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Personalizing History

Posted on June 14, 2012

Photo: Cabaday (at far left) with other members of the History Club in Washington, D.C.

This past spring, the College’s History Club travelled to Washington, D.C. for a whirlwind visit to historical sites like the Capital, White House, Supreme Court, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. For student Jessica Cabaday, the Holocaust Museum was not just another museum to visit. It was a chance to connect to her family’s past. For other students on the trip, they got the opportunity to connect to historical events through Cabaday and her family’s personal story.

Cabaday’s grandmother, Helen Darnell, was a Holocaust survivor. Born in Poland, Darnell and her parents were forced into a concentration camp. At eleven, her parents were killed and she was shot. These traumatic experiences and her young age left Darnell unclear of her own history—a past that remained a bit of a mystery to Cabaday and other family members.

At the Holocaust Museum, Cabaday planned to register her grandmother in the museum’s Survivor Registry, a national registry to document the lives of survivors who came to the United States after World War II. Instead, she discovered records from her grandmother’s time spent in a German Displaced Person Camp. Records included a picture, intake forms and questionnaires. With this new information, Cabaday learned that her grandmother’s given name was Helena, that she was approved to immigrate to the U.S. since she had no family left in Poland, and more. For Cabaday, who joined the History Club to make friends, this day trip evolved into a day of discovery and an unforgettable experience.

As co-president of the History Club, Cabaday helped plan the trip agenda. Her personal connection to the Holocaust turned this trip into a wonderful learning experience for the entire group, and a great example that learning is not limited to the classroom. History came alive that day for all.

Still excited about her findings, Cabaday shared her discoveries with her History of Western Civilization class during their World War II discussions. This showed her classmates that history is not just facts and dates; it is also about also personal stories.

Visit to learn more about the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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