Krakow 2018

Krakow 2018

Following on from the work in year 9 where students study World War II and then year 10 when they study Hitler’s rise to power, Year 11 students went on a residential trip to Krakow, Poland, for cultural, religious and historical benefit. They were able to visit many of the key holocaust sites such as Auschwitz and the Schindler museum, as well as hearing a talk from a Holocaust survivor at the Galicia museum. They also had the chance to see the culture of Krakow and the development of the city both pre- and post-WWII. Of particular relevance to RE is the study of the Jewish quarter and the once large Jewish population of the city.

Our Aims:

  • For students to gain a greater awareness of the historical and cultural impact of the holocaust and WWII on the nations of Europe.
  • For students to have a far greater understanding of the persecution of peoples in Europe with particular reference to the Jewish population as well as the Romany Gypsy population and other perceived minorities
  • For students to be more aware of the cultural divides that existed at the time, and due to first-hand exposure to survivors, be more aware of the issues of racism and hate.

Krakow 2018 students in museum          Krakow 2018 seated group

What did our students have to say?

“ ‘The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again’ - the words of philosopher George Santayana. These strike you as you enter the museum on the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. This has been a concept discussed by historians and philosophers alike throughout the ages - perhaps more famously by Karl Marx who put it simply, ‘history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’.

Eighty Yr11 students reflected upon this whilst visiting only a few of the Holocaust memorial sites, on the most humbling and emotional of residential trips.

It began on the 12th of January with an extremely reasonable departure time of 11am, arriving at our hotel, just outside the centre of Krakow, at 8pm Polish time. The cold was biting from the second we left the airport. We then had some down time in the evening, much needed preparation for the emotionally and physically draining day ahead. The second day began early, so we all slept on the drive to our first destination: Auschwitz. Listening to our tour guide on individual headsets, we saw salvaged possessions of Jewish people (as well as other persecuted minorities) that were stripped from them as they entered the camp. The impact came from rooms filled with piles of human hair, dulled with dust and age, with named suitcases or collections of shoes, with the smallest placed in plain sight. The truth of such an awful past, standing so clearly before us, left us unable to verbalise the feeling. Even wearing layers of clothes we still felt frozen; snow fell for a brief time, and we were left to imagine the same weather with only one layer of the infamous stripes, not nearly enough food and mercilessly enforced manual labour. The only way we could comprehend it was to focus on individuals, reading names on suitcases or matching a pair of shoes and thinking about the journey of their owner; did they even make it inside the camp, as only 30% of the transported did? Did they survive the life expectancy of 3 months? Did they lose their family? And for the hopeful: did they arrive late enough that they were saved by the Soviet liberators? This understanding made our experience of the harrowing sites even more powerful. The next destination was Birkenau, the death camp twenty times bigger than Auschwitz. Famous for its huge gate, often seen as the symbol of the Holocaust. It was noticeably colder there due to the flat, open land. The exposure to the elements was clear.

We then had free time to explore the centre of the city of Krakow. For most of us that meant some retail therapy. After dinner at the hotel, we went back into the city for the famed ‘Krakow Challenge’, with each teacher providing their own challenge; the favourite was, ‘take a picture with a nun’ from Mr Bond! Our last day: a trip to the Ghetto Heroes Square; an informative overview of the ghetto in Krakow from our resident Holocaust expert, Miss Cole; and a visit to the offices of Oskar Schindler’s factory. Here we found a more positive message: Schindler saved the lives of 1200 Jewish people by giving them jobs in factories, so making them indispensable to the war effort. It also provided a summary of Nazi occupation”

Sophie Cieslik & Lucy Spouncer Yr11