As part of the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust two of our sixth formers are regularly chosen to travel to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz and to attend conferences in Manchester.
Here we spoke to Georgina and Bethan, both in Year 13 who had the honour of visiting this year. Both girls were incredibly moved by what they saw and heard.
How did the visit come about?
Georgina: "Beth and myself applied to the trip by writing an essay about why we would like to attend and how the holocaust is still relevant in today's society. These letters were submitted to Mrs Tunnicliffe and Mrs Clark who chose from the applications.
Bethan: “A week before we went we attended an orientation where we heard survivor Steven Frank speak, and learnt about pre-war Jewish life in Europe. Then a week after the visit I attended a follow up lecture, where we reflected on the visit and discussed the contemporary relevance of the lessons of the Holocaust.”
Why were you keen to go?
Georgina: "I was particularly interested in going because of the rise in right wing governments in Europe in the recent years. I thought it would be important to visit a place where the consequences of hate and nationalism could be seen so I could educate others and try to prevent the recurrence of history.”
Bethan: “I would like to read history and politics in university, visiting Auschwitz is of great interest and relevance to me. The Holocaust was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and central to both areas of study, especially in the current political climate.
“Reading and study will provide me with a factual knowledge of the Holocaust, but I thought that I would be able to achieve a deeper understanding by seeing the physical remains of the Shoah. It is also as important to understand the individual human consequences of this terrible event as it is to be able to analyse it on an academic level.”
What did you see?
Georgina: "We travelled to Poland and back in a day. We first visited the town of Auschwitz, just outside the concentration camp. I was struck by how peaceful and pretty it was. We then attended Auschwitz 1 and later Birkenau concentration camps, experiencing the barracks the victims were kept in and the terrible gas chambers. At Birkenau we took part in a memorial service led by the Rabbi that came on the trip with us. At the end we put candles on the train tracks at the camp in memory of the people that lost their lives.
Bethan: “At first we visited the square in Oswiecim. It was notable that there was no evidence that there was a large Jewish community living there before the war. We saw the infamous “Arbeit macht frei”. The red brick barracks were almost pretty. It was difficult to comprehend that such brutality and suffering happened there only decades ago. We visited rooms, which contained the belonging of the victims. What really affected and upset me was the wall of cases of those who had perished; one had the name and age of a boy just aged 5.
How did the experience make you feel?
Georgina: “The experience was a very moving one. When I was at the camp it was hard to comprehend the scale of the camps as in particular, Birkenau was so large and systematic. It was only once I came home that the true emotional extent of the trip was felt, leading to sense of sadness as well as anger over how this could have been allowed to happen.
Bethan: “When you are at the camp it is hard to process that where you are standing thousands of people died. I was surprised, at first I felt numb. I have seen Auschwitz in textbooks and documentaries, but being there is completely different. It emphasized to me how many were murdered. It was overwhelming how many barracks were in Auschwitz 2. One thing I had taken away from this experience is the responsibility that every single person had in the mechanics of the Holocaust. From the man who let the trains into the camp to the man who poured the Zyklon B gas into the chambers, to Hitler himself, each and every person who took part or was a bystander is responsible for the atrocities that took place.”
Why are trips like this important?
Georgina: "I think it is important to educate the most amount of people about the Holocaust to primarily make sure that it is not repeated. It is important to understand that everyone has responsibility for persecution whether they take part or are bystanders and this teaches us an important lesson in everyday lives to stop bullying from happening, as it must be remembered that the Holocaust was not born over night, but over many years with an increase in unquestioned and unchallenged hate."
Bethan: “The Holocaust is relevant to modern politics. The current rise of nationalistic xenophobic far-right politics and the resurgence in anti-Semitism shows not everyone has learnt the lessons from the Holocaust. Auschwitz is a concrete reminder of the perverted ideology that created the Shoah. Auschwitz shows how important it is to be politically engaged and question politicians, especially if they endorse and promote intolerance. You cannot really understand modern politics without understanding the Holocaust or the Nazi occupation of Europe.
“Outside of the Western World, the Holocaust also has important parallels with genocides in Africa and Asia and the issues in the Middle East. We need to ensure that future generations do not forget about what happened in Auschwitz to try to prevent intolerance and hatred.”