Sixth formers visit Poland for 'Lessons from Auschwitz' project

Sixth formers visit Poland for 'Lessons from Auschwitz' project

We are delighted that two Sixth Form students, Charlotte and Alex (both Year 12), have been selected to take part in the annual 'Lessons from Auschwitz Project' organised by the Holocaust Education Trust.

They recently attended a half-day seminar in Manchester where they examined pre-war Jewish life, listened to a Holocaust survivor share their testimony and discussed the unique issues of preparing for a Holocaust-related site.

The next stage saw a one-day visit to Poland on Wednesday 7th November. Below is an account of the trip, written by Charlotte.

'On Wednesday 7th November we went on the day visit to Poland. It was an early start with having to be at the airport at 4:30am for a 6:30am departure. We came across a delay when we were about to depart from Manchester which meant that our visit would be cut short on a tight schedule. When we arrived we got into our groups and got on our coaches to travel to Auschwitz I. Before this there was meant to be a visit to the town of Oświęcim but sadly due to our delay this was cut from the day. However, our group educator did tell us about the pre-war life for the town as we drove through it.

We arrived in Auschwitz I where we met our Polish guide for the day who would take us around both Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz I has been made into a museum which contains the buildings which the prisoners stayed in and some of their belongings. It was a very emotional visit as we were able to see the hair, suitcases, glasses, clothes and pottery which the Jews and prisoners had brought to the concentration camps thinking that they would be able to arrive home again. We were even able to go inside one of the smaller gas chambers which exist at Auschwitz I. Our tour guide reminded us many times that the people that would arrive at this camp would only live for a few months and many would be sent to Auschwitz Birkenau which was where the largest mass murder of Jews took place.

Our next stop was to Auschwitz Birkenau. Unlike Auschwitz I, Auschwitz Birkenau has not been made into a museum so that it portrays the lesson of absence. It showed us how the Jews who were sent here had nothing, not even their names. We saw the cattle carriage where 80-100 Jews would be packed in for days at a time with no food to travel to the concentration camps. We saw the wooden huts where the innocent slept and went to the toilet. This was a real eye opener to see how these people who had done nothing wrong were forced to live. The brick huts were where the children stayed. This made it hit home as children the same age as we are were living and dying in these horrendous conditions. At Auschwitz Birkenau the gas chambers were destroyed by the Nazis in the few days before the camp was liberated as they didn’t want anyone to know what mass mutiny had gone on in these death camps.

The day ended with a sermon by a Rabbi from the London Synagogue who led us in a prayer in Hebrew to remember the millions of people who had died in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau. We also lit candles in remembrance.

During our experience we were constantly asked one question and that question was: Who do we blame for the Holocaust? Is it Hitler or is it someone else? The answer that many of us came up with was neither. It is a collective responsibility of all the people who were involved. If the train driver, guide scheduler, ticket printer, etc. had said no then maybe this horrific event wouldn’t have happened.

We are looking forward to getting across the lesson we have learnt over the last few weeks to the Boys' and Girls' Schools in the coming months.'

Charlotte and Alex will attend a follow-up seminar in order to reflect on the visit, explore the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust and devise practical ideas for their Next Steps.

This will entail them becoming 'Ambassadors for the Lessons from Auschwitz Project' by completing a project of their choosing which will share the lessons they have learned with the rest of the school community.