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Lessons from Auschwitz

Last term, two of our Year 12 students Chloe Blott and Greg Wishart took part in the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project run by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’, this four-part course explores the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance for today. The LFA Project aims to increase knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust and to clearly highlight what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable. Our students were invited to attend a preliminary seminar in October where they heard testimony from a Holocaust survivor. This was followed by a visit to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, with time to meet again in February to reflect on their learning. The project requires students to disseminate what they have learned to their peers and wider community. In undertaking this, Chloe and Gregg have led a whole-school assembly and have written the pieces below to share their reflections.

Auschwitz reflections by Greg Wishart

Before my visit I had some scope of what to expect when visiting the camp; I had done my own research and the preliminary seminar we had attended had broadened my knowledge even further. The talk given by Susan Pollack, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, was incredibly powerful and gave humanity to the victims that was hard to process before, not having heard the true experiences of a survivor myself. I was even feeling quite confident in my knowledge of what was to come next and how I would react. But what I found was something that is incredibly difficult to define. The sheer scale of Auschwitz was a shock and that was hardly comparable to the overwhelming size of Birkenau, but it was more the conscious realisation of what had taken place here that struck me the hardest. Auschwitz was no longer just a name in a textbook or a name mentioned in a history lesson or even just a statistic. It became alive in its own way with the knowledge of the abhorrent crimes that occurred during the 1940s. I remember feeling emotionally deadened at times by the experience as well as feeling even physically sick at the poignant reminders of how many individuals were torn from home and family for such senseless and arbitrary reasons. To this day so many faces remain in my mind from the displayed photos in Auschwitz. Each one torn away from the people they loved, each one with a story of their own, and each one worth being remembered.

Auschwitz reflections by Chloe Blott

Before visiting Auschwitz, I was expecting to feel as I did during my history lessons, distressed but not able to comprehend the number of fatalities because they were just statistics to be learnt. I was completely wrong. Before departing for Poland I was prepared for the occasional tear, which did not appear, instead there was an overwhelming sensation of sickness that filled up my stomach during the entire tour. That feeling was astonishment mixed with horror which grew with each barracks we passed because the numbers were becoming so much more than just statistics in a textbook, they were becoming people like Wolf Flaster, a polish Jew; Katarzyna Kwoka and her daughter Czesława who died months apart. By providing visitors with these names and the accompanying faces the Holocaust is humanised, it becomes personal because every single one of us has a name, even the millions that died in the camps which was why the Nazis attempted to erase ones sense of identity by identifying them with numbers and shapes on their clothing; I would recommend visiting Auschwitz to anyone that can, in order to gain a better sense of the extravagant scale on which the holocaust was ran.

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