Visit to Auschwitz

Two of our Y13 students recently visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. Eve W reports on their visit:

On the 12 of November, we had the opportunity to travel to Poland in order to visit Auschwitz as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz programme. Prior to our visit, we attended a seminar in Manchester, where we discussed Jewish life prior to the Holocaust, and had the privilege to listen to the testimony of a Holocaust survivor. Hearing her words prompted us to begin to consider the individual lives that were affected by the Holocaust, rather than the just the statistics of it. This was a concept that the organisation were keen we kept in mind during our visit to Poland.

We arrived at the airport at 4:30 am, and met with the Lessons From Auschwitz
coordinators before flying to Krakow. We firstly visited the town of Oświęcim, which during the war was Germanised to ‘Auschwitz’, for the purpose of furthering our knowledge of pre war Jewish life. We visited a museum that contained documents and artefacts relating to Jewish culture and heritage, and saw the town’s only Synagogue to survive the war. The huge extent to which the town had been changed was apparent, as we learnt that Jewish people once referred to Oświęcim as Oshpitzin, meaning ‘guests’ in Yiddish; this had once been a place that welcomed persecuted Jews. From here we travelled to Auschwitz I. As soon as we arrived, the atmosphere of our group changed. Seeing the infamous ‘Arbeit macht frei’ on the entrance after seeing pictures of it so many times was surreal. Our guide led us into various blocks, including one that was named ‘material proof of crimes’, containing thousands of suitcases, shoes, pairs of glasses, brushes. One of the most harrowing sights was a room full of human hair, which was sold by the Nazis and used to make products. One of the last things we saw here was the Book of Names, which listed the 4.2 million known people who died in the Holocaust (1.3 million deaths are still unidentified). This exhibit was especially distinctive, as it represented both the huge scale of the Holocaust whilst also considering individual lives that were affected.

After seeing Auschwitz I, we then travelled to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This was a very different experience, one reason being that this camp was nine times larger than Auschwitz I. In addition, while Auschwitz I held exhibits and had the feel of a museum in parts, Auschwitz II gave more of an insight into the living conditions of the camp, and had largely been unchanged. We walked through the camp along the train track that runs through its middle, before reaching the building in which the prisoners were given their uniforms and had their heads shaved. Here, the Rabbi who had accompanied us on the trip delivered an amazingly heartfelt speech, highlighting the issues of antisemitism in our society. We then lit candles at the memorial at the end of the train track, and walked back to the entrance. Even at the end of the kilometre long walk, the amount of candles we had lit meant that they still stood out clearly in the darkness. We cannot describe the day sufficiently with words, and so we strongly urge anyone in the years below to take this opportunity when it arises.

We would like to extend our thanks to the LFA team and the Holocaust Educational Trust for providing such an experience to young people.