In March, two Year 12 and four Year 13 students participated in the Lessons from the Auschwitz Programme where they attended two seminars on the Holocaust and visited the concentration camp in a 24 hour round trip. Ollie, Molly, Finn, Thomas, Billy and Kieran have written a small piece to talk about their experience:
‘Firstly we attended a seminar and did some pre-reading around the Holocaust. We learnt what pre-war Jewish life was like and how a whole culture was destroyed. Most importantly, we focussed on the victims as people, not just another number or death statistic. We were honoured to be able to hear the experiences of a holocaust survivor, Eva Clarke, who told us about the personal effects of discrimination and prejudice against her race; she was born in Mauthausen concentration camp weighing only 3lbs. Eva’s mother survived the horrors of multiple ghettos and two concentration camps, but sadly, the rest of her family perished. The programme made clear that, whilst the majority of victims at Auschwitz were Jewish, the holocaust also included minority cultures, gender and race, including homosexuals, political opponents and Romani people.
Once we had completed our first seminar, we visited Poland. We started by visiting the site of the Great Synagogue in Oświęcim which was the hub of the Jewish quarter; it has now been replaced with a memorial. We then made our way to the camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau). We did not expect the camps to be so big; when in Birkenau, you cannot see from one side to the other, even when standing in the watchtower. We saw lots of personal items that had been collected between 1941 and 1945 including shoes, hair, suitcases and children’s toys – it was very moving. We were also allowed in one of the only gas chambers still standing, which was emotional. We spent nearly 6 hours looking around both camps to see how the ‘Final Solution’ was implemented.
Upon our return to the UK, we then participated in a final seminar to reflect upon the experience. Our takeaway message is that the Holocaust was, and still is, real. Unfortunately, genocides, like the one seen in Europe in World War Two, are still happening and will continue to happen if we remain bystanders. Bystanders were just as involved in the death of over 1 million Jews at Auschwitz as the actual perpetrators themselves.
The Holocaust Educational Trust’s theme this year was ‘Ordinary People’. We are all ordinary people and, together, we can make a difference and stand up for those that are suffering.’
The Lessons from the Auschwitz Programme is run every year by the Sixth Form. The new intake for next year’s programme will start in January 2024.