School Captains

Lessons from Auschwitz Project

Matthew Gaw and Rebecca Swanson (Head Boy & Deputy Head Girl)
“In September 2016 myself and my peer travelled to Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust. This was one of the most life changing events either of us have ever been on. The following passage is an account of our experience”.

Hearing is not like seeing. This statement carries a very impacting and thoughtful message. For years we have learnt about the devastating events that took place during the Holocaust. However, it was not until we physically saw the horrors of the death camps that we fully understood the monstrosities that took place. On reflection we now realise that it will never be possible to comprehend the revulsions of war.

Preceding the visit to Poland we attended a seminar in which we heard the testimony of Eva Clarke, a Holocaust survivor. Eva’s life story was one in which it was impossible for the listener not to be affected. Eva told the story of how her parents were separated when her father was sent to Auschwitz. Her mother volunteered to follow him, unaware of the horrors awaiting her. Sadly, she was unable to track him down and later discovered that he had died just before liberation. Here we see a wonderful yet tragic symbol of love and hope despite all the terror surrounding the couple. This testimony was a very fitting way to begin our experience and showed us that we must always take hold of the things we hold closest.

Following the seminar, we went on the visit to Poland. First our group visited the town of Oswiecim which the German’s changed the name to Auschwitz. We visited a Jewish cemetery which the Nazi’s destroyed and used the headstones for pavements. Both of us found this very disturbing as the Jews were being degraded and despised even in death. After the war, the stones were returned to the cemetery and replaced by a Jewish survivor. Here we see a pleasant sign of restoration yet sadly it remains a target for anti-Semitic attacks. From this experience we realised that we must show respect to everyone.

We then went to Auschwitz 1. The first thing that struck us was the motto above the gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei” which is German for “work makes you free”. In the buildings we saw pictures and examples of just how degrading and low living conditions were. One sight that we found very upsetting was 2,000kg of human hair shaved from slaughtered inmates. We cannot even try to imagine how barbaric and inhumane this was.

The last place that we travelled to was Auschwitz-Birkenau. The archway and rail way upon entering is unforgettable. That huge, desolate open piece of ground carried a sinister atmosphere. Our eyes were fixed upon the train line that continues endlessly into the camp. Every direction you turn to you see the barbed wire fences creating a feeling of isolation. A walk round the crematoria caused us to reflect and question how the Nazis thought they could disguise their crimes by bombing these buildings. We found this to be overwhelmingly sad. To end off the day a memorial service was led by Rabbi Andrew Shaw who spoke with such love yet anger that the group was fixed upon what he had to say. The service was very moving and we were all challenged by the Rabbi’s plea for us to speak out against hate.

We felt privileged to have been chose to go on this very educational trip and would encourage anyone who is able to visit Auschwitz to do so. We can definitely say that this experience has changed the way we will look at life. When you see how low man stooped to persecute their fellow man it is incomprehensible. May we never forget and always learn from humanities mistakes.

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