Friday, 20 March 2015

Auschwitz visit

Year 12 students Bethany and Caitlin recently took part in a trip to Auschwitz organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.  Below is their report of their trip, and the interesting things they learnt:

Trip To Auschwitz-Birkenau

At three-thirty a.m. of the 12th of March 2015, we made our way to the airport to go to Poland for our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The flight went relatively peacefully, considering there was over two hundred seventeen and eighteen year olds on the flight, and once we’d made our way off of the plane and onto the buses, we went to the town of Oświęcim.

The town, were told by informed by the Rabbi accompanying us, had a Jewish population of 8,000 out of the 12,000 inhabitants before the war. The Great Synagogue had stood directly next to the Catholic Church in the town, the two religions getting on in complete harmony. Now there is nothing but mud and a few trees where the Great Synagogue once stood, the land marked with nothing special to show what once stood there. And as for the Jewish population: the last Jewish person in the town died in 2001, after squatting behind the last synagogue - little more than a small room in a small museum - and opening the doors of that synagogue every day for reasons he never told anyone.

After we left the museum, we made the short journey to Auschwitz I. For a camp where hundreds of people died of hunger, cold or disease, it was rather unassuming: red-brick buildings arranged in straight lines with wide pathways between the buildings. But then you go into those red-brick buildings, and you see what happened to the inhabitants, including the room filled with prosthetics, the room with two tonnes of human hair: hair shaved off of the heads of dead victims for the Nazis to use to make blankets, empty tins of cyanide crystals that they used to suffocate and poison thousands - seven or eight tins per 1,500 people, and there were easily over a hundred tins - and a room full of the shoes of the dead. Shoes of women, men and children, all killed by the Nazi party.

But the saddest thing, at least for me, was the suitcases. The suitcases that had people’s names and addresses on…including the suitcase of a five year old or younger girl, born in 1939 and put to death in Auschwitz I. More than that, her case labelled her an orphan. That suitcase, the suitcase of an orphaned Jewish little girl, was arguably the saddest thing that I saw during my trip.

Leaving the camp, we got back onto the coach to travel to Auschwitz II: Birkenau, so named for the birch trees you can still see lining the edge of the camp. We had the opportunity to look out from the top of the guard tower over the camp. In the distance we could see other towns, but what dominated our view were dozens upon dozens of red-brick chimneys that used to be part of the sheds the Nazis packed people into. Many, we learnt to our shock, were not Jews. 75-80% of Jewish people were sent to the crematoriums upon arrival, crematoriums destroyed by the Nazis in an effort to hide evidence of their crimes. We saw the rubble and remains of where so many had died, and like the camp itself:  the scale of it was really shocking. Although we had seen the camp from the guard tower, and seen civilisation outside it, when we were on the ground the camp was all you could see. Wooden buildings and red-brick chimneys stretched as far as the eye could see.

Our guide summed up Auschwitz-Birkenau in a more eloquent way than we could:

Auschwitz-Birkenau was like its own planet. But we can never forget that this ‘planet’ was in the centre of Europe, and we can never forget what happened here.