In February, two Barry Comprehensive School Year 12 students, Seren Ewington and Cain Gannon, with Ms.Bertheux, took part in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons From Auschwitz project.
This began with an orientation seminar at the Mercure Cardiff Holland House Hotel, where students heard the testimony of holocaust survivor Eva Clarke. Eva was born at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in 1945 – being born at the end of the war, Eva told her mother’s story. While Eva’s mother survived the Holocaust, she put it down to ‘luck’ that she survived. Her father was shot and killed. At the time of Eva’s birth, her mother weighed just 5 stone. However, Mauthausen was liberated, and both mother and baby survived. After the testimony, Eva participated in a Q&A session, where she was able to give her’s and her mother’s unique insight into such things as the war, the Holocaust and Holocaust deniers.
The next stage was a trip to Poland, and a visit to the town of Oswiecim, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Oswiecim, which was renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis, holds a museum of Jewish life in the area. We were told lives of Jewish people there, to ensure every victim of the Holocaust is remembered as an individual, not just one of the 6 million. We then took the short journey to Auschwitz I. Here, we were guided around the barracks which have been converted into museums, showing items such as suitcases, wedding rings and hair. The mounds of clothes and shoes, prominently displaying children’s outfits, were particularly touching. On entry we walked under the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign, ‘work makes you free’.
We then continued on to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Birkenau is where approximately 90% of all those who died as the Auschwitz complex were murdered. We were able to see the remnants of the barracks, which went on as far as we could see in the weather, as well as the gas chambers and adjoining crematoria. To be stood in the very place where so many thousands lost their lives was an incredibly moving experience. Past the wreckage of the crematoria, a gallery has been set up, with hundreds of photos of those who were taken to, and often killed, at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was another reminder to humanise the ‘6 million’ figure.
While we were there, the temperature remained below freezing for our whole trip. We struggled with the weather, which only increased our empathy for those forced to endure these circumstances and worse, with no shoes and thin clothing. It is fair to say all those who went on the trip were in disbelief that anyone could endure and survive in the climate.
The follow-up seminar gave those who attended an opportunity to reflect on their experience and their feelings after visiting Poland. It was resoundingly agreed that this was an experience which would never be forgotten, and which has changed everyone’s lives, forever.
Report by Cain Gannon Year 12