Davidson’s basketball team returned Wednesday from a 48-hour tour of the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, where as many as 960,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust during World War II.
And the images from the Wildcats’ visit to the Nazi concentration camp won’t soon go away for Carter Collins and Patrick Casey – if they ever will.
For Collins, a sophomore guard from Chapel Hill, it started with trying to reconcile the serene surroundings outside the camp with the horrors that once occurred within.
Collins rubbed his eyes and blinked, looking up at the ceiling in a meeting room in Davidson’s Belk Arena on Friday morning.
“I wasn’t prepared for the emotions I experienced when we were there, and I’m still trying to process it all,” said Collins. “When we were walking through this beautiful forest leading up to Auschwitz, it was hard to wrap your head around that something so evil and malicious happened right there. To think of all the people slaughtered there.
“Then I saw the people’s actual hair (on display in the barracks), that (the Nazis) cut off before sending people to the gas chamber. I felt like throwing up when I saw that, and I still feel like throwing up right now. Thinking about it gives me nightmares. The thought of it really hits me.”
For Casey, a sophomore forward from Fort Mill, it was seeing scratch marks from fingernails on concrete walls, where desperate prisoners tried in vain to escape. He saw photos of children being led away from their parents down a pathway leading to certain death.
“Most emotional for me was seeing the kids getting off the train,” said Casey. “I have six younger siblings and two really young brothers. To see two of them get off the train and go to the left – that meant directly to the gas chamber – was very emotional.”
The Davidson trip – which included no basketball – was the result of a partnership between CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Ind., and the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics, and the Holocaust (MIMEH).
Amanda Caleb, a former Davidson field hockey player and educational consultant to MIMEH, helped pitch the idea to Wildcats coach Bob McKillop as a way for his team to not only be witness to a shameful part of human history, but to help make sure it’s never forgotten.
“It’s an opportunity for the leadership of our players to be challenged,” McKillop said. “They have the ability now to either put this chapter into their history or use it as a springboard to become even better leaders than they are now. To have an experience that was as powerful and as impactful as it was, not just in a movie or in a book, but witnessed up close.”
The Wildcats’ guide on the trip was Eva Mozes Kor, 84, founder of the CANDLES museum and an Auschwitz survivor. Mozes Kor and her twin sister were separated from their parents at Auschwitz and never saw them again.
Mozes Kor showed the Davidson team exactly where that happened.
“She stood on what they called the selection platform,” McKillop said. “She showed us where the train – the cattle car – came in. She described in great detail of the anguish of the moment, of seeing two of her sisters and father disappearing and her mother being pulled from her with outstretched hands. The tears, the Nazis yelling, the dogs barking.
“It was quite an experience to know exactly what transpired in her life. And here she is 74 years later, with it still vividly etched in her mind as she recaptured for our guys the horror of that experience.”
The trip was quick. The Wildcats left last Saturday night and returned Wednesday.
“It was non-stop and exhausting, physically and emotionally,” McKillop said. “But amidst the exhaustion, there was an energy that carried the guys forward. They dared not show any fatigue or weakness. They kept their emotional gas tank full because they were being taught by Eva, who had been through the horrors 84 years ago and had re-enacted them for us with joy in her face and forgiveness in her heart. That resonated with our guys.”
McKillop’s guys want to help make sure a disgraceful chapter in human history is never forgotten, however difficult the images from the trip might be to deal with.
“It’s almost impossible to imagine what happened to these people,” said Casey, a history major. “But that’s why we have to remember it. It’s why we have to learn from it and keep fighting to preserve human dignity.”
Said Collins: “The world we live in now is selfish. Everybody wants their view to be the only view. Well, the Holocaust happened once because somebody thought that way. Just because it happened then doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. We’ve got to be more open-minded and not so selfish so that we’re not listening to other people’s views.”
David Scott: @davidscott14