On June 16-20, 2024, for the third time, we hosted a group of medical students from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Michigan, USA. The group was accompanied by Hedy S. Wald, lecturer at Brown University, clinical professor of Family Medicine and Commissioner of the Lancet Commission on Medicine, Nazism and the Holocaust, and Jason Wassermann, professor in the Department of Basic Medical Studies and the Department of Pediatrics at Oakland University.

It is all thanks to Hedy S. Wald that the authorities of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine decided that adding a study trip to Auschwitz to the schedule of medical students would be a valuable experience that would shape them as future doctors.

It all started in 2019 when professor Wald spoke in Switzerland about resilience for the Association of Medical Education in Europe. During this conference she met dr. Diethard Tauschel from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany. A casual conversation about important and more trivial matters led to a proposal for Hedy S. Wald to accompany a group of German medical and psychology students on a trip to Auschwitz. Outside of medicine, Hedy specializes in reflective writing, a helpful tool in dealing with emotions and processing historical trauma.

Choosing her to co-create this project was very important for Professor Wald herself, who is the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor. Despite this, she had never decided to visit the Memorial before. As she explained: “I had never been here, even though my father was a survivor of KL Auschwitz – Birkenau. My father’s whole family was murdered in Treblinka and he lost his only sister that he had in the Auschwitz camp. And he had somehow survived. He worked in the Canada section in Birkenau. It was a very difficult, torturous work, he went through many difficulties there, and I knew his history. But through the years, I just wanted to bring him a lot of joy. So I didn’t ask him that many details. I lived with a father with a number on his arm, so we always knew that he went through a terrible thing. And we had a whole family tree that was empty. But I had never been to the actual camps. I almost felt like I didn’t need it because I had a father who I grew up with, even though he had a number on his arm.”

The professor claims that this visit to the Memorial site changed her life. She finally had a full picture of the suffering that the camp’s prisoners, including her own father, had to go through. The project with the participation of German youth turned out to be a success, and the participants’ reflections were published in a German scientific journal and spread widely around the world. As a result, Hedy S. Wald was invited by Jason Wassermann, a professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, to give a lecture there on the role of medicine in the context of the Holocaust, and the importance of the consequences of criminal medical experiments in contemporary health care. The speech she delivered made a great impression on the audience. Among them was dr. Ora Peskovitz, president of Oakland University, who decided that sending medical students to the former German Nazi camp Auschwitz – Birkenau was crucial to their education. In her opinion, such a study trip is necessary to shape professional identity and moral and ethical attitudes among future doctors. It is their primary responsibility to ensure that criminal medical experiments on innocent people never take place again. As dr. Wassermann emphasized, the Holocaust brings with it a unique historical context – a juxtaposition of the evil deeds of Nazi doctors with the moral courage shown by others – doctor-prisoners, such as Miklós Nyiszli, Dr. Mengele’s assistant, or midwife Stanisława Leszczyńska, who risked their own lives to help fellow prisoners.

The program that students from Oakland University implement during their stay in Poland emphasizes the importance of including history in shaping professional identity, and the need for ethical vigilance, humanism and moral development. Before arriving in Poland, the group also went through a series of preparatory classes to support this transformative learning experience. Feedback from students who took part in the project in previous years emphasizes a deep sense of personal responsibility to oppose injustice and support humanistic values. This make both of them, Hedy S. Wald and Jason Wasserman very happy. They noted that the entire initiative aims to inspire future health care workers to advocate ethics, an individual approach to patients and obtaining informed consent for treatment from them, and combating discrimination – all based on important lessons drawn from the history of Auschwitz. Therefore, in addition to the obligatory visit to the former camp areas, the group also took part in workshops on topics such as „Medicine in Auschwitz” or „The euthanasia campaign for patients of the KL Auschwitz hospital and the role of KL Auschwitz doctors.”

This year, the Michigan medical students’ stay is even more special because the group is accompanied by a film crew. Dr. Jason Wassermann explained that he had already tried to produce a documentary film about his pupils’ visit at the Memorial, but unfortunately the project did not come to fruition. However, there is no such thing as good, because the topic of creating a documentary film presenting solid education about the Holocaust and its impact on medicine interested David Shaerf, head of the Film Department at Oakland University. He accompanied last year’s group of students to Poland to learn about the topics they discussed. Jason Wassermann revealed that the university authorities plan to make the documentary film created this year available on streaming platforms.

Professors Hedy S. Wald and Jason Wasserman both emphasize the role that the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim plays in the project implemented by a group from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. We are very pleased to hear that each time new medical students come back to us, they find that help of our House employees is invaluable, we have exactly the conference facilities they need, and our kitchen spoils them with delicious, home-made food.

We would like to thank our guests from the USA for their kind words and the trust they have in the Centre. We hope to see you next year.