Continuing a quest that began when she was a child living abroad, Western Maryland College senior Kym Samuels recently traveled to the Czech republic to study the lives of young people who experienced the Holocaust.
Ms. Samuels, a history and art history major, is involved in a senior project that will answer questions about how Jewish children reacted to Nazi persecution, confinement, dispossession and execution.
She hopes to find that Americans have accepted the history of dTC the Holocaust, especially after the opening of the American Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the film "Schindler's List."
During January Term, when WMC students can participate in special courses, internships or personal academic pursuits, Ms. Samuels traveled to Prague and nearby Terezn, site of a former Nazi concentration camp.
The camp, built from an 18th-century garrison, has been preserved as a memorial and museum for Holocaust victims. International scholars regularly conduct research there.
Ms. Samuels chose the site because she is interested in the memorabilia of children who were imprisoned during World War II. Some 15,000 children passed through the camp during those years and only 100 survived.
A major collection of artwork by some of the children is located in Prague.
Ms. Samuels said she learned about the Holocaust from her family when they lived in Germany. Her father served in the Army there.
"We're Jewish, and my parents thought it was important for me and my older sister to understand this while we had the chance to see it for ourselves," she said. "When I was very young we saw Dachau, and I also saw Anne Frank's house and the Eagle's Nest, where Hitler vacationed. I had nightmares for years, but I'm glad I saw these things, because it's important."
For her senior project, which she will prepare as part of her history major requirements, Ms. Samuels is considering a comparison of camp children and the sons and daughters of the Nazis who ran the camps.
She plans to show some of the children's drawings and paintings to an art therapist at Georgetown University who can provide interpretations.
So far, she said, she has learned that the art usually falls into one of two categories -- highly fanciful or completely realistic.
"It's mind-boggling what these people went through," Ms. Samuels said. "I've been there and seen it, and it still seems abstract to me. I think we, as Americans, need to know more about this era, because it is a turning point for modern history. There's a growing interest in the Holocaust in this country. It's easier to look at now, with the distance of time and geography."
Ms. Samuels hopes to enter graduate school, after finishing at Western Maryland in May, to work toward master's and doctoral degrees in the studies of medieval women. She eventually wants to teach in that area at the college level.