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Teachers Reflect On Trip to Poland

Photo by Drew Parker / Catherine Skolnicki, right, a producer from Ya Momz House Inc., interviews John Marshall High School instructor Tracey Filben Thursday.

Following an impactful trip through Nazi Germany’s former concentration camps in Poland, local educators are reflecting on their experience for inclusion in a documentary.

Ya Momz House Inc., a Pittsburgh production company, is helping area teachers tell their story of the recent trip this week. John Marshall High School band and choral instructor Tracey Filben, history teacher Daniel Easton and Filben’s daughter, Kailey, a sophomore at John Marshall, traveled to Poland’s wartime historical landmarks during a July Classrooms Without Borders trip with students from Bishop Donahue, Wheeling Park and Wheeling Central Catholic high schools, The Linsly School and schools in Pittsburgh.

According to documentary producer Catherine Skolnicki, the feature, titled “Classrooms Without Borders,” will feature interviews from Filben and Easton.

“We’re producing a documentary to encapsulate their experience and everything that happened. We are interviewing two teachers to get their perspective and what they gained,” she said. “So much of what we’re taught is through books and in the classroom, but it’s much more practical to have that experience. Being able to travel really gives you a completely different perspective you can’t really get at school.”

Easton, a world history and Holocaust studies teacher, was an active Marine from 2001 to 2008, which he said made the trip more impactful.

“I enjoy traveling and I try to do it every summer, so this was a great opportunity,” he said. “It was powerful not only seeing the places but being around a survivor who’s been through everything. … It’s definitely changed how I plan my curriculum. I focus more on the individual which tends to get lost when you study statistics.”

Tracey Filben said the experience was rewarding but emotionally draining. She added the trip included visits to Auschwitz, Majdanek and Treblinka concentration camps, along with the Warsaw ghetto, Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow and several Jewish memorials.

“Majdanek was a concentration camp that was invaded by the Russians and it is still standing because the Germans couldn’t destroy it to hide the evidence, so we walked through the gas chambers and could see the scratches from people’s fingernails in the wall,” she said. “It’s just impossible to put your head in that space of the sheer volume of the number for killings that went on.”

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to specify that the concentration camps in Poland were operated by Nazi Germany.

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