Inside Nazi Germany, Outside of the Classroom

An educational trip to Germany and Poland, chaperoned by Mr. Girard, Mrs. Ide and Dr. Surmiller, is soon to be a reality.  

The two-week long trip is set for the summer of 2020 and will focus on both Mr. Girard’s Inside Nazi Germany class and Dr. Surmiller’s Church History class. It is open to students who have taken either class, and the three are working to see if those who graduate in 2020 may go.

The trip’s premise began when Mr. Girard wondered how he could provide his students with learning experience outside of school. “My opinion of education is that you can only do so much within the four walls of the classroom,” said Mr. Girard.

Mr. Girard approached Social Studies Department Chair Mrs. Ide and Dean of Academics Mrs. Smith with the idea of traveling, and the three met late last school year to talk over the possibilities. Mrs. Smith approved the academic trip and discussed next steps with the two history teachers.

 As Mr. Girard and Mrs. Ide began to plan, Dr. Surmiller learned of the undertaking. As Dr. Surmiller had been planning his own trip, the three teachers decided to join forces and work on one combined travel trip.

Mr. Girard is glad for the collaboration as it means that more than 15 students may be taken with the three chaperones. He also noted that adding church history to the trip will not only be rewarding for Dr. Surmiller’s students, but also serve to defuse the emotional weight of visiting former concentration camps.  

 “To walk into Auschwitz is way more powerful than just reading about it,” said Mr. Girard. He hopes that by walking around in cities of the Holocaust, his students can imagine what it was like and walk away with a different perspective.

Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
The entrance gate to Auschwitz I, one of the three main camps of Auschwitz, reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” which translates to “Work Brings Freedom.”

The three teachers have already booked airline tickets for their scouting trip in February, a mere two months away. “Things have moved rather quickly,” said Mr. Girard, making the trip all the more exciting and real.

While in Europe, the teachers will explore options for hotels, restaurants, and places to visit with students. The three will also meet with site coordinators from Academic Programs International, a study abroad company that Ursuline partners with for trips beyond the global department. The API coordinators will be translators and help with logistics such as transportation and tickets.

Cities on the tentative itinerary include Munich and Nuremberg in Germany, and Kraków in Poland. In Munich, the birthplace of Nazism, students might visit Dachau, Our Lady of St. Mary’s Church and Marienplatz Square. In Nuremberg, they could see the Nazi party rally grounds and the Frauenkirche (“Church of Our Lady”).

The 1936 Nuremberg rally held at the Zeppelinfield arena.

In Kraków, they might visit Auschwitz, the Wieliczka Salt Mines, Wawel Castle and Jasna Góra Monastery. Other potential sites include a large lake outside of Munich or places in the Alps such as Neuschwanstein Castle and the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest.

“The itinerary is completely up in the air, but these are some specific sights [that] we are researching,” said Mr. Girard.

Ursuline is the fourth school Mr. Girard has worked for, but the first to allow him to teach a course on Nazi Germany. The Holocaust has been a passion of his since he was an undergraduate student. As he is now finishing up his master’s degree in Holocaust studies, it is fitting that he is doing so while planning the trip and teaching the elective.

Inside Nazi Germany is not a required course, and Mr. Girard is grateful for students to have both chosen the elective and studied hard in class. As a teacher, he said that it is his students who have enriched him the most. His students’ own passion for the subject matter is partly where the trip originates.

 “Sharing understanding on a topic that’s difficult but meaningful is the biggest thing for me,” said Mr. Girard, “Visiting a [concentration] camp won’t make the question of “How did it happen?” any easier to explain…[but it] could shape students’ lives.”

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