Auschwitz trip

 Every year the Holocaust Educational Trust choose students from schools across the UK to become ambassadors to carry forward their message to a new generation. This year Aimee Law and Matthew Anderson were honoured to be chosen to represent Kirkintilloch High School. After an introductory seminar in Glasgow, where they heard from speakers from the Trust and a survivor’s story, they then travelled to Oświęcim, Poland to visit the extermination camps of Auschwitz I and II.

Matthew’s Story

The day began with an early 5am check in for a flight to Krakow airport. On arrival we travelled to a memorial graveyard in Oświęcim to learn about pre-war Jewish communities. Whilst there it struck me how disrespected the site had been. During Nazi occupation, gravestones of Jewish citizens were used as pavestones in the local area and even in more recent times after restoration people broke into the memorial to spray paint swastikas on some of the graves. It is disturbing that in today’s society antisemitism is still prevalent.

As we left and travelled to Auschwitz I began to feel uneasy. The area around the camps was insignificant and similar to most European countryside but as we turned past a gas station we noticed the ominous train tracks that cut and dug into the pavement. We all knew where these led. The bus followed these tracks to Auschwitz I where the buildings had been transformed into surreal museums filled with information and disturbing collections of human hair, shoes and possessions. The most harrowing feature by far was the execution wall. It’s a very chilling thing to stand in a place where people saw their last sight. Auschwitz II in contrast was very expansive and barren yet solemn. It had a cold and an unforgiving atmosphere and the path where people were ‘selected’ for loss of liberty or loss of life was disturbingly difficult to walk through. Our day ended peacefully in a ceremony led by a rabbi, survivor and her family singing the Israeli national anthem, leaving me physically restless, reflective but emotionally at peace.

Matthew Anderson 6H

 

Aimee’s Story

Getting up at 4am to go to the airport didn’t seem like a chore that day. It was a duty. As an ambassador for Kirkintilloch High School, my presence had a meaning. Upon arrival in the town of Oświęcim, Poland we visited a pre war Jewish cemetery to show the fact that death was celebrated in the usual fashion with a burial service with headstones. These headstones were used to pave streets during the Nazi siege of the town. We were then told the gates surrounding the site were there to prevent ongoing anti Semitic attacks. From here we went to Auschwitz I where we were met with the words “arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free). In this case work certainly did not set these souls free. The tour of the camp was mesmerising. We were shown the cramped conditions in which prisoners slept, told countless stories and read memoirs from prisoners. Standing inside the last standing Auschwitz gas chamber triggered raw emotion. Trying to imagine 700+ people in this tiny room was unfathomable. You could see the scratches on the wall; trace the handprints of these people awaiting their final moments. Personally, the most surreal part of the trip was being able to touch the cold, metal barbed wire fence, knowing death would not be my punishment, one which was frequent for Jews determined to escape. The journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau was interesting; seeing the iconic train tracks perpendicularly mirroring the main road constructed years after the atrocity. At Birkenau, we stood atop the guard tower which overlooked the whole camp. Taken aback, the camp stretched as far as the eye could see. We looked at the attempts to cover the Nazis’ actions; a half destroyed gas chamber. To bring the trip to a close, a Rabbi sang the Israeli national anthem as we lit memorial candles to commemorate the loss of the 6 million innocent people. Being able to say “I walked out of Auschwitz” is something that millions of others never had the chance to say. The experience will always hold a place in my heart, and has changed the way I see society. We cannot all be bystanders to bullying, racism or any type of hate in this world, as something so small has the chance to turn into something greater and more destructive.

From this visit, we both aim to show our school and community that although millions of people were killed due to this atrocity, these people had families, a past life, stories that we need to share. Not only the victims, but the perpetrators too. These SS soldiers and the Gestapo were affiliated with the Holocaust and had families too. The experience has enabled us to share these stories and try to raise the awareness of pre-existing xenophobia, homophobia and blatant racism that still exists in politics and today’s society.

Aimee Law 6H

Auschwitz

Auschwitz 2