Mansfield Lessons from Auschwitz Project 2020
In February two year 12 students, Emily Husnjak and Andreas Ellis-Hedd, were given the opportunity to take part in the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ Project run by the Holocaust Educational Trust. These are the words of Emily:
“On the 13th February Andreas and I were given the incredible opportunity to travel to Poland and participate in a visit that would be life-affirming and life-enriching. It was a very long day and emotions were high. However, the experience was something else and we are so thankful to both the school and the Trust for allowing us to take part.
We met at 5 a.m. on the Thursday morning in Cardiff Airport and flew to Krakow, Poland. Once we arrived, we assembled into our groups, got onto the coaches, and travelled for about an hour to a neighbouring village of Auschwitz concentration camp called Oświęcim (which means Auschwitz in Polish). In the village we visited a memorial site for a synagogue that during the Holocaust was burnt down by the Germans. We were taken here to really get a sense of the fact that the people who died in the Holocaust were normal people living normal lives. We then took the
five-minute drive to Auschwitz I. Here we met our tour guide and went on a tour around the camp. Auschwitz I comprises of small exhibitions which are located within each of the housing blocks.
As we entered each of these buildings, we were confronted by some of the most hard-hitting and devastating things we’ve ever seen. Nothing could have prepared us for what we saw in these buildings. These rooms were filled with shoes, glasses, hair, pans and brushes. The impression that we got from this is that those who were brought to the camp had no idea what was going on and clearly intended to return home when it was safer. Once visiting each of the ‘barracks’ we then went into the gas chamber and crematorium. This was so heart-breaking and chilling that it physically made you tear up. You could almost feel the fear of the prisoners as they were registering what was about to happen. We then took the coach across the bridge to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Just seeing the watchtower and train track as well as the vastness of this place, even from the comfort of the coach, made me feel physically sick. It was so overwhelming and impossible to come to the realisation of the extent of the horrific things that happened here. Birkenau was so much bigger than Auschwitz I and the appearance of Birkenau was clearly so much more ‘basic’. When walking around the camp it was silent. It was surreal to be standing where thousands of people were split from their families and walked in opposite directions, not knowing that they would never see each other again.
The journey home was long, and we all spent time reflecting on everything we had seen that day. It truly was a life changing experience and I think it’s something that every person should see at some point in their lives. Now looking back on it all we think it is our responsibility to make sure that this is never forgotten and certainly never happens again. If any of you ever get the chance to go and visit the sites where the Holocaust took place, definitely go. It has given us both such a different outlook on life and we are so happy that we were given the opportunity.”