germans] were really scared.”

Schlicher was among seven PBSC students from the Palm Beach Gardens campus who traveled with Professor Emmanuel Alvarado to visit the museum. They left last Friday for the three-day trip, which was sponsored by the Spanish Club with support of a $4,000 grant from InSight Through Education. The Palm Beach Gardens-based nonprofit organization works to teach others about the Holocaust and genocides while at the same time encouraging tolerance, acceptance and respect. Such grants are routinely awarded to Palm Beach County K-12 schools, but this was the first time that PBSC applied. The seven PBSC students were selected after entering an essay contest open to those on the Palm Beach Gardens campus.

Schlicher, an aspiring engineer who is pursuing an Associate in Arts degree, said he was pleased that he was chosen to visit the museum.

“You get a vivid description of what actually happened,’’ said Schlicher, whose paternal grandfather and great-grandfather were born and raised in Germany. “It was pretty emotional. The biggest thing for me was the kids. You’d never think that someone would hurt a child.”

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The essay contest winners visit the White House as well as other historic sites during their trip to Washington, D.C.

Alvarado learned about the grant through other partnerships with InSight Through Education, which brings speakers to the Palm Beach Gardens campus each year. He worked with the organization in the past to record interviews of Holocaust survivors that he uses for his Spanish and online sociology classes.

The most pivotal aspect of the selection process was ensuring that selected students would gain something from the experience that they could share with others. In addition to the written essay describing how visiting museum would help them, applicants also were required to provide a reference letter from a faculty member.

“It’s a tremendous learning opportunity for our students because many of them expressed in their application essays a certain eagerness to take what they’ve learned after visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and sharing it with their peers, family, and friends.”

“The Holocaust Museum was very impactful,” said student Alyssa Plotke, who is pursuing an Associate in Science degree in interior design. “It made me think about if that were to happen in America how it would have gone down. It made me curious about how people let it get to that point. It made me realize that the way you treat people also reflects on how other people treat people. If one person starts treating people negatively, other people might do the same.”

She said she learned to “watch the way I act and treat people the way I want to be treated. Nobody would want that to happen again.”

While in D.C., students also visited other historic sites, including memorials, the White House, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

Alvarado said he hopes to continue the partnership with InSight Through Education. “One of the most important aspects of the museum is that it’s not meant to be an answer to a historical event, but rather it’s supposed to raise questions about what happened during the Holocaust. That’s certainly the message that our students took away from this experience,” he said.

Holocaust Remembrance Day for 2016 is May 5.

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