SAN ANTONIO – It was the trip of a lifetime and with it comes great responsibility.
Eleven San Antonio area students were chosen to participate in a Holocaust education program that ended with a trip through sites in Europe. The students completed the program by creating projects that were displayed Sunday at San Antonio’s Holocaust museum.
Alamo Heights High School senior Tristan Bourgoin had a special connection to the trip.
A family secret revealed years ago changed Bourgoin's life.
"My mom's father was Jewish but she was raised Catholic. My mother found out at her father's funeral because he kept it hidden from the family until he died," Bourgoin said.
It's a common story for families who had been persecuted for being Jewish.
The revelation left Bourgoin curious, which is why the 17-year-old jumped at the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust and his heritage.
"I've heard of people who deny that this has happened, and it just makes me mad. It's very important (that) people learn about this. It's hard to talk about, but then again, you really should talk about it. To be aware is everything. You don't want to repeat history," he said.
After 55 hours of studying, the 11 students traveled to Germany and Poland.
Their first stop was Berlin, Germany.
"What really stood out to me was the Holocaust memorial there. There are a bunch of big blocks. It's a very interesting piece of artwork and it really spoke to me. You're supposed to interpret it the way you want to. I took from it the illusion of order or controlled chaos because I feel like that's what the Nazis were trying to do," Bourgoin said.
Next, they headed to Warsaw, Poland.
"This was at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw," Bourgoin said pointing to pictures he took while there. "On each side of me, (a guide) said there were about 40,000 people buried with unmarked mass graves. That's a lot to handle."
The last stop was Krakow, Poland, and a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
"There was a room with a wall, glass-encased, full of shoes, children's shoes. There's other rooms full of suitcases, hairbrushes, pots and pans. It's haunting. It's sad. That really really affected me," Bourgoin said.
The program's final piece was a chance for the students to create a board filled with their favorite and most powerful experiences from the trip. Those projects were displayed publicly Sunday afternoon at the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio on the second floor of the Jewish Community Center on NW Military Highway.
"I will never forget this trip. It really did change my life," Bourgoin said.
He feels the weight, the importance, of keeping Holocaust stories alive. He said that responsibility belongs to people of every race and religion.
"The death of millions of people isn't something to just be, like, 'Oh, I'm not of that race or heritage. I shouldn't have to learn about it,'" he said.
It may be his heritage, but it's everyone's history.