News‎ > ‎Academy News‎ > ‎

Students Visit Auschwitz

posted 28 May 2014, 01:57 by Google Google   [ updated 28 May 2014, 01:57 ]

Humbling day trip to the gates of death

We are now 70 years on from the Holocaust yet it is still fresh in the minds of survivors and prejudice is still rife in the world. The Holocaust Educational Trust works to educate people about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance. As part of their programme a visit to the former Nazi concentration and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, was organised, and Marina Old and Karl Legate were fortunate enough to take part in a humbling day trip. Karl shares his experiences in the hope other teenagers would be more open to learning about these atrocities and how they link to our society today.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the concentration camps established by Nazi Germany. Aiming to implement its Final Solution policy, this was the setting of mass executions of the Jewish people in Europe.

More than just a visit to Poland, Marina and I committed ourselves to a whole course focussing on the history of the Holocaust and how it relates to the world we live in.

Initially, we attended a seminar where we were asked to examine pre-war Jewish life, hear a Holocaust survivor share their testimony and discuss the unique issues of preparing for a Holocaust related site visit.

It’s very difficult to prepare oneself for a visit to Auschwitz but this certainly contextualised the trip for us.

On March 26 at 5am we checked in a Birmingham International Airport. Although nervous and apprehensive, I went with an open mind, not really knowing what to expect or how I would react.

Another common rumour that I have heard is that it’s always cold there, and that there are no birds in such a place, which, at first sounds plausible given the facts. 

After seeing the scale of the place it was just unbelievable.

The facts and figures are really just numbers until you see the place in plain sight. Although parts of the site have been reconstructed to depict what it would have been like, the ruins and foundations remain, giving a sense of the scale of the place.

Although the history remains, the physical aspects have changed: the camp has trees, grass and wildlife, like any other place in the country. Without the site being preserved, one may be forgiven for not realising what happened at Auschwitz.

While listening to the tour guide, it occurred to me that every single element within the camps had been planned out. The Nazis must have literally sat down and discussed the most efficient way to kill people and the most cost effective, as if they were just animals; this was absolutely incomprehensible to me.

Another component of the site that stuck me was that there was a road just outside and that life did, and still does, go on as normal there. In all honesty, after visiting Auschwitz I came out with more questions than answers.  I learnt so much and yet could still not understand the reason behind the camp itself.

The overwhelming message I have taken from this visit is that prejudice is wrong.

No matter what justifications people use or how small the judgement is, it is wrong. This message and the consequences of being prejudiced should not be forgotten, ever. And this event should never be allowed to happen again.

Marina and I attended a follow up seminar on April 1 to reflect on our visit, explore the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust and devise practical ideas for the next steps we should take in exploring the subject in more detail. Through completing a project relating to the lessons we have learned from this excursion, Marina and I will be fortunate enough to become ‘ambassadors’ for the Lessons from Auschwitz Project.

We are both extremely grateful for the opportunity to visit Auschwitz and would recommend that others at least take some time to learn more about the Holocaust, if not visit the camps themselves one day.