College of Education Dean Joins Holocaust Mission
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: May 14, 2019
On a recent Sunday morning during a trip through Poland, Marvin Lynn thought he was approaching a monument to those slain in the Holocaust. But as the Portland State University College of Education (COE) dean drew closer, he soon realized what he was seeing.

It was a grave, a massive mound of ashes, the remains of about 150,000 people who were executed in the Majdanek extermination camp near Lublin, Poland. Lynn stood a foot and a half away from the ghosts of genocide. That moment chilled him as he contemplated the horrors of the Holocaust.

“The enormity of it, how cruel it was, how evil it truly was — that’s what I learned from the experience, and how important it was to understand how the Holocaust came about,” Lynn said.

From April 29 to May 3, Lynn participated in the Holocaust Mission for Deans of the Schools of Education and Law at Rutgers University-New Brunswick that provides deans across the country with an opportunity to learn about the Holocaust and tour gravesites, historical monuments, and former concentration camps in Eastern Europe.

For the event, the Rutgers Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience partnered with the International March of the Living (IML), a public charity named for its annual educational procession in Poland to commemorate the Holocaust. The Holocaust, which took place from 1933 to 1945, refers to Hitler’s systematic annihilation of 6 million European Jews.

A picture of a massive pile of luggage carried by Jews who were slain in World War II

The Holocaust Mission started in New Brunswick with lectures on Holocaust studies and the history of Jewish persecution. In his speech, Peter Hayes, author of Why?: Explaining the Holocaust, told the deans that persecution is often linked with the enrichment of the oppressor: in the Holocaust, stealing the Jews’ material goods; in colonization, wresting away the land on which Native Americans lived; and in slavery, robbing African-Americans of their freedom in order to exploit their labor.

Inspired by FBI statistics recording an uptick in hate crimes this year, the Rutgers-IML Holocaust Mission organizers for the first time invited deans of education and law who were known for their diversity, equity, and inclusion work at 30 universities.Twelve deans, including Lynn, accepted the invitation to mark a grim, but crucial era in history.

This was the type of shirt that prisoners in concentration camps wore

“I think we have the opportunity as educational leaders to teach people about the history of oppression, so we don’t repeat it,” Lynn said, “and we need to make sure that teachers understand it and are able to use the proper tools.”

The Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience at Rutgers, which protects vulnerable populations through raising awareness about their experiences and struggles, fully funded the deans’ travels, accommodations and meals.

“This is a seminal program designed to shed light upon oppression, and I and the College of Education are deeply thankful for their work and support through the Holocaust Mission,” Lynn said. I look forward to continuing to work with the other education and law deans on collaborative projects that examine the anatomy of hate.”

After the speeches, the deans traveled to Poland to view the sites of remembrance and the heart-wrenching signs of the death and of the devastation the Nazis wrought during the Holocaust. Lynn walked the IML route, which stretches about 2 miles between the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. Attendees each year include Holocaust survivors as well as the youths and adults who descendents of survivors or simply wish to honor them.
For Holocaust Mission participants, the IML included a personal narrative from 90-year-old Irving Roth, who survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. Lynn was particularly moved by Roth’s testimony as it was the first time Lynn recalls hearing from a Holocaust survivor.

An image of an incinerator used to dispose of bodies in World War II“It was riveting,” Lynn said. “It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had. As we were traveling to Auschwitz, he was recounting his entire experience: how he got to Auschwitz and what happened while he was there.”

Moments of sadness were brightened with moments of hope, such as visiting Schindler’s Factory. Oskar Schindler, a former Nazi Party member and German industrialist, saved 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. His actions were depicted in the film Schindler’s List.

Now, Lynn plans to take all he has learned about the Holocaust and incorporate it into the COE’s efforts to train and educate teachers and administrators.

“I think we have the opportunity as educational leaders to teach people about the history of oppression, so we don’t repeat it,” Lynn said, “and we need to make sure that teachers understand it and are able to use the proper tools.”

For story ideas for the College of Education, contact Jillian Daley at

Photos, from top to bottom: Holocaust Mission for Deans of the Schools of Education and Law is a new event held in the spring for deans who wished to learn more about the Holocaust. PSU COE Dean Marvin Lynn was one of the participants, and he can be seen at the top of the stairs.

During the Holocaust, the Jewish people were forced to leave their homes and thought that they might be relocated. Many brought luggage, never knowing they were being taken to concentration camps where they would be slain or put into forced labor.

Prisoners in concentration camps were forced to wear shirts such as this one. These prisoners were referred to by the numbers on their shirts, no longer their own names.

The bodies of prisoners of concentration camps were incinerated in ovens like this, and such relics stand now as a reminder to prevent a repetition of terrible atrocities.

The former death camp at Majdanek in Poland now stands as a monument to the past. Where once the ashes of 150,000 people were left in an unmarked grave, they now rest in a large grave marker for all to pay their respects on visits.