From March 12 to 21, twelve members of the ICU UNESCO Club traveled to the Czech Republic and Poland on a study tour. With the support of a ¥500,000 JICUF grant, the group visited small towns and villages to learn about WWII, the Holocaust, communism, and how the small towns are using their tragic history to promote peace. We asked a few of the students, including the grant recipient Tsuzumi Ino, to share their impressions with us.
Tsuzumi Ino (Sophomore)
It may sound cliché, but I felt that what I learned from books was very different from what I actually saw. Auschwitz left an especially deep impression on me. The day we visited, it was cold, raining and very windy. Although I was wearing a thick jacket unlike those who were there 70 years ago, I just wanted to run away and stay in a room with a heater. I knew from books that the environment at Auschwitz was harsh, but experiencing it firsthand, I could clearly imagine how cold, lonely and desperate the people must have been. Through this experience, I am able to explain how awful the conditions at the concentration camps were and emphasize that such a tragedy must never be repeated.
How the museums in the Czech Republic and Poland explained history was interesting too. They stated that the Nazis, not Germany, was responsible for the crime. I thought this was a great way to avoid demonizing an entire country by separating the Nazis from the German public, and that Japan needs to learn how to narrate history from them.
Hiroshi Kamiya (Freshman)
Having participated in the study tour, I started to see, albeit vaguely, how our generation could utilize the devastating historical exhibition to construct “the defences of peace” propounded in the UNESCO Constitution. We need to harness the emotions that arise when viewing the exhibition to think about human morality and how to avoid repeating such a tragedy.
I also learned that to understand other cultures, one must understand one’s own culture first. As we walked through Wieliczka Salt Mine and saw evidence of Christian faith, I thought about the mountains in Japan that I visited last summer. When I remembered how I felt when I found a small Buddhist statue in the silent mountains, I could understand why the miners wanted to build a church inside the mine.
Yuto Egawa (Freshman)
First of all, I’d like to thank JICUF for supporting ICU UNESCO Club’s study tour. I gained two things from this trip. First, it gave me an opportunity to rethink the ability to understand different cultures, which I’ve valued from the perspective of peace building. Before traveling, I thought that it was important to experience other cultures through literature and theater, and try to tolerate and co-exist with them. However, when we visited the Jewish Museum in Prague, I became aware of my ignorance about Jewish culture. Inside a synagogue, I was surprised to find myself feeling nervous about the different culture. Through this experience, I came to think that it is more important to experience different cultures such as Islamic culture and Chinese culture in everyday life, which I have not yet had the opportunity to know.
Second, our visit to Lidice and Auschwitz-Birkenau provoked more questions about the Nazi ideology of exterminating other races. I would like to study this ideology further, although I am concerned about being even slightly affected by such a dangerous exclusive ideology.
Bomi Kwon (Junior)
A UNESCO officer once told me that people associated with UNESCO are always thinking about how to build “the defences of peace” in people’s minds through education, science and culture, as written in the organization’s constitution.
Yukichi Fukuzawa wrote in the opening of Encouragement of Learning that “Heaven does not create one man above or below another man.” However, when we look at world history, we see that humans have created discrimination and prejudice through arrogance and greed.
We must realize how the Holocaust led innocent people to horrible deaths, deeply reflect upon it, and consider what each individual can do to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. We must promote equality, peace and human rights.
As for concrete steps we could take, we would like to share what we experienced during this trip through written reports and presentations at reporting sessions. We would also like to encourage as many people as possible to visit Auschwitz and Terezin concentration camps. Through the pre-departure study sessions, discussions during the trip and post-trip wrap-up sessions, I was thankful for the environment in which I can learn, think and express my thoughts freely.
This was the first time that the ICU UNESCO Club was able to conduct a study tour to Europe. I would like to thank JICUF for your support and kindness which made this unforgettable trip possible.