Mr. Head travels to Europe
When Kris Head walked under the sign at Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, it created in him a feeling that cannot be put in words. He thought of those people whose steps he followed on cobblestone streets, the thousands of stories lost to history. It is his hope, as a social studies teacher, to share with his students more than research can teach. He wants to put a face and voice to a dark time that changed our world.
“Standing inside the crematorium, the barracks, and at the platform in which families were torn apart and stripped of any human dignity will be a feeling in which I will never forget,” he explains, noting how so many of those who entered were unaware of their impending deaths. “I can’t imagine what they went through.”
Head’s 10-day trip to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic this past summer came from his role as regional co-director for North Carolina’s Council on the Holocaust. He was able to visit the historical sites and immerse himself in the culture of the present while learning about the past.
“I have always been interested in World War II and the Holocaust…in the sheer complexity of the war, systematic genocide, and Nazis’ rise to power over an entire country,” Head states. “I chose to become a member of this crucial council as a way to preserve the education of the Holocaust, enhance my own understanding and knowledge, and share stronger lessons with generations of students.”
Though the memories of the Holocaust cloud so many places, Head was struck by the beauty that surrounded him as well. He enjoyed the castles and cathedrals in Warsaw and Krakow where he discovered what he considers the most beautiful and memorable structures, architecture, and paintings that survived the war.
The trip fell on the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, a major operation by Polish underground resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation, and Head was able to witness the nation pay homage to those lost during that time. “I overheard ‘dziekuje waszawie’ numerous times as the anniversary approached,” he says. “It is Polish for ‘Thank you, Warsaw’”
While most visitors to foreign countries spend free time in gift shops and restaurants, Head chose to share a cup of coffee and conversation with locals. One tour guide described what life was like on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall under Soviet control and how, in the present, his town has taken in thousands of Ukrainian refugees following Russia’s invasion.
“Perspective is what allows us to better comprehend or understand historical events and modern events,” Head notes. “The stories shared with me, the photos I took, as well as the perspective that I experienced will only enhance my lessons moving forward. For example, when we discuss gothic architecture during the Renaissance period, I have dozens of photos of cathedrals that were built during that time. I am able to share exact examples with the historical context of the cathedral or structure with my students. Not just some random Google image.”
Head’s enthusiasm for history, his love of teaching, and his recent experiences are ingredients to successful and meaningful learning in his classroom. Teachers like Head make Piedmont proud!
For more information on North Carolina’s Council on the Holocaust, visit: https://bit.ly/3dL5RcB