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Andy Katz | Correspondent | June 29, 2018

Davidson basketball set to take a life-changing trip to visit Auschwitz

  Davidson head coach Bob McKillop will visited Auschwitz with his team this summer.

Never again.

Never again.

Head coach Bob McKillop is making sure he is doing his part to ensure his Davidson players fully grasp one of the most horrific events in human history: The Holocaust.

So, McKillop, a former European history teacher, is taking his basketball team on a trip of a lifetime that has nothing to do with basketball and all to do with being a better human being.

The Wildcats will leave Saturday for Poland. They will spend two days in Auschwitz/Birkenau, hearing first hand from Eva Mozes Kor, who along with her late sister Miriam, were two of the many Dr. Josef Mengele twins experimented on in Auschwitz by the angel of death and his staff in their distorted and horrific attempt to figure out how to increase the aryan race. Eva Mozes Kor, who along with her family was forced by the Nazis to go from their home in Romania to Poland in 1944 (she never saw her parents again after being separated from them upon arrival at Auschwitz), founded the Candles Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Ind.

Figures from the United States Holocaust Museum say an estimated 1.1 million of the 1.3 million deported to the three-camp Auschwitz complex of between 1940-45 were murdered. An estimated 960,000 Jews were murdered in the Auschwitz-Birkenau facility alone.

Eva Mozes Kor says in a video recount of her time in Auschwitz, “We cannot change what happened. That is the tragic part. But we can change how we relate to it.’’

“I think it’s a story that needs to be repeated over and over so generations can understand a need for human respect and dignity,’’ McKillop said on the latest podcast March Madness 365. “(The team) will become better human beings because of the experience and perhaps take on a roll of service and leadership.’’

To understand McKillop’s decision to make such a historic trip you must go back to his childhood.

McKillop, born in 1950 and a son of a New York police officer, grew up in Queens, N.Y., in an area with a strong Jewish population. It was normal to come into contact with survivors and/or people who had known people who had been affected by the Holocaust.

“I was aware of it as a young person,’’ said McKillop. He went onto to study European history at East Carolina and Hofstra and ultimately taught the subject at Long Island’s Holy Trinity Diocesan High School where he was the head boys basketball coach.

McKillop took a trip to Auschwitz with a Davidson alumni group three years ago and has been to the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

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“I thought I was aware of it, but you can never be aware of it by reading books or watching a movie,’’ said McKillop. “Seeing the barracks and the guard towers and the crematoriums. It was an eye-opening and emotionally draining experience.’’

The idea to take this trip with this team was hatched by 2002 Davidson alumnus Dr. Amanda Caleb, a former Wildcats field hockey player, and Stacey Gallin, the founder of the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Health and Ethics and the Holocaust. Caleb is a professor an Associate Professor of English at Misericordia University (Pa.) and the director of the Medical and Health Humanities department. The goal was not just an individual should experience Auschwitz, but a team after seeing the effect it had on former NBA all-star Ray Allen recently, who wrote about his experience for the Players Tribune.

McKillop said the players will be interviewed and video taped to share their thoughts in the hope that they can become “leaders in this process and carry the message forward.’’

Davidson, which won the A-10 tournament title last season by beating regular-season champ Rhode Island on Selection Sunday, could be picked to win the A-10 this season behind top sophomore Kellan Grady. The Wildcats were No. 36 in's spring Power 36.

McKillop said the players and their families didn’t hesitate when told this was the option for the first few days of July instead of heading home after being on campus for a month. He said taking trips like this is part of the fabric of Davidson College. 

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“This isn’t a luxury trip at all,’’ said McKillop. “This is two days at Auschwitz there and back. It will be draining physically and emotionally.’’

McKillop said he welcomed other coaches taking more life-changing trips with their team that have nothing to do with the sport, including Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh taking his team to see Normandy this spring.

“There is a need in the world for understanding human dignity and respect,’’ said McKillop. “That’s lost today and there is a lack of respect for human dignity. It’s not just across our country but in the world. We are giving our players insight into how devastating that process can be and how destructive it can be.’’

McKillop added that his role is much more than a coach, always has been and always will be, saying: “We are all coaches, coach father, coach spouse, coach teacher, coach business and coach journalist. The more we teach the more we affect lives.’’

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