Pupils vow legacy of Holocaust victims will live on
- Credit: Archant
Six students from North Somerset were invited on a life-changing trip to Poland to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum to see what we can learn from the atrocities of the past.
The trip was organised by The Holocaust Educational Trust through the Lessons from Auschwitz Project which aims to raise awareness of the Holocaust in schools.
Pupils from Backwell, Nailsea and St Katherine’s School in Pill were picked for the trip and I was also invited along to gauge their reactions and find out how they will be passing the lessons learnt onto their peers.
Approximately 1.1million people were killed in the death camps – the vast majority were Jews who were stripped, shaved and sent to the gas chambers within minutes of their arrival.
The sense of death and devastation hit us as soon as we piled out of the bus and prepared to walk the same paths of its thousands of victims.
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We saw inside the barracks which contained photos of hundreds of inmates who were tortured and beaten and left to die from exposure, starvation or over work. It was haunting to be able to walk into the gas chambers where many Jews spent their last terrifying minutes as they suffocated to death.
As our guide, Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Zieba showed us the piles of shoes, hair, clothes, photographs and suitcases which were taken from people destined to die she stressed: “These are the belongings of people living similar lives to you and me – with similar problems and families. Do not forget about this.” I know I never will.
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The piles and piles of everyday possessions and the smiling photos of families enjoying weddings, parties and happier times before the war will live with me forever.
It seems odd to say I would highly recommend a visit to a place which has witnessed such suffering, but the museum helps puts into perspective just how many people were killed at the hands of the Nazis.
The letters, poems and photos tell of lives and dreams lost and of the harrowing conditions the prisoners endured.
These mementoes ensure their legacy lives on and they also reveal inspiring stories of courage, faith and resilience in the face of awful atrocity and suffering.
Our final stop on the trip was Birkenau – also known as Auschwitz Two – which is a staggering 25 times bigger than Auschwitz One and held more than 90,000 prisoners in 1944.
It is also the home of the infamous railway platform where people were selected for death or labour and marched off to the gas chambers or sent to off to work in the most harrowing conditions.
As the sun set over the haunting landscape, we ended our tour with a Jewish service at the memorial where we lit candles to remember all those who died in the death camps.
Everyone on the trip was incredibly moved by the experience and the students are now determined to share the lessons they have learnt with their families, friends and schools.
Cathi Howe, from St Katherine’s School, said: “We’ve learnt a lot about the Holocaust in school but you can’t prepare for anything like this. It’s been enlightening.
“It’s made me determined to spread the word that these were people, not just statistics, and they need to be respected and their legacy needs to live on.
“We need to remember the people and make sure what’s happened to them never happens again. No-one is in a better place to do that than the next generation.”