Hi guys, this is a first for me. I’ve let someone take over my keyboard, a dear friend of mine. When my friend was flown out to Auschwitz I was in awe, the history behind what happened in such a dark place is immense. As an English Literature and history student my friend, I believe, is here to re-tell what she learnt. This is a travel piece but it is also a memorial. A way of commemorating the people and the events of the past, this guest write is very important and I hope that whoever is reading this relishes the history. This is where my input ends.
Please read on and comment your thoughts down below or on our socials… Ellie Dougan it’s time for your guest write.
One of the most significant impacts on the way that I perceived historical tragedy came from a visit on the 2nd of November 2017. I took part in the Historical Education Trust’s (HET) Lessons from Auschwitz (LFA) programme, where I took part in the north-west selection. This is where two A-level students are selected from each school to take part. I felt completely lucky to be selected to go on this experience- although I was so apprehensive about how I might feel. There is absolutely nothing that can prepare you to go to this extraordinary place. But still the HET run a session before hand to introduce you to what you may find there. That involves meeting the group that you will be with the whole time and listening to a survivor’s testimony. Now this session is really helpful if you do not have any experience at all with the events of the holocaust, but I am a history buff and I paid a huge amount of attention when we covered the holocaust in year 9 history. So, for me and the partner I went with it felt like we already knew the information that was given to us in that session.
The way each school gives this opportunity to students I don’t know, but ours was an essay competition that was selected by the history department. The essay we had to write was about was simply how we felt it would befit us, and for me I wrote about how I wanted to gain a personal perspective of a part of history I am completely distant from. Fortunately, this worked, along with a teacher giving a few words to perhaps push my essay closer to being selected. But I still like to think that I gained this all by myself … whatever the truth may be! Yet I still got to go on an experience that did let me have a personal experience.
Now when the day came, the horrible truth is it is a ridiculously early morning as it is only a 24-hour trip. So, in order to get to Poland and Auschwitz you must be at the airport for 4:30am, getting a 6:00am plane to Krakow from Manchester. So, the day started ridiculously early, that for anyone who knows me knows that I am not a morning person … so I really feel sorry for the partner I went with! Yet after a 2-hour flight, filled with apprehensive and knackered teenagers, we arrived in Poland, Krakow at 9:00am Polish time. It safe to say that there was no body sleeping on that plane ride.
This was the start of our whirlwind trip to Auschwitz. We then had an hour bus ride to the town local to Auschwitz, called Oświęcim (pronounced OS-VIE-EN-CHIM). That interestingly, this is the real name of Auschwitz as Auschwitz is the German translation of the Polish name. Oświęcim, is a beautiful little town and reason we went to gain a perspective of what the situation was like in wartime Oświęcim. That to this day remembers the atrocities that happened at Auschwitz. Then from here we took a ten minute bus ride to entrance of Auschwitz camp 1.
When the first stepping into the camp it’s a little surreal, in fact the whole day was surreal. The camp its self is an ex-army barracks so all the huts are brick, the first camp is more of a museum experience. Each hut has a specific showing of each aspect of camp life. The most harrowing experience that most people will tell you is the exhibition with all 2 tons of human hair, which is the only remaining amount out of the 9 tons that were originally there. But for me it was the display of the inmate’s shoes, and in particular a singular child’s shoe.
Its hard to describe how seeing these exhibits in front of you, really connects you to the humans that were forced to inhabit these conditions. But It is the suitcases that really give you the sense of hope and new beginnings that people had, even the keys that they had brought with them expecting to be able to return to their homes.
Whilst all this hit home, it was walking into the only surviving death chamber that truly took my breath away. It is an experience that I cannot describe, but knowing you are literally walking on ground that other humans have died on puts your own life into perspective. But this is nothing in comparison to camp two.
This is perhaps the most known and famous part of Auschwitz, camp two is where the train tracks are that many associate with the camps. And once you step through that gate a walk along those train tracks you get a sense of how mechanical and efficiently they were running. But there is nothing that can prepare you for the scale of camp 2, the first is large but due to the history as an army barracks and the museum feeling. But as you look out from the train tracks all that you can see are rows upon rows of identical wooden huts that stretch further than you can see on both your left and your right. There are far too many of these huts to count, but the first you will go into is the only male wash house. Of course, there was a female counterpart, but the most shocking thing about the wash house was each person had minimal time to wash and go to the toilet in the day. The wash hut also provided some with a life line, where the human waste would provide some with warmth, stability and the chance to survive where others didn’t.
As part of our experience we had a candle light service to reflect on the day. This really gave me time to reflect on what the holocaust meant, and how it involved humans that we commonly misplace for the extraordinary numbers we are taught. The emotions of the day, finally overcame me the whole experience became so real and personal. I had walked and lived in a piece of history, even if only for a day.
One of the most important messages that I was told on that day was that did not go to Auschwitz, I visited and I left alive unlike so many souls.
That hit home the hardest. Even though I was in a foreign country, stood in front of the unloading platform for the cattle carts, I had a safe home to go to and a warm bed. I could get up in the mornings and go to school and gain an education that many of those poor people never got. After the service, we did what many couldn’t and walked out – it was a long, dark and cold November walk but we still walked out. And as we sat on the coach starting our journey towards our homes I sent an easy text telling the most important people to me that I loved them. As that’s what Auschwitz makes you realise, you are one of the lucky ones despite how we may feel.
This trip, whilst leaving a large group of teenagers awake for 22 hours straight and slightly delirious, left me feeling that everyone should go. Not just for the historical events but to see stories of human survival and how resilient we truly are. This goes without mentioning, but I have missed so much out of my experience as so much cannot be said, it can only be experienced.
Let me know your thoughts on the first guest write.
Hope you guys enjoyed
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