Auschwitz Trip

 As part of the Holocaust Trust’s education programme, last month we were given the opportunity to spend the day at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Oświęcim, Poland. 
 
The experience started the Sunday prior to the trip with a talk by a holocaust survivor, Steven Frank, who had lived in Holland.  
 
Mr Frank’s father had been a lawyer in Amsterdam during the 1930’s and chose not to flee the country but to remain on the board of a Jewish mental hospital. Unfortunately, after years of helping Jewish people escape persecution and playing an active role in the resistance movement, Steven’s father was imprisoned in 1942 and murdered by poisonous gas at Auschwitz-Birkenau the following year. However, Mr Frank’s story was one of survival. The rest of his family spent time in Barneveld and Westerbork before arriving in Terezín which was liberated by the Russian Army in May 1945. The family, through a mixture of persuasion and luck, ended up at Croydon Airport in England to start a new life. 
 
Hearing this very personal and human story meant that our trip to Poland a few days later had an added element of tragedy, because we had met someone who had directly experienced this persecution. After stopping in the town of Oświęcim to see the loss the Holocaust caused to communities,  we went to Auschwitz, the concentration camp. Inside each of the brick buildings were artefacts stolen from the prisoners. This included piles of glasses, combs, pots and (most harrowingly) human hair. The sheer quantity of the personal items laid before us was a minute proportion of the overall belongings taken, but the humanity attached to these objects, each telling a story about someone’s life made this the most emotional aspect of the tour. Shoes like the ones on our feet and hair identical to that on our head meant you could feel an attachment to the millions of men, women and children killed in the Holocaust. Within this camp was a still-standing gas chamber and the immense horror each of us felt when entering it is indescribable - there’s something so wrong about the building’s mere existence. 
 
Next was Birkenau. 
 
As we walked along the train-tracks up to the infamous entrance building it became completely silent. Seeing the tiny rail carriage that hundreds of people were crammed into and looking across the remains of the wooden huts was harrowing. The camp is too large to see from one end to the other, compounding the scale of the mass-murder that occurred. We were taken into the lavatory hut and shown the living conditions those imprisoned at the camp were subject to, open latrines and three-tiered bunk beds. This meant widespread disease and an awful quality of life, yet it was the lucky ones who got to live like this. These huts were actually designed for animals and it was horrific seeing conditions we wouldn’t subject livestock to today, yet this was people’s lives for months and years. 
 
Whilst at Birkenau, we had a memorial service, led by a Rabbi, who passionately described the human loss of the Holocaust and how it is our responsibility to stop it from ever happening again. 
At the reflection seminar the following Sunday, this message seemed to come from every single person on the trip, and an idea that we will each take away from the experience: we must never forget what happened to the millions of people like Steven Frank’s father and we must make sure it never happens again.  
 
By Ben Milner- Year 12