The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Professor takes a closer look at genocide

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Jennifer Parrish, The Daily Campus
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asldjhsdkfha sdi (Jennifer Parrish, The Daily Campus)

At first glance, Rick Halperin’s office looks like many other professors’ – until you see the stars.

Placed surreptitiously against the wall is a display of gold Stars of David emblazoned with the words “Jude,” “Jood” and “Juif.” There are numbers, too – numbers of the prisoners at the concentration camps that Halperin’s been to.

And the picture that’s leaning against a stack of books about the Holocaust on his desk is seemingly innocuous, but that, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth.

“That’s the Belzec (Poland) death camp,” said Halperin. “Six hundred fifty-thousand people were murdered there in nine months.”

The picture was taken during one of Halperin’s annual visits to 11 Nazi concentration camps around Poland. His trips, taken each December for the past 10 years with groups of students and faculty, are designed to hammer home the reality of genocide.

“It’s a transformative journey,” said Halperin. “It commemorates what human beings can endure; it’s a triumph of the will to live, and it bears witness of man’s inhumanity to man,” he said.

Halperin said he plans the trips during winter break for a reason.

“People 60 years ago were wearing cotton pajamas surrounded by an environment hell-bent on killing them,” he said. The average temperatures in Poland during the winter dip into the teens, according to weather.com.

The trip, which runs Dec. 18 – 29, costs about $3,000 including airfare, hotels and food. Halperin added that students can do the trip for credit, but they need to make arrangements with him.

But students should know that “it’s not a ho-hum experience,” said Halperin.

Senior Kimberly Daniels, who went on one of Halperin’s other genocide trips, wholeheartedly agreed.

“Studying genocide and seeing [where it happened] are two totally different things,” she said.

Daniels traveled to Rwanda, the site of ethnic conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes. More than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days.

“The first place we visited was a valley where thousands were slaughtered,” she said. Daniels also went to a church where 26,000 people were killed outside and a technical college where 50,000 people were killed.

Students need to “be prepared to be in awe,” said Daniels.

Leadership and Community Involvement Office employee Sherry Aikman went to Poland in 2002 and contributed photographs to a book about the trip.

“It is life-changing,” she said. “It’s something you carry with you from that time forward.”

Many of the sites have memorials erected, but “the most chilling thing is to go … in the dead of winter and see actual ashes of what once was a human being,” said Aikman.

“These things happen every day, and it should be a call to action,” she said.

Halperin, who’s chair for the Board of Directors for Amnesty International in the U.S., wants people to feel exactly that.

“I want people to come out of Poland … with a commitment to do what they can in their lifetime to put an end to genocide,” he said. “It’s not sufficient for a student to say ‘I’ve never heard of Belzec. I’ve never heard 900,000 people [were] murdered at Treblinka.'”

Halperin said that apathy and lack of action are inexcusable.

“Have we learned nothing since World War II, since the phrase ‘never again’? How many more people need to be senselessly killed while we sit by and silently do nothing?” he asked, citing the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Halperin, who’s teaching a class on American involvement in genocide next semester, urged students to face the difficult subject.

“Your turn to lead is coming,” he said. “If you want a world without genocide, now’s the time to become aware and start working.”

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