Sophie and I had the opportunity to be a part of the Lessons from Auschwitz project which is aimed at young people in order to increase their knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust and reflect on the contemporary relevance of it.
As a part of the project we went to an orientation seminar before the main trip and heard from a Holocaust survivor called Hannah Lewis.
Her story was heartbreaking and made us reflect on the experiences of all those affected by the holocaust, not just those sent to concentration camps. On Wednesday 13 February we travelled to a very cold Poland.
Our first visit was to the town of Oświęcim which, before the war, had a large Jewish community which accounted to 58% of the population. By going here we started to understand the ordinary lives in which the Jewish community had before the war.
Our second visit was the Auschwitz I where we learnt about the lives of the prisoners in the camp and the conditions in which they lived. One of the most challenging things to see here was the massive amount of personal items which were left behind after the camp was liberated. The items included hairbrushes, prosthetics, shoes and the most disturbing of all: the hair of the prisoners presented in a glass case in one of the exhibits. As well as this we also visited one of the remaining gas chambers. Our last visit was to Auschwitz II-Birkenau which progressed to being the main extermination centre and is only 3 km away from Auschwitz I. We walked down to the rail line where most prisoners arrived and were divided between the fit who would work in the camp and the unfit who would be taken straight to the gas chambers. It was devastating to even try to comprehend the hardships that the prisoners experienced. The most chilling thing that we learnt from Birkenau was that there was not an exact figure for those who died but approximately it was estimated to be around 1.2 million people. Overall we found this experience to be insightful and it helped us to understand how prejudice and racism can lead to catastrophic events if no one challenges it.