Nearly two dozen OUWB medical students who will soon travel to Poland as part of the OUWB Auschwitz Study Tour recently visited the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills.
The visit was a milestone for OUWB students and others preparing for the study trip scheduled for June 13-20.
In addition to the students, other members of the group included Duane Mezwa, MD, Stephan Sharf Dean, OUWB, as well as program co-directors – Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Basic Medical Studies, and Hedy Wald , Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at Brown University Alpert Medical School and faculty member of Harvard Medical School’s Global Pediatric Leadership Program.
The purpose of the OUWB study trip to Auschwitz in June is to allow students to immerse themselves in the particular and tragic era of medical history and to think critically about its implications for their own personal and professional development. within the medical profession.
But that can’t be done without first having a broad understanding of the Holocaust — one of the main reasons for visiting the local memorial center, Wasserman said.
“Much of our time at Auschwitz is going to be focused on the role of the doctor, either being complicit in the Holocaust on the Nazi side or resisting on the side of the prisoners,” he said.
“Part of the motivation for coming (to the Zekelman Holocaust Center) is to give everyone a broad education about the Holocaust and what led up to it.”
The other big reason for the visit was just to raise awareness of the local memorial.
“I like that OUWB is very community-oriented and I think bringing a place like (the Holocaust memorial) grounds it that way as well,” Wald said. “We can see that there are resources in the community that we can learn from and that’s important.”
“Really leave an impression”
According to its website, the Zekelman Holocaust Center dates back to 1984, when it opened as the Holocaust Memorial Center on the campus of the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. It moved to its current location in 2004. (The address is 28123 Orchard Lake Road – a 30-minute drive from the main campus of Oakland University.)
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The center is open to the public and the organization says it reaches more than 100,000 people each year through “our teacher trainings, virtual museum experiences, virtual programs and in-person visits to the museum”.
The OUWB team took part in a 90-minute tour that touched on various aspects of Jewish culture and the Holocaust.
Adrea Benkoff, MD, a retired ophthalmologist, led one of two OUWB groups. Benkoff has been a guide at the center since 2004 and says she has toured with OU students before.
“I’m always happy to do whatever is asked, but especially for (this group) because they look so closely at how everything relates to medical ethics,” she said.
Paoula Choobchian called it “emotional and informative”.
“Sometimes I just had to hold back my tears,” she said. “It was so surprising to see all the different situations the prisoners had to endure…it’s so sad.”
At the same time, Choobchian said she was “happy to have this opportunity to open her eyes to history,” especially as she prepares to become a doctor.
Jonathan Gray, an OUWB student on the study tour, is from Michigan and said he has been to the memorial center before with other school groups.
“But every time you come here you learn new things or remember different things,” he said.
The OUWB group also heard a Holocaust survivor speak.
|Rene Lichtman, a Holocaust survivor, shared his experiences with an OUWB tour group.|
Rene Lichtman, Ph.D., helped start the group Hidden Children and Child Survivors of Michigan as well as the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust. He was a painter, political activist, filmmaker and worked for 20 years in the education department of Beaumont Health.
For the group OUWB, Lichtman recounted his experiences of being in hiding during World War II – of being separated from his family members to finally being reunited.
“It’s very important to talk about the Holocaust and to make sure people know these things,” Lichtman said. He said it’s especially important for future doctors to understand given their responsibilities as doctors.
Hearing directly from a survivor also has a big impact, he said.
“It really leaves an impression,” he said. “These people will remember me for the rest of their lives…something will happen 30 or 40 years from now that will trigger a memory of me.”
‘A life-changing experience’
The OUWB study trip to Auschwitz was announced last September.
It should consist of a seven-day trip to Poland, with guided tours of places such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, special lectures and interactive workshops.
A seven-week seminar will follow the trip, taken for credit as part of OUWB’s Medical Humanities and Clinical Bioethics (MHCB) 3 course, during which students will discuss and reflect on the experience of the trip, the relevance of this story to contemporary medicine, and develop projects to disseminate what they learned at a symposium dinner as well as to other community groups in OUWB, OU and beyond.
“There is no doubt that this will be a life-changing experience for the group and will continue to help form the identity of who these students will become as new doctors,” Mezwa said.
Funding for the trip comes from many donors, including the Bella Rozencweig Hirsch Endowment for Biomedical Ethics.
When first announced, application for the program was open to all first-year medical students in good standing. Candidates had to write three essays. The 20 selected students were notified at the end of February.
Since then, preparatory sessions – in addition to the memorial visit – have continued and included history and background, readings and group reflection.
Mezwa said such preparations will bring “maximum value” to those who take part in the study trip, including himself. Before leaving for Poland, Mezwa said he also plans to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
“These visits will help me better understand the atrocities that took place and reflect more on the similarities to what we see happening in our world today,” he said.
For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, Marketing Writer, OUWB, at [email protected]
To request an interview, visit the OUWB Communications & Marketing webpage.
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