MAC RELIGIOUS STUDIES DEPARTMENT – AMBASSADORS TO AUSCHWITZ 2018 - ‘REFLECTIONS
Our MACS ‘Ambassadors to Auschwitz’ have commented on their educational visit with the Holocaust Educational Trust in February. With the ambassadors Conor and Ryan commenting:
(Y13 Pupils - Conor Acteson & Ryan Hill)
“We have been given the amazing opportunity of travelling out to Poland to visit Oświęcim, Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenhau. It was a hard-hitting but an eye-opening journey. We have learned and grown as people from every part of the trip including the orientation before the trip. We were able to hear the testimony of Eva Clark, a woman who was born in a labour camp and only narrowly survived due to the actions of her mother. Being able to hear a survivor’s story was a very informative and important experience as it not only gave us a few faces and names to apply to what we would see in Auschwitz, it also allowed us to hear a Holocaust survivor’s words in person, which is becoming a rare opportunity as time progresses and many of the survivors are either too unwell to make a journey to somewhere where they can speak or, as many have, simply passed away due to their old age. During the orientation we looked at different topics surrounding the main subject, humanising both the victims and instigators of the Holocaust. This whole experience has inspired us to go and continue to teach others about the Holocaust and to not allow it to be forgotten as if it is forgotten, so will the lessons that we must learn from it. Keeping this in mind during the trip, changed the way we viewed the people we learned about on both sides of the Holocaust and added a human element to the number of people who were murdered.
The visit to Oświęcim seemed out of place at first as we visited a seemingly normal patch of trees with nothing that indicated that this was a site of Nazi destruction. However, we were given a series of pictures that illustrated the town nearly 100 years ago, where we discovered that where we were standing in the place of the Great Synagogue of Oświęcim, where 53% of the population living at Oświęcim at the time used it as the main synagogue of the town. After the war, the population of Jewish people living in Oświęcim was reduced to just a fragment of its former self, with only a couple of survivors remaining. Unfortunately, the last remaining member of the old Jewish community of Oświęcim died in 2000, with little to no Jewish people left in the town.
Auschwitz 1 has been converted into a museum which is used to display many pictures and items of significance to the Holocaust. Going around the first camp and being fed information we were shocked that neither of us had a strong emotional reaction like we had expected. Instead, we both felt a strange, eerie, sickly feeling which is difficult to put into words. We were shown a glass cabinet full of hair that was taken from the people before they were killed. It was difficult to look at for long because the sheer amount of hair and attempting to visualise the number of people that the hair must’ve belonged to was unimaginable. Whilst on the trip, we toured around the camp and visited one of the gas chambers. Until this point, we were able to hold ourselves together, but seeing the place which, for many was the last room they’d see was too much to just witness. Once we left we spoke to each other briefly about the absolutely abhorrent nature of how the Nazi’s murdered people and how it was difficult to imagine that so many people were able to distance themselves from the suffering that they caused. The cold and the distance we walked gave us time to collect our thoughts when we reached the second camp, Auschwitz Birkenau. However, you felt terribly guilty for even thinking that you were too cold, or that your feet ached, or that you were tired. The thought of thousands of people being made to wear the thinnest of clothes, no shoes, with little food or rest from hard labour, put our own problems into perspective and how we can take the freedom and privileged lives that we have for granted. It was difficult to remain calm and collected while you walked along the tracks leading through the center of the second camp as you can slowly realise that the many piles of rubble on both the left and right sides of the tracks were once gas chambers and places where the victims of the Holocaust were forced to stay. The Nazi’s attempted to hide the atrocities they had committed while the allied forces made their way towards Auschwitz, leading there to be little left of many of the gas chambers in Birkenau.
Once we arrived home, the next few days were strange. We both had several people ask us ‘How was it?’ or ‘Did you enjoy yourselves?’. Although their questions were with good intentions, it was interesting to see that many people didn’t make the connection that this experience was not a holiday, and we believe this could be to do with many people having a limited education surrounding the Holocaust. It was difficult to talk about what we saw and learned. It is a strange situation as we don’t feel that we’ve even fully come to terms with what we experienced.
(Exploring Auschwitz 1 and the uniform the prisoners wore.)
Submitted by steven.jones http://www.macs.uk.net/