Pupils reflect on Holocaust Awareness Day and their visit to Poland

23 Mar 2012

Pupils studying A level History from Christ College continued their journey of understanding the Holocaust when they travelled to Auschwitz on Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January).

The Holocaust Educational Trust supported 18 pupils and 2 members of staff from Christ College to visit the former concentration camp at first-hand. Head of Humanities Mr Noel Thomas and Head of History Mrs Ruth Allen accompanied the pupils over the weekend. Mr Thomas said: “The Holocaust is one of the main topics of the pupils’ coursework and the visit will be of great benefit to them.”

The itinerary of the visit activities included: a tour of Krakow to include the old Jewish District and Ghetto; a visit to Auschwitz where they also had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz I, the original part of the camp; and also Auschwitz II at Birkenau, the extermination camp.

Sixth Form pupil Hetta Carthew said: ‘We were really looking forward to this trip as it ties in with our current A –Level coursework and would offer us the opportunity to gain a true idea of the scale and atrocity of the Holocaust. She added: ‘We arrived on Friday afternoon and experienced temperatures of around -10 degrees! We just about had time to look around Krakow Square – which was really beautiful and old fashioned. The next day we headed for Auschwitz, delayed slightly by our bus door freezing open! On entering Auschwitz I it was hard to really picture this as the place where such evil acts were committed.
However, as we preceded and our tour guide explained more, the atrocities became very real. We were shown the torture chambers of Block 11 and learnt of the awful punishments the inmates had to endure. The final element, which was perhaps the most shocking was the crematorium & first gas chamber.’

Hetta continued: ‘We then went to Birkenau, Auschwitz II, which appeared more familiar, the railway running under the tower into an expanse of ruin which illustrated the scale of ‘the Final Solution’. We were also shown the memorial statue, located at the end of the camp, which was scattered with flowers & candles and which had a plaque for each of the nationalities who suffered.

She concluded: ‘Overall I would say that though horrific, this experience was one that everyone should endure as it is truly eye opening and illustrates humanity’s capacity for evil. It acts as a warning and is a living relic and memoriam of the slaughter of the past. For me, it was amazing: shocking, emotional and gave a real idea of the scale which cannot be described in books and films alone. I’m really grateful to have had this opportunity and am positive it will aid me in my study of history.’

Last term, Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper visited Christ College to speak to a group of Sixth Form pupils about his experiences. As a 14-year-old, Mr Shipper found himself in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and was sent on a death march four years later. He told a group of Sixth Form history students that ‘Hitler did not succeed’.

Now aged 81, Mr Shipper was speaking at Christ College Brecon as part of a schools’ outreach programme which aims to enable young people to better understand the nature of the Holocaust and to explore its lessons in more depth.

He took part in a question and answer session during his visit, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, and told the students that he believes the only reason he survived was because he was young and in a sense had already lost his parents. His mother he believed was dead and his father had left in 1939 to escape the Germans.

When asked by students how he survived, he recalled the scenes of mothers and children being desperately parted at Auschwitz and recalled that he had no mother to be separated from or siblings. He stated that having witnessed such scenes ‘I could never have survived that, I could never have lived with that.’

Ruth Allen, Head of History at Christ College Brecon, said it was a privilege to welcome Zigi to the school. “His testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced,” she said.

She added: “We hope that by hearing Zigi’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said The Holocaust Educational Trust aimed to educate and engage students from across the UK about the Holocaust.

She said: “There can be no better way of doing this than through the first-hand testimony of a survivor. Zigi’s story is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances, and by hearing his testimony, students will have the opportunity to learn whereprejudice and racismcan ultimately lead.”

She added: “At the Trust, we impart the history of the Holocaust to young people, to ensure that we honour the memory of those whose lives were lost and take forward the lessons taught by those who survived.”