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Off-campus study unlocks ‘the power of place’

Barry McNamara
09/28/2017
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Two professors who went to Europe last spring as part of a Monmouth College class condensed the impact of studying abroad to four words – “the power of place.”

Psychology professor Joan Wertz and history professor Michelle Damian, who were part of a College group that went to three European countries to study the psychology of the Holocaust, spoke Sept. 21 about the trip’s impact at the first Monmouth Associates luncheon of the academic year.

Three dozen Monmouth students, who were among the 46-member group, also took a spring semester class, “Psychology of the Holocaust.”

In addition to the opportunity to study the psychological effects of authority, aggression and obedience, the students who voted on which off-campus trip to take were also drawn by the opportunity to visit three countries – Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. The cities they saw included Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Prague.

While speaking about visiting one of the concentration camps, Damian said she was struck by “the power of place – to see hundreds of suitcases with (the prisoners’) names on them. When they arrived, they didn’t know they weren’t going to leave.”

“To see the mass production of the Jewish star of David badges brought it to an entirely different level for me,” said Wertz. “The mechanization of the killing, the efficiency. ... It was incredibly moving to see these places in person – to see something that is not able to be described.”

Damian, who also has an interest in archaeology, asked one of the guides if excavations would be conducted at the concentration camp sites.

“I was told, very emphatically, that there will be no archaeology, there will be no reconstruction. To rebuild would be fake,” she said.

Future Monmouth Associates programs this academic year will be held Nov. 16, Feb. 15 and May 17.