Lessons from Auschwitz 2014

The 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (Work sets you free) sign over the gate at Auschwitz I.

The ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work sets you free) sign over the gate at Auschwitz I.

In February, two Barry Sixth Formers, John Frazer and Gareth Hurman, participated in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project.  Through the project, students take part in two half-day seminars and a one-day visit to the former Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Students then pass on the lessons that they learn about the Holocaust and its relevance to today in their schools and communities.

The four-part course started with an orientation seminar at the Angel Hotel, Cardiff, where the students listened to a touching and inspiring testimony of a Holocaust survivor.  Eva Clarke told the audience of how her parents had been sent by the Nazis to Terezin and later Auschwitz-Birkenau.   The audience also heard how Eva, herself, was born in Mauthausen concentration camp on 29th April 1945 and that, if the gas chambers hadn’t been blown up on 28th April 1945 and the American army hadn’t liberated the camp three days after her birth, neither mother nor child would have survived.  Eva and her mother were the only survivors of their family, 15 of who were sadly killed in Auschwitz; her father being shot less than a week before the liberation by the Russian army.

On 19th February, John and Gareth travelled to Poland with other students from all over Wales and begun their visit at the only surviving synagogue in the Polish town of Oswiecim (renamed ‘Auschwitz’ by the Nazis in 1939).  Here, the group met Rabbi Barry Marcus, the founder of the project, who spoke to the students about the victims’ lives before the war in order to begin to re-humanise them as individuals.  The group was then taken to Auschwitz I and given a guided tour of the barracks where exhibitions of items seized from the prisoners are now housed.  Exhibitions included hair and artificial limbs, suitcases, shoes and household items.

John and Gareth were then taken to Auschwitz II-Birkenau – the site that most people associate with the word ‘Auschwitz’ and where the vast majority of victims were murdered.  Seeing the remnants of barracks, crematoria and gas chambers had an even greater impact on the students.  The exhibition, here, of photos of the victims’ lives before the war added to this, as it serves as a reminder that the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust were individuals with stories of their own.  The tour of Auschwitz II-Birkenau was concluded with a memorial service led by Rabbi Barry Marcus.  Students then lit memorial candles and placed them along the railway track as a final mark of respect to those who died, and to mark the end of their trip.

The follow up seminar, which was also held in the Angel Hotel, served as an opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences and the impact it had on them.  It also allowed John and Gareth to discuss ideas for their Next Steps project that is aimed at sharing their unforgettable experiences and disseminating the lessons they have learned.

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