Poland Trip 2023

Poland Travel Study Trip, 2023

More than two dozen St. Mary’s students and staff spent a week in Poland on an educational and cultural trip they will likely never forget.

The group of 25 students and five chaperones was led by history department chair Michael Jalbert and chief operating officer Lindsay Lockwood. They visited museums, churches, a salt mine, restaurants, and, most important, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum at the site of the former Nazi Concentration Camp, where approximately 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered during the German occupation of Poland from 1940-45.

“It was an opportunity for them to walk the same path that more than a million people took their last steps,” Lockwood said. “It was incredibly powerful. Photos don’t do it justice.”

On the tour, students saw items left behind by Holocaust victims, including human hair, shoes and eyeglasses.

“The kids have a variety of reactions,” Jalbert said. “Some break down right away. Others struggle to process what they see and it takes some time. It might hit them later.”

The St. Mary’s group recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, in Hebrew, which they had practiced for months prior to going to Poland.

The Poland trip was the culmination of a travel study program that was held throughout the school year. Students needed to submit an essay, they read two books, watched movies including “Schindler’s List” and met a Holocaust survivor via Zoom. They held a Rosh Hashanah service, a Holocaust remembrance service on Jan. 27, the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and a Passover seder.

St. Mary’s Board of Trustees Chairman William Mosakowski, who has deep roots in Poland and who sponsored the trip, visited with students before they went to discuss Polish poetry and culture. He had originally proposed the idea for the trip in 2019, when the first St. Mary’s group ventured to Poland. This was the first trip since then.

“It’s a way to honor the memory of those who died in the Holocaust, but it’s also a deeper study of a human-rights issue,” Jalbert said.

On the trip, students were immersed into the history and culture of Poland and the region. They learned about how life changed after the invasion by Germany and the role of the Polish underground in World War II. They ate at Polish and Jewish restaurants, attended Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow and visited the St. John Paul II Center. Students also brought a suitcase full of clothes, books and toys for Ukrainian children that they delivered to an organization in Poland.

“In addition to all the history and culture, students also develop a sense of travel and adventure and being a more worldly person,” Jalbert said. “I think it was a most worthwhile experience for them.”

Photos from St. Mary's 2023 Poland Travel Study Group