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University travellers to explore Holocaust history
Jody Perrun knows there’s a lot more to history than what you read in a book.
"History comes alive in another way, when you go to the place where it actually happened," said Perrun, a professor at the University of Winnipeg who teaches a second-year history course on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
That’s why Perrun is planning to take some of his students on a trip to see some of the most infamous sites associated with the Holocaust.
So far, 20 people — mostly students from the U of W and University of Manitoba — have signed up for a 13-day tour of historical sites related to the Holocaust and the Second World War in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany.
An East Kildonan resident, Perrun said the tour is open to everyone, not just university students, and he’s hoping to attract up to 25 participants.
EF Educational Tours is arranging the trip slated for next May.
While there will be some sight-seeing in places like Prague, Perrun acknowledges that for the most part, the tour will be very sobering.
"We’re going to go to one place — Treblinka — where nearly a million people were killed in a year. Then we’re going to go to another place — Auschwitz — where more than a million people were killed in a slightly longer time frame. So I expect that we’ll all be affected quite profoundly by that experience," he said.
"The subject matter is sickening in a lot of ways, but it’s also fascinating when we try to understand how and why it happened. How could people do these kinds of things to other people?" he said.
"The answers are all very complex and intertwined, and there’s no black and white, easy answer to explain why it happened. Maybe that’s part of the fascination."
Perrun said student interest has grown since the first anti-Semitism and Holocaust class in 2009. The course is now offered twice a year, with about 100 students taking part annually.
Randy Klassen, a 22-year-old U of M student, is among those signed up for the Holocaust tour.
"It’s a great opportunity to go explore Europe and retrace the steps of probably one of the darkest chapters in human history, and to go along with someone who’s really knowledgeable on the subject," he said.
"I do a lot of travelling on my own time, but I’ve never really gone anywhere with the intent of trying to be humbled by something like this. I’m really excited to experience it and see this part of history."
Perrun describes himself as a Canadian military historian and Second World War specialist. He has vivid recollections of touring Canadian battlefields and gravesites in northwest Europe as a student himself.
"For me, it was the experience that confirmed my career path," he said. "After I came back... having read a little bit about the places that I went to and then actually going to where the historical participants had been, there was nothing else that I wanted to do with my life."
The history professor is hoping the Holocaust tour experience will be similarly valuable for his students.
"When I’ve done trips to historical sites like this, it just deepens the understanding of the academic material that we cover — it takes it to a whole other level that you just don’t get out of a book," Perrun said.
"I’m hoping the students will benefit the same way that I did. If it turns one or two of them into historians down the road, well that’s just a bonus."
For more information about the trip visit www.uwinnipeg.ca/index/history-perrun.
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