Nineteen students from Oakland University spent the first part of the week in Krakow, Poland, preparing for a visit to a World War II concentration camp as part of the school’s Holocaust and Medicine program.

Two days in Krakow: OUWB medical students learn about Jewish life in Poland as part of deep dive into Auschwitz
A group of OUWB students and officials
Students and officials from OUWB pose for a picture on June 15, 2022, in the courtyard of Krakow's Jagiellonian University Museum Collegium Maius.

Nineteen students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine spent the first part of the week in Krakow, Poland, preparing for a visit to a World War II concentration camp as part of the school’s Holocaust and Medicine program.

Led by a local tour guide, Tuesday and Wednesday allowed students to see firsthand how Jewish people lived pre-war — and how that world was thrown into chaos when the German Nazis attacked in 1939.

On Tuesday, students visited Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, including Remuh Synagogue (Synagoga Remuh), a small Renaissance synagogue dating to the 1500s; the adjacent Remah Cemetery, one of the oldest existing Jewish cemeteries in Poland; and visited the Oskar Schindler Factory to experience a permanent exhibition called “Krakow under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945.”


On Wednesday students visited several other significant sites in Krakow — Galicia Jewish Museum, the Eagle Pharmacy, Ghetto Heroes Square, the main square of the Old Town of Krakow, Jagiellonian University Museum Collegium Maius, and Wawel Cathedral.

“Everything’s been a ramp up to the study that will be done at Auschwitz,” said Jason Wasserman, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies, and co-director of OUWB's Holocaust and Medicine program.

Specifically, he said helping students learn “about Jewish history in Poland, and Polish history.”

As part of a first-of-its-kind study at a U.S. medical school, students will tour Auschwitz on Thursday and Auschwitz-Birkenau on Friday. Both days also will include lectures related to the Holocaust and medicine along with reflective writing, discussion, and more — all designed to prompt students to reflect on the implications of the Holocaust for one’s own personal and professional development within the medical profession.

“The first two days have set the stage for the central experience (of the study trip to Auschwitz),” said Wasserman.

Hedy Wald, Ph.D., clinical professor of Family Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and co-director of OUWB’s Holocaust and Medicine program, echoed Wasserman’s thoughts.

“Students have mentioned that they are grateful for this time in Krakow because it’s preparing them emotionally (for Auschwitz) …I’m struck by that,” she said.

‘History repeats’
Tour guide Aleksandra Kowalczyk has been leading visitors on tours of Krakow for 15 years and led them both days for the OUWB students. She said understanding the past is important to prevent the atrocities of the Holocaust from repeating.

“Unfortunately, we can observe that history repeats,” she said, noting the current attack on Ukraine by Russia. “That’s why we always stress that it’s important to remember the past to not allow it to happen again.”

Students listening to tour guide
Tour guide Aleksandra Kowalczyk (right) talks to OUWB medical students in Krakow, Poland's Ghetto Heroes Square on June 15, 2022. 
For students, seeing the sites helped recognize the realities and horrors of the Holocaust and World War II.

For Jonathan Blake, it was during Wednesday’s visit to the Galicia Jewish Museum.

That’s where students toured the exhibition called “Sweet Home Sweet: A Story of Survival, Memory, and Returns.” The exhibition is devoted to three generationS of one family and explores how Holocaust memory and narratives are transmitted through generations and how the children and grandchildren of survivors engage with contemporary Poland.

The tour guide explained how one of the family members who survived the Holocaust considered Poland a cemetery post-war due to the tragic nature of what took place.

“He didn’t want his children to smile when they were taking pictures out of reverence and respect to the people…that changed my perspective,” said Blake. “It became more than a fact…this is somebody’s life story.”

Saini Kethireddy was moved to tears when an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor spoke to the group after the tour at Galacia Jewish Museum.

Via interpreter, Lidia Maksymowicz shared her harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust. She was taken to the concentration camp as a 3-year-old, separated from her family.

“You can read people’s memoirs and quotes, but just seeing and hearing it in person like this just makes it so much more real,” said Kethireddy. “When we visit Auschwitz, it’s just going to feel more real.”

Kethireddy also said Maksymowicz had an impact on her when she told the students that “the world is in your hands” with regard to history repeating and the way people treat others.

“It touches my heart and I am inspired to make the right choices more often,” she said.

Kaycee Fillmore also said learning about the pre-war culture of Jewish people from the area was beneficial.

“I’ve really enjoyed seeing the culture before we go to Auschwitz and see the devastation that resulted from the Holocaust,” she said. “It’s good to have background on how the Jewish people lived before their lives were upended.”

For daily updates and more about the OUWB Study Trip to Auschwitz, click here.

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