For three days over the February half term, 60 students took part in a trip to Krakow, Poland, to visit sites of Jewish history, focusing on their persecution during the Second World War.
The trip began with an early morning start, setting off for Stanstead at 4 o’clock on Monday morning and arriving in Krakow at around noon. After landing in Krakow, the students and teachers were met by their tour guide. They then walked to Kazimierz (the Jewish quarter of the town), once home to over 65,000 Jews. They also visited the Ghetto, where the diminishing Jewish population was kept under Nazi control.
On Tuesday, they visited the Auschwitz Museum and Memorial and were met with the sight of the infamous black gates, which read, “work will set you free.” The guide showed them around the barracks of the original camp, containing many poignant exhibits, including the personal belongings of the people incarcerated within. Afterward, they traveled the short distance to the Birkenau extermination camp where they found themselves shocked at the sheer scale of it! Looking at the ruins of a Birkenau gas chamber made the group mindful of just how lucky they were to be standing on that side of history. The students said they left the site extremely conscious of the words they had read at the memorial – “Let this site be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.”
Later that day, they visited the Galicia Jewish Museum. The group was shown a collection of photos relating to the Jewish heritage from the surrounding region and the way the culture has flourished since the war, despite the communities heavily reduced numbers. They were very privileged to be able to speak to a woman who evaded the Holocaust but whose family were not so lucky. Her stories of life after the war inspired the group to further better themselves the same way that she had done for so long.
The final morning was spent in Krakow visiting the factory of Oscar Schindler, a former Nazi party member who saved the lives of more than a thousand members of his Jewish workforce. The story of the Schindler Factory is very well known from the film, Schindler’s List.
The afternoon saw a more light-hearted visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines on the outskirts of Krakow. The group descended 380 steps and toured various mining tunnels as well as a 12-meter-high chapel, dug from the sale with even the chandeliers made of pure salt.