Bobmore Lane, Marlow, Buckinghamshire SL7 1JE
Telephone - 01628 483 752
Company Registration No.07690054
Yr 12 Visit to Auschwitz

Yr 12 Visit to Auschwitz

A personal account by Jessay Wright, of her experience on visiting the concentration camps in Poland.

We first began at a small town called Oświęcim. To be honest, at first, it did not seem to be very significant. It looked like a town that could be anywhere in the world, quaint and quiet. We stood in our groups in the middle of the town square and our group leader recited its history. The town was situated near Auschwitz, hence the name. In 1939, the town had 12,000 people living within it, 8,000 of whom were Jewish. (Accounting for approximately 58% of the population). Next to the church there was a huge synagogue built in 1558 and people were happy. Nowadays, the number of Jewish people residing there is zero. There is no synagogue next to the church, just a clear patch of grass; and what was there to recognise this loss? A small plaque on the town hall, hardly noticeable unless you were to look for it.

We then moved onto Auschwitz. Upon entry, as we got off the bus and sorted ourselves back into our groups, we had our first glance at the camp. A shocking sight was to see was how touristy it was. People were outside: sitting on benches, having lunch and chatting. It was a strange experience to see everyday people enjoying themselves outside what was once a death factory. Once we met up with our tour guide, we went inside. We were greeted by the famous gates that had the phrase ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’, which translates to ‘work sets you free’. It is strange to see the gates, because they are a key image associated with the camp. In most history books or documentaries, the gates are usually shown to represent Auschwitz: to see them in person is very strange experience.

Auschwitz is eerily quiet once you enter. Each tour group wears headphones so you can hear your tour guide, thus everybody is quiet because there is no reason to talk. As you walk through the gates and look to each side you can see the double up electric fence with the sign ‘Halt! Stoj!”, with a skull and crossbones sprayed onto it. The buildings inside were huge, which I was expecting, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see how neat and organised everything appeared to be inside. The buildings were all in a line and trees were planted in front. It was chilling to see how calm and tranquil it actually looked.

We moved into the first building and were greeted with a statement by George Santayana, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Inside were the museum areas and exhibits. This consisted of suitcases with address written on, a huge pile of shoes and, most hauntingly of all, the exhibit of human hair fabric. This was the building where every single part of each victim was recycled. Their hair, skin and ashes. Everything. The ash was recycled into the roads, the hair into fabric and the skin into whatever could be made from it.

We were given the poem ‘Pigtail’ by Tadeusz Różewicz before entering the exhibit of human hair, and as we walked through it was a jolting experience. Within the massive figures, it was easy to disassociate them from the fact that these people were in fact individuals. Upon seeing the hair, you are faced with the DNA of actual people, it jolts your mind back to associating the figures with people.

After we Auschwitz, we moved onto Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II.

The sheer size is impossible to convey in pictures, let alone words. We followed the railway track straight through the gates to the inside the camp, where millions of people suffered. We then tracked towards a barrack that had been rebuilt as part of the education scheme to show the living quarters of the concentration camps. This barrack was the sleeping area. Our tour guide explained to us how four to five prison inmates, maybe even more, would be crammed into each bed and would not be able to move or roll over. The top bunk was considered the best, as the bottom bunk was full of excrement, rats, filthy water and countless other unpleasant and fatal diseases. The prisoners would fight each other so that the weakest prisoners were on the bottom bunk and the strongest on the top. In winter the whole barrack would have ice inside and be below freezing and fatal; in summer it would have been boiling, disease ridden and again, fatal. There was no good time of the year to be in the barracks.

We then moved onto the next barrack, which happened to be the toilet block. Prisoners were given tiny amounts of time to rush in to do their business (if I remember correctly, 15 seconds). Three to four prisoners would share a hole, and because of the starvation, they would have diseases that caused diarrhoea. They would be given minutes to get in and out before the guards forced them out.

With regards to jobs of prisoners they would have to clean the toilets by hand, this was considered to be one of the best jobs because it was inside, as well as the fact that the guards, afraid of catching diseases, would stay well away from the toilets themselves, which in turn allowed the prisoners to have conversations and feel slightly more human as they could socialise and trade items, such as food or religious texts.

After leaving that block, we followed the train tracks further into the camp. As we were walking, to both sides were the ruins of the barracks that had existed before the camp was liberated.

We paused along the tracks to be greeted with a cart that was used to transport hundreds of prisoners at a time. What resonated with me was how small it actually was. The train cart was tiny. It is truly unimaginable how terrifying it must have been to go inside; not knowing how long you would be inside, or even where you would emerge once the journey stopped.

Next was the gas chambers of Birkenau, now all piles of rubble. All three were caved in, yet through the rubble the underground area was visible.

The registration building was next on the agenda, situated at the back end of the camp. Before we entered that, we were faced with what was once Canada II. This was where the prisoners’possessions were shifted through before they were sent right back to Germany. People’s pictures, clothes, shoes, memories, religious texts, jewellery, wedding bands, everything was sorted. all items were divided up before forwarded to Germany. Property of prisoners was treated as though it had no meaning, nor owner.

In the registration building we were presented with a table of objects that represented items taken from the prisoners. At the end of the building, our tour guide told us how a suitcase of photographs taken out of the prisoners’ belongings was found. It contained approximately 500 photos, all of which were on display.

At the end of the tour we went over to the memorial area of the camp. Holding candles, we had a memorial ceremony. It was a beautiful way of ending the trip as it allowed us to reflect and remember what occurred and how we felt. We listen to the ‘El Molei Rachamim’ also known as ‘For the Martyrs of the Holocaust’ as well as Psalm XXIII. It allowed us to reflect and remember everything we had learned, but also it felt like a respectful end to the trip. I think without that experience it would have felt incomplete.

The most terrible part of the whole trip for me was to learn how far the propaganda went. The people who travelled to each of these death camps believed, the entire time, that this would only be temporary. That they would be going somewhere better to live when everything was sorted out. This lie carried on throughout the whole selection process, evidence of this is the addresses written on the suitcases. When we entered the registration building we were faced with a table of objects, among them was a pair of keys, from someone’s house. It’s so disgusting, because the lie was so well planned and deliberately executed. It was not severe enough to make the people suffer physically; to have them thrown out of their homes, but to also be told that they were travelling somewhere better. To give the people false hope to better aid their extermination programme is utterly appalling. This should never, never be forgotten under any circumstances.

The reason why the Holocaust is so important is because it was the consequence of fear and hatred. It’s important, more than ever, to read individual‘s stories, not only to rehumanise the victims, but also because soon there will be no more survivors. The first-hand stories will only be recorded in ink. They are the biggest proof and strongest evidence against Holocaust deniers that we currently have, as they are personal. When all  survivors are all gone it’s important to be able to continue to share their story. To share who they are: their life, their family, what they lost,including family members and friends who did not survive. We have to share what happens to ensure that it never happens ever again.

Highslide for Wordpress Plugin