After an extremely tiring term, a 2 o'clock start on a cold Saturday morning didn’t bode well with the majority of our group. But as soon as we arrived in Krakow, we were ready to get stuck in.
Our first day was spent walking around and enjoying the rich culture of Kazimerz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter. We visited Podgorze, the WW1 Jewish Ghetto (Square of Heroes), Schindler’s Factory and KZ Plaszow, Krakow’s concentration camp. After some free time in the Old Town (a quick trip to Macdonald’s for most) we had a traditional Eastern European dinner in CK Dezerter restaurant.
A six o’clock wake-up was another early rise, but I must say the sense of excitement loomed in the air. As we arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau, it seemed that the mood became subdued and suddenly we were somewhere very life-changing; and so it was.
We entered Auschwitz through the famous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gates and continued to blocks 4, 6, 11 and 27.
Block 4 covered the history of Auschwitz. Block 6 showed the living conditions of the camp and evidence of the crimes; this certainly left a bitter taste in our mouths. Block 11 was the ‘death’ block. This was the prison and place of execution for any criminals of the camp. The original cells still stand, which was eye-opening to see.
Finally, Block 27 is the most recent exhibition and it has the world’s biggest book. Sadly it is the book of the names of people who lost their lives in the camp.
Our next visit would take us to Birkenau, the execution camp. Our tour guides took us to the main railway, where life or death was determined as over 100,000 people disembarked a train to meet their destiny: a life of suffering and grueling work; or no life at all. A question that is still asked today is, which was the best option?
After a full orientation of the barracks and the main gas chambers 2 and 3, we stopped at the ‘pond of ashes’ to lay candles and say the Kaddish, which is the Jewish prayer, along with two other poems. This ceremony, along with the rest of the trip, was the most touching experience of my life and it truly opened my eyes to how lucky we are to live our lives freely, unlike the people who gave their freedom for us. As we were given a chance for reflection and silent prayer, I was able to realise how much we take for granted these days and how we need to reflect on why we are able to live our lives as well as we can more often. If there is one message that I took away from the trip, it was live life as freely and as well as you can. Never take a day for granted. That night we ate dinner in a traditional Jewish restaurant and enjoyed a night of celebration.
Our third and final day took us to a museum of photographs telling us about Jewish life, which was followed by a meeting with a Holocaust survivor. It was truly riveting to learn about life in the Ghetto and the horrific circumstances in which people’s lives were destroyed within seconds. Our trip was finished off with a visit to Remuh Synagogue and some free time before we headed back to Krakow airport and journeyed home to enjoy our Easter.
Special thanks go out to Mr Chipperton, Mr Mackridge, Ms Milanova and Dr Oakley for organising this life-changing experience.
Please click on the image below to scroll through a gallery of images taken during the trip. (Clicking on the magnifying glass in the top right-hand of a photo will open it up at full size.)