On 4th April 2017 we had the opportunity to go on a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, in association with the Holocaust Educational Trust and Lessons from Auschwitz. After getting up very early to catch a flight at 7:00 am from Leeds Bradford to Krakow, Poland, we made our way to Auschwitz. First we stopped in the market square of the Polish town Oświȩcim, which had been the centre of Jewish life before the war. We visited this square to show us that the people that had lived there had normal lives with family, friends and businesses. Oświȩcim was occupied by the Germans in the Second World War, all the Jews and other minorities groups were forced out of the town and into camps.
After this we arrived at Auschwitz, this had previously been used mainly as a camp to hold Polish people who acted against the Nazis but has now been turned into a museum. Inside the many barracks which once held people there was all the valued items that has been removed from them. For example there was a whole room full of thousands of shoes and others full of hair, suitcases and pots and pans. There was also a room full of children's clothes and toys and images of the children kept in horrible conditions. We also had the chance to visit the book of names which is a book with the names of 4 out of the 6 million people who were murdered during the holocaust. The book took up a full room.
We then made our way to Birkenau which was a mix between work and a death camp. The sheer size of Birkenau was overwhelming from the infamous rail tracks to the rows and rows of destroyed barracks. There was also the rubble left over from the 4 gas chambers that had been blown up by the Nazis to try to cover up what they had been doing. This was a place where many people had perished. After we had walked round Birkenau, we all took part in a ceremony to remember the many innocent people who had be murdered during the holocaust.
The entire experience was one that neither of us will forget in a hurry. Not only did it raise many questions about our interpretations of the holocaust but it also made us realise that the lessons we can take from the experience have real present day implications. Although we can all accept how horrendous the atrocity was, it has not stopped similar events happening elsewhere in the world like the Rwandan genocide in 1994, just 6 years before we were both born. What we learnt was that the perpetrators of these horrible acts are normal human beings, products of the society they lived in. The fear of rebelling and speaking out is often what allows these things to happen, it is scary to act upon what you know is right when everyone else around you seems to believe differently, however this is essential to prevent incidents both big and small which can be seen in the modern day through less extreme incidences like bullying.
We gained an understanding of humanising events, viewing the 6 million dead because of the Nazi's 'Final Solution' as more than just a number. Each individual was part of a community and the loss of their lives meant that the world lost not only people but also culture, customs and ideas that never got the chance to flourish. Auschwitz-Birkenau was only one cog in a major machine and the reality is that most of those involved in the holocaust never went there; even though it is the most infamous element of what happened, it is in no way the only element. Despite it being hard to imagine the appalling things that happened there, it is crucial to know that they did happen and that we are incredibly fortunate to not know what true fear is. Not many of us can say that we have experienced true exhaustion, true humiliation, true hunger or true loss when we make comparisons with people that were interred in the death and labour camps spread throughout Europe and, as a result, we both gained a deeper appreciation for the life we have.
Report By Ella Walton and Emily Miller, Year 13
Pigtail by Tadeusz Różewicz, 1948
When all the women in the transport
Had their heads shaved
Four workmen with brooms made of birch twigs
And gathered up the hair
Behind clean glass
The stiff hair lies
Of those suffocated in gas chambers
There are pins and slide combs
In this hair
The hair is not shot through with light
Is not parted by the breeze
Is not touched by any hand
Or rain or lips
In huge chests
Clouds of dry hair
Of those suffocated
And a faded plait
A pigtail with a ribbon
Pulled at schools
By naughty boys