Lessons from Auschwitz

Mrs Stocks and four Year 12 students have been undertaking UCL’s Lessons from Auschwitz project. The project involves seminars with the university, a trip to Auschwitz, a Holocaust Survivor testimony and a Next Steps project.

On the 14th March we all travelled to Poland, arriving at Birmingham airport at 4am and flying out to Krakow. We spent the morning in Oświęcim where we first visited the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue where, after the Holcaust, no Jewish people remain despite there previously being a high Jewish population. We learnt about Jewish culture and this first visit gave us an insight into how Jewish people in the town once lived alongside the Catholic people of the town.

Shortly after this we travelled to Auschwitz I. The layout of Auschwitz I is similar to a street, but in each building there is an exhibition on the different experiences of the people inside the camp. It was here we saw piles of hair, shoes, glasses and other personal items that people believed they would be reunited with. There were also photographs of people in the camp, many of the people depicted did not yet know that they were in a concentration camp or being sent to their deaths. This was extremely hard to see and learn about but was eye-opening and it completely humanised the victims of the Holocaust in a way only possible through visiting Auschwitz itself.

We then travelled to Auschwitz Birkenau, which was where a large majority of the people sent to Auschwitz were murdered. Birkenau is laid out very differently from Auschwitz I as it is more spaced out and barren. We walked along the train tracks which the victims would have travelled across and saw the cattle carriages they would have been transported in. We were shown around the different barracks, of which many had been destroyed by Nazis to cover their crimes.

In both camps, we also learnt about Holocaust victims who weren’t Jewish, which was interesting, as they are often overlooked. Before we went home everyone gathered in a building at Birkenau to listen to poetry and prayers being read by others participating in the Lessons from Auschwitz programme and the Rabbi, who consolidated our knowledge and experiences gained from the day. Overall, we enjoyed the trip, it was very insightful and educational and gave us all an insight that we wouldn’t have been able to gain any other way. – Becky

The thing that stuck out to me about Auschwitz and Birkenau was just how surreal it is. You are so removed from it you don’t really feel much at that time and the atmosphere inside the camps is so lifeless. Once you get to the Exhibition with the clips of actual people just experiencing life before the war and the book of names then it just sinks in. When we were in Oświęcim we learnt about two friends – one Jewish, one Catholic  – and the Jewish friend was taken by the Nazis. This really struck home as my family had an extremely similar event happen with my aunt during Nazi occupation of France with her friend almost being taken away for being Jewish and with everyone having to convince the Nazis she wasn’t. – Louis

Thank you so much to Becky, Louis, Emily and Enya for their participation in the project, they were all a credit to the 6th form, THS and themselves and we’re so looking forward to seeing their Next Steps project.

Mrs Stocks.


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