German Politics and the Shoah: A Student’s Perspective on the Study Trip to Poland

At the end of the Winter Semester 2016/2017, MPP Students from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy went on an excursion to Poland, as part of the course “German Politics and the Shoah: Raison d’Être of German Governance”, taught by Prof. Dr. Dietmar Herz. The trip took place from March 23, 2017 to April 1, 2017 and covered roughly 6 days in Kraków and 4 days in Wroclaw. The trip included a visit to the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Museum Gross-Rosen, and presentations about the Shoah.


In Kraków, the group stayed in a hostel located within walking distance from the historic centre, close to the Wawel Royal Castle, the Vistula River, the old Schindler fabric (Emaillefabrik von Oskar Schindler) and to good restaurants and bars. Kraków is a very nice and touristic city and we had many pleasant moments during our free time there.

For two days, some of the student presentations were held in the comfortable installations of the Goethe-Institut Krakau, where we had the opportunity to learn more about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the history of the cities of Kraków and Wroclaw, the historiography behind the anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, and the perceptions and explanations posed by relevant authors, such as Hannah Arendt. The chance to learn from Professor Herz about the Shoah was a very enlightening experience, with enormous political and historical values.

IMG_1250IMG_1263The guided tour to the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau was supposed to begin at the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz I, but an incident involving protesters under the main gate changed our schedule.[1] We therefore went to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, an extremely vast and impacting site, divided by a railway track that invades the camp. In my opinion, this was the first clear sign that the Nazis intended to be as much efficient as possible in killing their prisoners, making their triage faster. During the visit, our guide detailed several other examples of the evil acts perpetrated there by the Nazi regime from March 1942 until January 1945 and we could enter in some of the remaining barracks made of wood and feel the unpleasant atmosphere of the place.

In the following day, the group went to Auschwitz I, which carries an equally negative charge. It is not possible to walk on those streets without thinking about all the sufferings endured there, especially because of the pictures, videos and personal belongings exposed in the numerous old masonry buildings maintained as a way to keep the memories alive.
During those 2 days visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, it was visible how impacted our group was, since we were most of the time silent, just observing, listening, walking, praying and making self-reflections. Those were very exhausting days, both physically and emotionally.


The second and last part of the excursion took place in Wroclaw, where we stayed in a hostel, which was not too close to the city center but this was far from being a problem. In the beautiful and lively city of Wroclaw, every walk was a great opportunity to explore and discover nice spots, like the Cathedral Island alongside the Oder River and the Market Square.

For the last round of presentations, the Willy Brandt Center for German and European Studies hosted us. There, we had insights about the German jurisdiction after 1949 and the German politics since reunification. In addition, during our last full day in Wroclaw, we had a guided tour in the Museum Gross-Rosen, in Rogoźnica, where we could visit the territory of the former concentration camp, view the exhibitions and learn a bit more about the culture of remembrance and the role played in preventing history from being repeated.

This field trip was an immersion into the topic of the Shoah, however, it was not limited to just that. The discussions within our group reached very rich levels, not only during the presentations, but also free times. We could analyze the current political context of the world and the threat posed by the emergence of hate speech, coming especially from politicians, who able to inflame masses with xenophobic feelings against migrants and refugees, based on religion and citizenship. Therefore, as future policy makers, our duty is to work towards a more inclusive society, trying to reduce inequalities and combat intolerance and oppression. For these reasons, this course must be seen as of high importance in the Brand School specialization “International Affairs”, since it helps students to evolve as human beings and to form policy makers who are sensitive to understanding how politics can either be made to improve people’s lives or to cause pain and sufferings.

[1] A group of 11 people took off their clothes, killed a sheep and chained themselves together by the main gate of Auschwitz I, at

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William Vallim is a second year Master student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He is specializing in International Political Economy and International Affairs, and his main interests are policies in urban planning, sustainable mobility and renewable energies. William holds a Bachelor of Laws from the Fluminense Federal University and a Bachelor of Accounting Sciences from the University of Southern Santa Catarina. He worked for 5 years at leading consultancies, PwC and EY, in Rio de Janeiro before moving to Germany.