Upper Sixth moved by history trip to Poland
Last weekend, a group of Upper Sixth students headed East to Poland for the annual History Department trip to Krakow and Auschwitz. Here, students soaked up Jewish culture in Krakow, visiting the Rema synagogue and the Galicia Jewish Museum, as well as visiting the concentration camp, Auschwitz, where displays of artefacts and memorials to those who lost their lives during the Holocaust served to highlight the scale of the Nazi occupation of Europe to the group. This proved to be a very moving trip for all involved, and the group have written an account of their experiences:
“The History Department’s annual trip for the Upper Sixth to Krakow and Auschwitz is always a moving tour. Consequently it was unsurprising that at 3am on Saturday morning students left the school for the airport with nervous trepidation. After an early flight our itinerary started at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. At the museum we saw a photographic exhibition of Jewish life and culture in Poland, before, during and after the Holocaust. We then heard the moving story of Monica Goldwasser whose parents bravely gave her up when she was just 18 months old so that she might survive the Nazi persecution. Both Monica’s parents were killed in the Holocaust but Monica was taken into care by a Polish family who kept her hidden. The talk allowed staff and students to reflect on the personal stories behind the enormity of the extermination of 6 million Jews under Nazi occupied Europe.
Our first afternoon allowed the group to see more of the Jewish culture in Krakow on a walking tour of the old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, including visiting the Rema synagogue, the site of the Podgorze Jewish ghetto and Plaszow Concentration Camp. Before the Second World War there were 68,000 Jews living in Krakow as it was one of the largest Jewish centres in Galicia, now the Jewish population is less than 1,000.
The second day was the centre piece of the tour with a visit to the Nazi concentration and death camp, Auschwitz. This infamous site was the scene of the murder of 1.3 million Jews during the war, as well as Polish political prisoners, Soviet soldiers, gypsies and homosexuals. The students were visibly moved by evidence of the victims of the Holocaust. Glass cases of human hair, glasses, shoes, suitcases of children as young as two or three could not help but move the group and left many speechless. One of the most moving displays was a new exhibition that had recreated the images drawn by Jewish children on the walls of concentration camps. As we toured around Birkenau – the largest camp in the Auschwitz complex – and saw the women’s barracks, explored gas chambers and memorials to those killed, the group was noticeably quiet.
Our return to Krakow and dinner out in a Jewish restaurant where musicians played traditional Jewish music brought the group together after an emotional and reflective day. The restaurant and music reflected the Jewish culture which has sadly disappeared from much of Krakow and Poland.
Our final day included a visit to the factory of Oscar Schindler Factory. Oscar Schindler was a member of the Nazi party and a successful industrialist who saved over 1,000 Jewish lives during the Holocaust by using them to work in his factory in Krakow. Many scenes from the film Schindler’s List were filmed in the factory and much of the factory is now given over to showing how the Nazi occupation affected both Jews and non-Jews in Krakow.
Our final afternoon allowed us to visit more of historic Krakow, visiting the castle, famous fire-breathing dragon, and gave us a chance to spend some time shopping in the famous cloth market. The more adventurous students even took a horse and carriage ride to see more of the sites that Krakow had to offer.
We returned to Cambridge late on Monday night and it’s safe to say that every single student had been moved in some way by what they had experienced on this tour.”