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For the past 12 years, Taneytown resident Tom Hockstra has been including a trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., as part of the class he teaches at Carroll Community College on Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich.

He and his students took this year's trip to the museum on March 27.

"You definitely see some visceral reactions from the students when they visit the museum," said Hockstra.

"When I initially started teaching my class at the college, I was supposed to teach it every other year," said Hockstra, a retired Baltimore County Public School teacher.

"But the class kept filling up, even back in the early years when there were not many Jewish students here," he said.

Along with the trip, another highlight of the class is a lecture by Holocaust survival Leo Bretholz.

Bretholz, a Pikesville resident and author of "Leap Into Darkness," is scheduled to deliver that annual lecture at 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, in CCC's Theater at the Scott Center, 1601 Washington Road, Westminster. Bretholz's presentation is free and open to the public.

"I think visiting the museum and bringing in Leo is a golden opportunity to take a lesson about the Holocaust and make it personal," said Hockstra, who spent several weeks last summer touring World War II Holocaust sites in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum depicts the depravity of the Holocaust in an unflinching manner that's been called history by immersion.

The galleries are darkened and, when crowded, slightly disorienting and claustrophobic. There are no distractions or filters from the full impact of films, photos, exhibits and displays of one of the most reprehensible events of 20th-century history.

Inevitably, after several hours in the museum, visitors -- particularly those there for the first time -- have various reactions when they finally emerge into the sunlight. Some are speechless, some have tears in their eyes, some are filled with anger and indignation.

It was no different for the busload from Carroll County, which included Hockstra, his students and family members and friends along with a others who'd simply heard about the trip and signed up for a seat.

"Talk about a lump in your throat," said Diana Coleman, a Finksburg resident and former real estate agent who is studying at CCC in preparation for a career shift to legal forensics.

"It was just horrific and it brought me to tears a couple of times," Coleman added. "What really disturbs me is how easily it could happen again. That's why it's so important for school children to come see this museum."

For Melissa Nagle, 25, a hairdresser from Eldersburg who is working on her associates of arts degree for "self-satisfaction," it was the second visit to the Holocaust museum.

"Seeing what (the Nazis) did to handicapped children and the medical experiments they did on children is what sticks with me," said Nagle, who is of German descent and went out of her way to take Hockstra's class.

"It's just hard to conceive how any government would let people do those things to children," she added.

Miriam Beck, a retired Carroll County Public School teacher who lives in Sykesville, seemed quietly outraged.

"Germany was a country that gave us Einstein, Bach and Beethoven, and when the Nazis came to power they were at the highest level of civilization," said Beck, shaking her head. "Yet they let this happen on their doorstep."

"Of course that's the whole point of the museum," she added. "Lest we forget."

For more information about the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, go to ushmm.org.


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