Sixth Form Students Visit Auschwitz
The visit was organised by the Holocaust Education Trust which works with schools and communities in the UK to educate about the contemporary relevance of the event.
Shona describes in her own words the experience:
On arriving in Krakow, we were taken to the area of Auschwitz and to the town of Oswiecim in which the Concentration Camp is situated.
We were told that, in this town before the war, sixty percent of the population were Jewish and that Christian Churches and Synagogues (the Jewish Church) would stand side by side with both religions living in harmony in this little Polish town. However on November 9th 1938 on ‘The night of Broken Glass,’ or ‘Kristallnacht,’ all the Synagogues in Oswiecim were destroyed by the Nazis.
A Jewish Rabbi who accompanied our group on the trip has restored a small Synagogue in the town in order to educate people who visit with the Holocaust Education Trust about the Jewish religion and what happened. It gave us a sense of the void that is missing from Oswiecim because there are no Jewish people living in the town anymore. No Jews are alive or left in Oswiecim to worship in that Synagogue.
We then visited Auschwitz One, where we were lead round by a Polish-Jewish tour guide. It was strange to be walking in the same footsteps as the workers and prisoners who were contained, forced to work, and tortured there. We also saw corridors and corridors of the Prisoner’s shoes, suitcases and even combs and toothbrushes. And even in one room, we saw piles and piles of human hair, left from when the Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals and Political opposition of the Nazis were shaved and chosen to live and work, or chosen to die. We were also taken into a crematorium where the bodies of thousands of Jewish and other groups were cremated.
We then left for Auschwitz Two or Birkenau, which was a much larger concentration camp specifically for Jews. We were able to climb to the top of the guard tower to view the whole of the camp from above. Any photo I took would never portray how vast the space was, row upon row of huts and barracks in which thousands of Jews would be squashed into just one. Six people would share a bed smaller than a single and it would be the norm for prisoners to wake up next to someone who had died.
We were taken to the remains of one of the many gas chambers in Birkenau, in which the Jews were tricked into thinking they were going to get a shower. They were stripped naked, shaved and taken into the chamber where hundreds were gassed at a time taking only 30- 40 minutes to suffocate them. Over six million Jews were killed the Holocaust, and one and a half million of them were killed in Birkenau alone.
We ended the day with a ceremony where we paused for reflection and we also listened to the Rabbi sing to us, a prayer in Hebrew: El Molei Rachamim – For Martyres of the Holocaust.
We lit candles and left them along the railway, on which cattle trains full of thousands of Jewish families would enter the camp.
I am glad I got the opportunity to go, because I don’t think anyone can truly understand what it is like until they visit it personally. The visit raises a lot of moral questions and sends your mind spiralling into deep trains of thought about humanity, and what we are capable of.