Sunday, 29 April 2018

My Visit to Auschwitz

So, this post is a little different from all my others but I feel like it's important to share.

I was a little apprehensive to post this but I feel like Auschwitz is something in which everyone has to experience and I feel like I should share my experience and also it allows me to reflect on what I saw and learnt.

I was lucky enough to take part in the Lessons From Auschwitz Project which allows two students, from many schools, a 3 part project. This includes a seminar where you meet a survivor of the holocaust, a day trip to Auschwitz and a session after to reflect on the trip.

In the first seminar, we met our educators and our groups and had a talk from Janine Webber. Janine survived the Holocaust and was a child in hiding. She went through so much that I can't even put it into words. She is an amazing women and I feel privileged to have met her.

The trip to Poland was definitely a life changing trip. After almost 7 hours of walking around the camps, with no time to reflect, I found myself on the coach back to the airport speechless and feeling nothing. It was such a weird feeling to have.


Auschwitz

Auschwitz was the first, main camp built by the Nazi's. It held around 16,000 prisoners at a time. However, between 1940 and 1945, the Nazis sent at least 1.3 million people to Auschwitz. About 1.1 million of these people died or were killed.  Upon arriving at Auschwitz, I was shocked at how close to the main road it was. How people would pass it day to day just going to work.  There was this weird atmosphere in the air, no birds flying in the air, just silence.  The first thing you came along in Auschwitz was the infamous sign ARBEIT MACH FREIT” –Work will set you free. Less than 10% of those who walked into Auschwitz survived. Walking around and hearing all these facts from my tour guide was so hard to hear, especially when we were stood exactly where they were 80 years prior.


During the whole tour of Auschwitz, I had no emotion.  All that I was thinking was that I was stood in the place where millions of people murdered. Stood in the gas chambers and walking the paths made the reality of what happened sink in. Upon entering a dark room that had home pictures and videos projected onto the wall, I burst into tears. Then leaving the room, again i felt nothing. It was so surreal.

The concentration camp of Auschwitz is unique because each of the barracks is actually a museum which shares the process of the executions, the life at the concentration camps and history lessons in general that will help you to gain a better understanding of what took place here. 

For me, there were two parts that hit me the most. Firstly, the rooms filled with the peoples belongings. It showed the sheer scale of the tragic event. The rooms consisted of peoples Glasses, Suitcases, Shoes (80,000) and personal belongings (including pots and pans) all piled up. But, there was one room which showed the hair of all the people (because when you entered Auschwitz they shaved your head). The exact same hair from the heads of the millions who died. Real human hair piled up.

Secondly, there was a room with the 'Book of Names'. The most physical representation of the amount of people murdered. This book consisted of each persons (of who they found)  first and last name, where they were born and how they were murdered. It has 4.2 million names in. The photo only shows one side of the book, which was several meters long and the pages were very large and very thin. 




Birkenau



Birkenau was a camp just for Jews. It was the largest death and concentration camp. 

Again, I was shocked how close Birkenau was to the main road. I saw two people having driving lessons on the road right outside the camp.  Birkenau has the train track going straight through the centre of the camp. The track that went in, but never went out.



Birkenau was a huge open space which held this atmosphere that's indescribable. There was some wooden barracks where the Jews slept which consisted of a number of wooden, triple bunk beds. The barracks were not water proof, the beds had thin straw mattresses and there could be up to 10 people on each bunk. 

We then saw some gas chambers which were partially destroyed in an attempt to cover up what they had done. 

Walking along the paths,  I still couldn't believe they were the exact same paths the Jew's were walking on. With the exact same grass and trees around me. We finished the tour at the shower block. Jew's would be stripped down and showered with ice cold water before being given their clothes and shoes. Only one set of clothes and only one pair of shoes. 

At the end of the trip, we had a Memorial with a Rabbi. It consisted of poems read by group members and then an inspirational speech from the Rabbi. We then all lit candles and placed them around the train track.  It was a beautiful way to end the trip as a sort of tribute.



Now, there's so much more to say and share about the visit. But,  almost 2 months since i went and it's still hard to put it into words.

I believe a trip to Auschwitz is a must for every one. Hearing is not the same as seeing. With Auschwitz being a dark tourism site it's weird to say i enjoyed it, but I did. Learning about it, seeing it, standing in gas chambers and on the paths of where millions of people did 80 years ago is a surreal feeling but I think it needs to be felt. 

I also think we're forgetting that the liberation of German Nazi concentration and extermination camps were only liberated 73 years ago. This didn't happen hundreds of years ago. Our Grandparents were alive whilst this was going on.

So, if you live in the UK and in year 12 or 13 you can try and get involved in the Lessons from Auschwitz project and get involved in experiencing and sharing what you learn. Or, if you're interested just try and visit Auschwitz!

I know this post won't interest some people but I really wanted to share my experience! Thank you for reading x











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