Auschwitz

Last week, on the 29th was the long-awaited trip to Auschwitz. We had a very early wake up to get to the airport for 5am and by half 7, we were in the air on our way to Poland. The whole plane of us were going to Auschwitz and none of us really knew what to expect or what awaited us when we were to get there.

We arrived at Poland and got onto the coach to head to Auschwitz I, which was the labour camp, it took about an hour to get there. It was really strange to see such colourful houses and churches in a place that was once shocked by such a traumatic event in history. When we got there, our groups met with the tour guides, we were given headphones and started the tour of Auschwitz I. The first sight we saw was the famous gate:

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

"Arbeit Macht Frei"

The writing on the gate “Arbeit Macht Frei” means “Work brings freedom.” This is the gate that Jewish labourers walked through to work in the camp. We were told there that to the right of the gate was an orchestra that was put their to keep spirits high, it also kept the marches to a beat so everybody kept in line when walking through the gate. Also every body walking through the gate in the morning to work must comeback through the gate in the evening, so if somebody died whilst working, their bodies would be dragged back through the gates in the evening to make the numbers up.

Before that, the Jews were lined up for roll call in lines of 10. If someone went missing, then they were forced to stay there until the escapees were found. The longest time known was 21 hours. When the escapees were caught, they were tortured or even shot in front of the other members of the camp to show them what the consequences were.

The shooting wall at Auschwitz I

There was a strange feeling around Auschwitz, you sensed wrongdoing and there was an unpleasant atmosphere. It was just like a still photo, there were no birds singing, no birds would fly over Auschwitz, but would only fly around it. It’s very odd, yet poetic to think that the birds knew what was happening, but that’s almost what you sense when you’re there.

Auschwitz I used to be Polish army barracks, then when the Germans invaded, it was turned into a concentration camp because of its structure and it’s railway links, so Jews all over Europe could be transported to Auschwitz.

Jews came from all over Europe

This was a map in the museum that showed us where the Jews came from. The place in the bottom right of the map took 11 days on a cattle truck with no food, no water and no sanitation. The cattle trucks were about 25 feet long, to 10 wide. They were packed aswell, the trucks could transport 15 cows, yet up to and often more than 100 people were forced into them. The killing started before the Jews even arrived at Auschwitz.

In the museum was this sign, we were told that if you gave a minute’s silence for every human life lost in Auschwitz alone, it would take you two years. These days, if a well-known celebrity dies, we tend to have a minute’s silence for them, but knowing it would take 2 years for every Auschwitz victim alone was something that hit us all, especially knowing that there were millions more killed elsewhere in the holocaust. “One million Jews, Two years of silence.”
As the sign says as well, the majority of the people were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, we were shown into the gas chambers. The chambers were filled with 1500 people at a time and were gassed with Zyklon-B, within 25 minutes, they were all killed. After this, they were to be cremated, but it took 6 days to do so, which to the Nazis, was too long.

The crematorium

All around the camp was barbed wire, signs that said “HALT!” It was a very threatening and intimidating place to be in. The barbed wire was rusty and once had electricity running through them, and even caused the death of many Jews who threw themselves into the wire so that the Nazis would not have the satisfaction of killing them.

We were shown, in the museums, the possessions of the Jews. Human hair, suitcases, glasses, crockery and even artificial limbs were on display.

2 tonnes of Human hair

Human hair was shaved from the Jews who were working and were shipped back to Germany to stuff mattresses and pillows. However, this was the hair that was shaved after the Jews were gassed. They weren’t shaved until after they were killed because the Germans did not want to give the impression that anything was wrong. Also, if the Jews were to riot, there wasn’t enough guards to control them.

This is a small proportion of the possessions that were ruthlessly taken upon arrival at Auschwitz. These were the glasses that belonged to the jews and were never sold to help Germany’s economy. This has a massive impact on us all that saw, it really gave us all this reminder that 1.1 million is just a statistic, but each other these people were individuals.

After the visit to Auschwitz I, we went back on the coach for the five-minute journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II). This was the purpose-built camp to kill the Jews. It is 25 times larger than Auschwitz I.

Auschwitz II watchtower

This was the famous entrance of Auschwitz II in which the trains would enter through the middle and stop at the platform in which the Jews would be separated between who will work and who will be executed. This is a view from the top of the Watchtower:

This view was quite powerful to us, personally as it feels like a split screen down the middle, you have the camp on the left, looking still as it did when the Holocaust was happening, and then on the right, looking as if nothing has happened, with cars and road signs with houses in the background.

We then went into one of the buildings that you can see on the left, these were the buildings that the Jews lived in. There were triple bunk beds with no mattress at all, or pillow. It looked like this:

There were six people to a bunk and the Jews would have to fight for the top bunk to avoid the dysentery.

Towards the end of the trip, after going around the camps, we went into this building that had nothing in it except a wall with family photos of the victims. The photos were not taken in the camp, but were brought into the camp by the victims. In all these pictures, they looked happy, they were enjoying life. The wall had pictures on one side, and on the other it had information about the pictures, most of them weren’t happy endings. This hit everyone hard, it told us that everyone had a family and had a life and it was tragically taken from them because of racial hatred.

I think many of us didn’t want to see the other side of the wall because it would just upset us, but you cannot describe or understand unless you see it for yourself at Auschwitz, which makes teaching about it really hard to do.

The day ended at Auschwitz when the man who is behind these trips, Rabbi Barry Marcus, performed a sermon for us to reflect on every single life lost at the camp. It is difficult to understand why the Nazis killed the Jews and what good it did for them. That ceremony gave us all a little time to soak up the cold atmosphere and reflect on such an overwhelming day emotionally, physically and mentally. We finished with lighting candles on the railway and started our long journey back home.

It was horrifying to know that prejudice still exists around the world. We were told at Auschwitz that the museum exists to teach people about the horrifying stories and hopefully it will never happen again. Millions of people died in the Holocaust and that’s just a statistic, each and every one of them people had a home, a heart,they had dreams and goals and they wanted to live a full life. But they were all cut short because of bigotry and racial hatred. Which saddened us all and angered us intensely.
Auschwitz was such an odd experience and very tiring. We write this over a week later because it takes that amount of time for it all to sink in.

“One million Jews, Two years of silence”

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By Adam and Chelsea

Zigi Shipper’s Testimony.

Yesterday was the first seminar of the experience. We arrived, had a ten minute introduction, a little focus on pre-war jewish life after that. But the one thing that really hit us was the testimony of the Holocaust survivor, Zigi Shipper.

Zigi stood up in front of us for an hour telling us his story of what happened to him, his friends, his family and how it affected him.
“People often ask me ‘You was only ten when it all started, and it was so long ago, how can you remember’ Well my answer to that is how can I forget? When your family were slaughtered because of racism, bigotry and hatred.”

He was explaining that he was transported to Auschwitz on a cattle truck, it was terribly overcrowded. “Looking back on it, I am so ashamed to say that I wanted people to die just so I could sit down, but I wanted to survive. I didn’t care about anybody.”

He survived the trip and arrived at Auschwitz.”The sky was hazy and there was a terrible smell. From a distance we saw chimneys smoking, It was rumoured that it was a crematorium, but I didn’t know what that meant.”We were told that he had to line up in front of the Nazis for selection,after they were separated, they were taken to the showers, they were undress, stripped of possessions, shaved everywhere, disinfected and then put in a communal shower. When they came out, they were given striped suits and numbers. Zigi even remembered his number to be 84,303.

Zigi saw many horrific sights, he told us once that he moved to another camp and worked on a rail yard where there was a chance to steal some food. But one day, five men stole some cigarettes from a train that was going to the front, but they were caught and were put in a small room for a week. The five men were let out and were to be hung in front of the whole camp. When each of them were put on the stools and the nooses were put around their necks, before the man reading out the charges could finish his sentence, each man jumped off of the stools themselves to their death just so the Nazis would not have the satisfaction of knowing that they killed them. – This was the part of this story that took my breath away, it was such a shocking thing to hear from him.

After telling us his ordeals, he said to us “Whatever you do, you must not hate, because hatred will do nothing for you. If anything, you will be the one that will suffer.”

His only regret was not having the chance to thank his grandmother for raising him, his grandmother was killed on the day her concentration camp was liberated. “I would love to put my arm round her, kiss her and thank her for bringing me up, she did not have one single day of freedom.”

Zigi’s testimony was chilling, yet there were parts which were heart warming too. There was something he said which I think we all found powerful. He said “It doesn’t matter how much you’ve read, how many movies you have watched, even how much you have heard from a survivor. You never really understand as much as you do when you visit Auschwitz.”

Speaking for everybody that heard him speak, he made us see the Holocaust in a different perspective and it really emphasises that we all deal with numbers, but every single person was an individual and experienced these horrible things, lost family members, did or did not survive. We tend to forget this when we think about the loss of life and Zigi’s testimony taught us a lot about that.
Listing everything that he mentioned would take days and this entry will never do his story justice. So I really recommend that you read Zigi’s written story here. There’s so much of his story that was missed writing this, he’s an inspiration to his attitude to life today and his attitude towards other people.

By Adam and Chelsea

One day to go.

So the first seminar is tomorrow, it has come around really fast. It was just over a month ago when we found out we were taking part in this project. The countdown to it has been really quick for us.

The seminar is 4 hours long and will consist of look at pre-war Jewish life, hearing a testimony of a Holocaust survivor and getting to know the group that we’ll be venturing with to Poland next week.
There is a page on the “Lessons from Auschwitz” website with Holocaust survivor stories here.

We’re really looking forward to it, we can’t wait to go next week and we’ll write back on here after the seminar.

By Adam and Chelsea

It’s coming closer.

Adam: My passport came this week, in which with my longer hair in the picture, I look amazingly beautiful. But joking aside, It is good to know because I was becoming worried whether it would come in time.

We were sent, through school, a book all about the Holocaust and a ‘reflective diary’ in which we write about my experiences to help us with our project. Our project is well underway as we’re writing in it now, but the diary will definitely help us after the seminars and the trip to Poland itself.

The Holocaust book and reflective diary.

Anticipating the seminars and trip to Poland is a strange experience in itself. It’s still very hard to know what to expect. When you hear that you’re flying there and back in the same day and you’ll be at school the next morning, all I can think is “How on earth am I going to do that?” We have to be at East Midlands for 5am. Meaning to be on the safe side, we’d have to set off from Mansfield before 4am, and we aren’t landing back in the UK until just before midnight, so doing quick maths, you could say that we’ll be up for 24 hours.

The blog’s structure is almost finished, we have one more page to do and we’ll keep tweaking it here and there. Hopefully it won’t be missing much. Writing and reading about this is incredibly interesting, we’ve already learned so much more than we did when we learned it in school when we were a little younger, and that book is a treat as to telling you what exactly Jewish people believed in particularly. If we get the time on top of our school work, we may have to share some of the amazing things in that book on this blog.

The anticipation is killing us.

By Adam and Chelsea

One month to go.

It’s a month today to the Auschwitz trip itself. We’re still very anxious as to what to expect but we’re excited aswell, we’ve been doing a lot of reading on the Holocaust to remind ourselves of what we learned back in year 8 or 9, which seems like a long time ago now.

Apparently, more people died in the Holocaust than the British and the American Losses of World War II put together.
Also 60 million reichmarks (equivalent to £125Million today) was generated for the Nazi state by slave labour at Auschwitz. These facts are just amazing.

We’re really looking forward to the trip, We’re looking forward to hearing some stories of individual cases, looking forward to hearing things that we never even knew and seeing the Holocaust from different perspectives and themes. This trip is, as our History teacher described, a once in a lifetime opportunity, which  makes us feel very glad to have been able to take it. Knowing we’ll be able to see some of the iconic, yet cold sights of the camp, such as this one:

Early Morning shot of the Albeit Gate.

This gate is iconic to Auschwitz, as it was the gate that the prisoners of Auschwitz would march through, to the sound of the music played by the band orchestra, to work in the factories. Ten hours later, they would march back through this gate to rest. Reading this would make you think that the Jewish population were treated well up until they were killed. But it’s obviously unforgettable that their fate was sealed to die as soon as they entered the camp.

We’ll be walking through that gate in a month.
By Adam and Chelsea

Looking ahead to Auschwitz

Adam: Got the email on Friday telling me that I have been picked to go to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. This will be two seminars and a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp for the day. The passport’s on its way, the forms have been filled in and sent off.

We were looking up on what to expect in this experience. We read that the first Seminar involves hearing the story of somebody who survived the Holocaust as well as focusing on life before the War. Also, it will be good to get to know the people who are also going on this trip as it will be quite an impacting experience on everybody.

After that, there’s the trip to Poland, which is on the 29th of February. This is the tour around Auschwitz and spending the day there, learning about the history behind it all. I read that over a million people, mostly Jewish died in this concentration came, that’s just a number, when you think that every single one of them people had lives, families, hopes, dreams and ambitions, it’s very chilling to think that any human being could sanction genocide because of racial hatred.

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After that, there’s the follow-up seminar where we can all reflect on our experiences and how it made an impact on us. I can imagine the trip being quite hard to take for some people and it may be for myself, so it would be helpful to share your experience with people who have also been to Auschwitz.

This is our project to express to the wider school and local community and to share my experiences leading up to Auschwitz and the seminars based around it. We decided to do a blog because anybody can read it and if written well, it can keep the attention of audiences. Hopefully, people can read this and almost experience this with us.

By Adam and Chelsea