On 20th March 2019, a group of students from our school visited the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp. The camp was a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Nazi Germany near the town of Oświęcim in occupied Poland. The camp became synonymous over the years with the horrors of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler, and is most associated with the Holocaust – the organised extermination, exploitation and humiliation of homosexual, ideological and political dissidents. Most commonly however, the Holocaust is associated with the persecution of the Jewish population of Germany and the areas of other countries which they annexed during the sustained military expansion.
During the visit, students were led around the camp, which was a military barracks before the Nazi takeover. Prisoners held many roles within the camp, ranging from musicians; those who would search through the belongings of new arrivals and various other roles.
Once Auschwitz became overpopuated, a second camp was built using the forced labour of prisoners from the first camp. This camp, called Birkenau aimed to exterminate as many, if not all, Jewish prisoners. This involved the use of Zyklon B, a crystal that turned into a poisonous gas in the presence of heat.
Students were informed of the humiliation that prisoners were put through: being stripped naked before being led to what appeared to be a regular shower cubicle. The crystals were dropped through holes in the ceiling and prisoners would eventually succumb to death, which could last up to 40 minutes. The most shocking revelation was that of the role of the Sonderkommando, prisoners who worked within the crematoriums, throwing the bodies of strangers, friends and neighbours in the awaiting furnace.
Overall, the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was a harrowing experience for all involved. Clear proof of the extent of the genocide which took place under Nazi rule provided a unique insight on the suffering of those who were subjected to such cruelty. It will undoubtedly be an experience that all students and staff involved will never forget.
More information about the camp can be found on the official Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial website.
Featured image: Dnalor_01, Wikimedia Commons. Used under license CC-BY-SA 3.0.