Hi Everyone 🙂
Yaaay Half Term! No early mornings, no long journeys to school, no lessons. Hopefully some of us are still working hard… Now is the time to get your notes completed as well as any outstanding work and you will still be able to relax and enjoy a week off. Some of us girls may need some retail therapy and boys, GTA or FIFA maybe? And hopefully none of you have forgotten to put your clocks back for an hour for an extra hour of sleep!
This week I will be talking about my experiences at Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust and some of the psychological facts behind the Holocaust.
As some of you may already know, many Year 12s across the UK are presented with an opportunity to go to concentration camps where the Holocaust took place during World War 2. Two 6th Formers from each 6th Form are selected to take part in seminars and participate in a trip to a concentration camp.
I was one of these 6th formers who was able to attend this trip and I can say that it was definitely a touching, unforgettable experience.
Myself, along with many other students, attended a seminar where we heard a Holocaust Survivor give her accounts about the experiences that she had when she was forced into these horrific camps and just because she was Jewish.
This was one of the best experiences I have had because it brought the situation of the Holocaust to reality as it was personal. Reading testimonies and being taught about what happened during the Holocaust cannot be even slightly compared to hearing an actual survivor speak about her experiences and be given the opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions.
We are definitely also one of the last generations who will be able to have this experience as already there are very few survivors who are able or willing to share their stories in these ways on a personal level. We know DVD’s are being made of these testimonies but even still, how are questions that arise later going to be answered? If you are presented with this opportunity, do try your best to go along.
We also had a three hour flight to Poland, a shared experience with a Jewish Rabbi, Members of Parliament and the Press. When we arrived, we started the trip by visiting a Jewish Memorial Cemetery. Here we respectfully looked around at the memorials that had been constructed for the bodies that were found during the Holocaust and it was shocking to see how racial issues had taken away the significance of the Cemetery, where at one point, gravestones had been graffitied over and smashed, used for roads and left as junk. Recently, people have done their best to find all the pieces again and restore them back to their original use. How is it humans can be so low to even attempt to destroy gravestone memorials?
We then visited Auschwitz I which was the original concentration camp. It has been well preserved and turned into a museum and memorial , where we were able to see room full’s of suitcases, shoes, tins, pots and pans, tins of Zyklon B (the poison used to kill), and even the women’s and children’s hair that had been shaven when they were brought to the camps when the camp had been discovered.
We were also given a guided tour of the prison- Block 11. Prisoners had to crawl into the cell through a small door. There was no room to lie down or sit down in the cell; prisoners had to stand up. These cells were known as ‘standing cells’ where prisoners who were punished for refusing to work were put.
Another cell that stood out was the ‘starvation cell’ where prisoners who were condemned to death, were left to die as they were not given any food or water. They would be kept there until they died as a result.
We were shown the ‘Black Wall’ which was next to Block 11 and was where prisoners were executed, usually by being shot. Our guide explained that some prisoners were brought to the Auschwitz I camp, but were not registered as inmates; they were housed in rooms on the first and second floors of Block 11 while they awaited trial. After they were convicted, the prisoners were taken to a small washroom in the building where they were ordered to strip naked, after which they were marched to the wall in groups of three and executed with one shot to the neck at close range.
After taking a look at the museum and preservations of Auswisch I, we headed back to the coach and to Auschwitz – Birkenau. This became known as the main mass extermination camp where the ‘final solution’ to the murder of all Jews was taking place, at the heart of the Nazi objectives. This has not been turned into a museum, but instead, the Polish government have attempted to preserve as much as possible.
We had the chance to see the main railway track that carried millions of Poles, Jews and Gypsies through the gates of Auswisch, to then be separated from their families and told they’d see them later on in the day. Children separated from their mothers and wives separated from their husbands. Further selection took place where babies and young children, told they’d see there parents soon, would be taken down to gas chambers and killed within 20 minutes with the poisonous Zyklon B gas. The survivor, who gave her testimony prior to going on the trip, explained how she was separated from her mother, father, brothers and sisters. She told us that she was one of the fittest of the girls and she got forced into slave labour and never saw her family again.
It was unfortunate that the Nazis had the audacity to steal the possessions of their prisoners. They’d take any artificial limbs, gold from teeth, and any jewellery they could find. Those that had been found are now being preserved at the museum in Auschwitz I.
We were able to see the barracks where some 400 people would be expected to sleep in at night. Summer nights, where everything was too warm and winter nights. Imagine sleeping outdoors with so many people in a room sized wooden shelter in such warmth or cold. Prisoners of the Nazis would be expected to sleep in these horrendous conditions every night, and some died from this alone, never mind hours and hours of work in extreme temperatures with very little food and water.
We also entered the gas chambers where millions of innocent people were poisoned to death. Here the atmosphere felt much colder than the other parts of the concentration camp, but I guess that can be expected.
What was extremely shocking was that Himmler, who managed this camp, had his house where he lived with his wife and children on the camp. From the view of his luxurious mansion, he was able to overlook the prisoners. What could make a man want to put millions through pain and suffering, allowing his family to watch?
We ended our group as a whole, looking at huge picture walls containing thousands of pictures of those who were held prisoners of the Nazis. Men, women, children. We gathered at the end of the rail track to reflect on the tragedies of this horrific event. The Rabbi who joined us on this trip gave a Jewish Prayer and we stood a minute of silence in remembrance. When the minute was up, we all lit candles and placed them on the rail way tracks in remembrance of the husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles who had to suffer through the Holocaust, before the journey back to Krakow airport and later the comfort of our families and homes, which we were able to see again, unlike those who were not fortunate enough during the harsh times of the Holocaust – and for that we should be grateful.
God full of mercy who dwells on high
Protector of widows and father for the fatherless
Please be not silent and show no restraint
On behalf of the Jewish blood that has been spilled like water.
But grant perfect rest on the wings of Your Divine Presence
In the lofty abode of the holy, pure and valiant
Who shine as the brightness of the heavens
to the souls of our brothers and sisters
Six million Jewish
men, women and children
Who were put to death, slaughtered, burned,
starved, buried alive
Or who suffered other forms of unnatural death
at the hands of the accursed Nazis
and their associates – may their name be wiped out!
In Auschwitz, Treblinka, Maydanek, Malthausen
and in other death camps in Europe
And who gave up their lives in order to Sanctify God’s name.
Because we are at one with their memory
and we pray for the elevation of their souls
Their resting place shall be in the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, shall the Master of mercy care for them
under the protection of His wings for all time
And bind their souls in the bond of everlasting life.
O Earth! Do not conceal their blood
and let there not be a resting place for their cry
In their merit shall the remnant of Israel
return to its rightful place
And as for the holy ones, their righteousness
shall be in front of the Lord as an everlasting memory
They will come in peace and will rest in peace
They will meet their rightful destiny at the end of days
and let us say Amen
-Jewish Prayer from the Forget You Not Project.
I may be posting more on this topic later, so please do keep checking posts 🙂