On 10th October 2013 Alex (Y13) and I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust. As the two students selected from Tarporley High School and Sixth Form College, we joined a further 200 students from schools across the North-West.
After an initial welcome seminar the previous week, we were already familiar with our group and met at Manchester Airport at 5am ready to start our trip. Accompanied by an ITV News film crew, various photographers and local MP, Stephen O’Brien, we flew to Krakow, Poland on an aircraft chartered especially for the event.
Originally built as a labour camp, Auschwitz was much smaller than the recognised Auschwitz-Birkenau site of today. A Polish guide escorted each group; showing us everything from Nazi offices to the last remaining gas chamber. We were surprised at just how close such an horrific historical site was to its neighbouring major town and the atmosphere changed noticeably the moment we walked through the famous gates.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was built two miles away from the original site shortly after the start of the Second World War and had only one main purpose, to kill. It is hard to believe the scale of this operation and even harder to imagine spending your last moments there. We learnt that there would be up to 800 people living in one, small, crammed lodge which was not fit for humans to survive. As dusk fell, we attended a Jewish memorial ceremony, just meters away from the remains of a gas chamber which was built to slaughter up to 1000 victims in only 20 minutes. We were each given candles and, after the ceremony, we placed our candles around the site as an act of remembrance to those who died there.
Whilst on this trip, it was very important for us to remember to humanise the victims. Over one million people died at Auschwitz-Birkenau and this was just one concentration camp out of hundreds located around Europe. It was an eye-opening experience and one which I will never forget.
Alex and I intend to produce our own memorial to those who lost their lives by presenting our findings to the rest of school in year assemblies, as well as organising a Sixth Form event to mark Holocaust Memorial Day in January.