I'm writing three days from our departure for Berlin and thinking about what you are all about to experience.
This is the 16th time I've led this trip and I have to confess: it never gets old. A student came in the other day and asked me which part of the trip I'm most looking forward to. After reflecting on the fact that no one had ever asked me that question, I replied that what I always look forward to is the reactions of students to what they are seeing. Their observations are consistently varied and always thoughtful. Given what's going on in the United States this year -- and in the bigger, broader world as well --I expect that this year the responses will be even more complex.
I'm always impressed with the willingness of students to give up what would otherwise be an April vacation and go to--let's face it--the remains of Nazi-controlled Europe, the remnants of the Cold War, and a complicated 21st century Central and Eastern Europe. These places--at least during those moments in history--are not exactly happy places. Now, at least as of this writing, Europe is in a significant period of transition (and we will see how this all turns out after all the election activity concludes) but it makes looking squarely at this history all the more timely.
After all, we are visiting sites of some of the most horrific acts mankind has committed. Auschwitz, as I said at the parent-student meeting, is the largest known cemetery in the world (with virtually all of its graves unmarked). How do we understand what mankind is capable of? And how do we try to prevent this sort of stuff from ever happening again? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, "Never again." Yet, as we know from Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Darfur, the Congo, and most recently Syria, it does happen: again and again and again and again..
So what can we do about it?
That's our task while we are visiting some of most fascinating places in the world. We have to do the work to peel the onion and try to discover what Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic were in 1933, 1939, 1942, 1945, 1950, 1961, 1989, and now. Then we have to collapse all those years and understand what we learn from them.
To quote from the distinguished Boston Latin School alumnus, George Santayana '1878; "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
I'm looking forward to remembering--and reflecting on that history--with all of you beginning this Tuesday.