Brothers Jackson Politis (Elon, 2025), Ryan Ward (Elon, 2025), Michael Wolff (Elon, 2024) and Jesse Riback (Elon, 2025)

When four Brothers of the Epsilon Phi chapter of AEPi at Elon University registered last spring for a class called “Holocaust Journey” they never imagined the significance their three-week tour of Eastern Europe and concentration camps in 2024 would hold. But, for Brothers Jackson Politis (Elon, 2025), Ryan Ward (Elon, 2025), Michael Wolff (Elon, 2024) and Jesse Riback (Elon, 2025), the trip moved them to become stronger advocates for the Jewish community, Israel and AEPi.

During the fall semester of 2023, the class met weekly and reviewed the history of World War II and the Holocaust. “A lot of the kids in the class didn’t have a lot of Holocaust education. I’m from New Jersey and we discussed this in school but someone from another state may not have. That was interesting to talk about with our peers,” said Brother Ward.

Perhaps most eye-opening to the four Brothers was that some in the class were not even aware of the October 7 terror attacks in Israel. “This was a few days after October 7 and there were some individuals in the class who didn’t know what happened. That shows how important this kind of education is. They weren’t ignoring it. They just were blissfully unaware,” said Brother Politis.

“Our chapter did a ‘Walk to Remember’ shortly after October 7 and we had very good attendance from the whole community. It was nice to see,” said Brother Riback. Brother Ward, the chapter president, proudly added, “We also held a 48-hour Rock-A-Thon after October 7 and raised more than $11,000 from the campus community to give to Magen David Adam to support people in Israel. That kind of response was great to see.”

On January 4, the class trip left JFK airport to head to Europe and visit five concentration camps and travel through Germany, the Czeck Republic, and Poland. Everyone on the trip was moved by the sights and experiences.

“I realized when I was in Schindler’s factory that the stories of reliance and strength haven’t been represented as much as I would want them to be. So much of what we learned and saw was so heavy, gruesome, and difficult, that those lighter moments – those moments of hope – could get buried,” said Politis.

“I have family in Israel. A cousin of mine gave birth a few days before October 7. For me, it was so important to go on this trip because of that. I’m of Polish heritage and had never been to Poland before. To see what happened to Polish Jews was very important to me at this time…more important than ever before,” said Wolff.

The Brothers also found that the trip brought them closer to their Judaism and their fraternity. “We were in Auschwitz and Michael suggested that we say kaddish together. That brought chills. Definitely brought me closer to being Jews,” said Riback. “At the end of kaddish, I always would say, ‘May their memory be a blessing.’ At Auschwitz, I said, ‘May their memory be a blessing and a lesson,” said Politis.

“Being there with my Brothers made the trip more special,” said Brother Riback. “I remember once we were in a museum and it was very heavy and Michael was having a very strong reaction to all of this and Ryan went out of his was and walked over to him and gave him a big brotherly hug. They were both letting out their emotions – and Ryan is definitely not a hugger! Just to see Brothers pick each other up like that in the most intense of places really made me happy to join AEPi.”

Back on campus this semester, the Brothers have a new mission: to do everything they can to tell the stories they heard and saw. “It is now our responsibility to tell people about what we learned and saw,” said Ward.

Brother Politis concluded: “This is my time now – our time now. It isn’t the 1940s anymore. Our generation needs to step up to make sure the world remembers so that it never happens again. We were all there to bear witness but that does no good without spreading the word. It does no good if you keep it to yourself.”