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Band of ‘HISTORY BROTHERS' Leads World War Tours In Europe

John Lyons is a history teacher at Groton School. Brother David is a history teacher at St. Mark’s. Brother Joe is a history teacher at Deerfield. Coincidence? Not really. The three brothers are the sons of a private school history teaching legend at Andover

The three brothers have decided to turn their common vocation into a joint teaching experience for their students by leading world war history-based tours in Europe during the summer months. The brothers design the curriculum for the trip and then partnered with a professional tour company for the logistics.

The first brothers’ tour was in summer 2012 and roughly followed the events outlined in historian Stephen Ambrose’s 2001 book, Band of Brothers, which focused on the western European front from D-Day to VE Day.
Descent into Barbarism

This summer’s tour, which began in Paris and ended in Krakow, Poland, was entitled, “The Descent into Barbarism: WWI and WWII.” Unlike the 2012 trip, this summer’s trip focused on World War One and industrialized trench warfare, the changes wrought by the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of Nazism in Germany, and the Second World War in the east, including the Holocaust.

Each of these three private schools offers a number of educational summer adventures for their students, who are free to sign-up regardless of their personal financial circumstances. Students on this history trip had a number of suggested readings, video and poetry, including reading Elie Weisel’s memoir “Night,” which they completed before their visit to Auschwitz. They also watched the film Schindler’s List on the bus trip to Oscar Schindler’s factory, now a museum dedicated to the Krakow Uprising.

Beginning in Paris

On June 17 eight students from Groton School, 12 from St. Marks and three from Deerfield landed in Paris to begin their tour. The first day (without benefit of sleep) was spent exploring common Parisian tourist spots such as Notre Dame, the Louvre and, of course, the food, concluding with their first sleep in 24 hours. During their one and a half week span of the tour they met up along the way with other students from the three schools who were already traveling in Europe.

The next day the group traveled from Paris to the World War I Museum in Pays de Meaux, the Notre Dame cathedral in Reims and the historic WWI battlefield at Verdun, France where 300,000-700,000 lives were lost during 300 days of fighting in the First World War.

Day three was spent walking through what remains of the small French village of Fleuri, which was completely destroyed in the fighting and has never been rebuilt, as well as wandering through the artillery-pocked battleground at Verdun and the nearby graveyards of one of WWI’s most deadly battle sites, including the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified French and German combatants from the battle.

The day concluded with a visit to the WWII-era French fortress at Hackenberg on the Maginot Line, which was built by the French in the 1930s to prevent Germany from invading France through Alsace-Lorraine, though the German’s circumvented the Line in 1940. Ultimately, the Nazis would occupy the forts to defend Germany, which, in a bit of irony, were conquered by Allied forces later in the war. Much of the equipment, which was considered state-of-the-art in the early 1900s, is still operational.

Next to Nuremburg

The next leg of the trip had the group traveling from France to Nuremburg with an overnight stop in the French town of Metz. Their stop in Nuremburg was primarily to learn about the rise of the Nazi party in pre-World War II Germany. Much of the day was spent at the old Nazi party rally grounds and congress hall which has been repurposed as a WWII museum that houses a permanent exhibit on the rise and fall of the National Socialist party in Germany.

The next stop for the group was the largest concentration camp on German soil, Buchenwald, much of which has been preserved as it was when it was liberated by the Allies on April 4, 1945. It is estimated that a total of 56,545 people died as result of activities at Buchenwald, including those who died while being transported to the camp.

The next stop was Berlin where the group covered the entire range of history from WWI to the fall of the Berlin Wall at the end of the Cold War, including visits to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate. They even spotted a large memorial to this summer’s Orlando nightclub victims outside the US Embassy, adjacent to Brandenburg Gate.

And Finally to Warsaw

For the final leg of the tour the group traveled by train from Germany to Warsaw where they met up with a former St. Mark’s student who hosted them for a relaxing traditional Polish dinner at her residence. The next two days were spent exploring Warsaw with an emphasis on the treatment of the Polish Jews and the Warsaw Ghetto area of the city, which was ultimately liquidated by the Nazis.

The group moved on to Krakow, which gave them a chance to tour the city, including Oscar Schindler’s factory, made famous by the Stephen Spielberg film, Schindler’s List. Today it is a museum covering the Nazi occupation of Krakow during WWII. The next day Krakow served as home base for a side trip to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where more than a million people lost their lives simply for the sin of being Jewish, gay or members of various minority groups including gypsies.

The final day of the tour was spent decompressing a bit by hiking in the Tatras National Park and continuing to explore Krakow. During the trip the some Groton School students blogged about their personal impressions of what they were experiencing and posted their snapshots of various sights on the tour. The (joint) blog is still available on the Groton School web site: if you would like the inside view of the trip in the student’s own words.

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