Religious Studies Department ‘Ambassadors to Auschwitz’ – Reflection

Our MACS ‘Ambassadors to Auschwitz’ have commented on their harrowing educational visit with the Holocaust Educational Trust in February. Danielle Evans commented:

 

 (Y13 Pupils - Connor Hughes and Danielle Evans at the entrance to Auschwitz)

“I have been given the amazing opportunity of traveling out to Poland to visit Auschwitz. It was a heart hitting but an eye opening journey. I have enjoyed every moment of the trip including the orientation before the trip. Hearing a survivor’s story give me visions of what to expect on the trip. During the orientation we looked at different topics surrounding the main subject, the Holocaust. This whole experience has inspired me to go and continue to teach others about the Holocaust. One of the topics that inspired me was about ‘humanising everyone’ that was involved with the Holocaust. Keeping this in mind during the trip, made it harder for me to look at the number of people that suffered and the individual images of those who died in the camps.

Going around the camp and being fed information I was shocked that I did not cry, like I expected myself to. Instead, I felt sick. We were shown a cabinet of hair that was taken from the bodies before and after being gassed. I couldn’t look for long because I felt sick. I felt sick at the thought that someone, let alone thousands of people could do this to anyone! Whilst on the trip, we toured around the camp and visited one of the gas chambers. When I came out I noticed a small crowd of men holding a flag with the Star of David on it, also praying and singing in Hebrew outside the chamber. Many were crying and could barely talk when saying their prayers. Until this point I was able to hold my emotions tight. Seeing the small crowd of Jewish men broke me, and all I could offer was a hug of comfort and support. The cold and the distance of walking took my mind off my emotions during the second camp. However, I was still not in a happy state of mind. I felt terribly guilty for even thinking that I was too cold, or that my feet were aching, or even that I was tired. The thought of thousands  of people being made to wear the thinnest of clothes, no shoes, had no food and no break from being made to do hard labour, made me feel incredibly sick and angry. I got even angrier after being told that the Nazis tried to cover up the mass murder that they undertook by attempting to blow up the camps. What made me angrier again, was being told that many Nazi officers ran away and didn’t get caught, because of their use of claiming to be a prisoner of the camps. Anger doesn’t suffice how I was feeling!

Being home the next few days was hard. I had several people ask ‘How was it?’ or ‘Tell me what you learnt’. The only answer I could give was, ‘I can’t’. It was too hard for me to talk about what I saw and what I learnt. Even to this day I am struggling to talk about how I felt and what I saw. It was so devastating and disgusting what happened, that I am still processing what I saw and thought today.”

 


  (Exploring Auschwitz and the Memorial Plaque)

 

The pupils were accompanied by Head of Sixth-Form, Mrs Richards who commentated;

“The overriding feeling that will stay with me from Birkenau is the cold. It was so cold, and it was not mid-winter, not their coldest time by far. We had on many layers, coats, lots of insulation, thick socks, warm boots, hats, gloves, and we were freezing to the point that we couldn’t feel many parts of our bodies. And all the photos show the prisoners in thin striped pyjamas, mostly without anything on their feet. The huts were no thicker or more robust than my garden shed. How did they survive more than one night?

The gas chambers and crematoria here are in ruins, destroyed by the Nazis in an attempt to cover up what happened, but the train tracks are still there, where people arrived in families and were put into different lines. The able men and women without children were sent to the fit for labour queue, the elderly, infirm, children and their mothers were sent to the other queue believing they were being taken to be cleaned and deloused, when in fact they were immediately gassed and cremated, their ashes spread on farmland, their unwitting relatives who were still alive not knowing their fate, the families split forever.

We attended a memorial service at the end of the day, we listened to Rabbi Marcus talk, and listened to readings and prayers. We then laid candles on the same train tracks. I’m glad we had this opportunity.

When we came home, what we’d seen was difficult to comprehend. I wanted to hold my children. 

 


(Connor and Danielle laying memorial candles on the train tracks to Auschwitz)
 

Two weeks later we attended the follow up seminar. We reflected on our experiences but this was difficult for many. What was easier was to consider how we could take our newfound knowledge back to our school, and to consider how this information is relevant today. Our next step is to do just this, and we are now considering how to do this. I found this experience very upsetting and thought provoking, I knew I would to some extent, but what I did not foresee is how much I would want to convey the wrongness of this whole event to others and how passionately I would feel about wanting to use what I have learned to impress upon others that this simply must not ever be allowed to happen to anyone ever again. Ever.”