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Auschwitz Experience for Students at The Blyth Academy Helps Understanding of The Holocaust

21st Feb 2017

Auschwitz Experience for Students at The Blyth Academy Helps Understanding of The Holocaust

A school visit to Auschwitz brought a new poignancy for students at The Blyth Academy, which is sponsored by Northern Education Trust, as they commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day which is held annually on 27th January, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - and sees over 5,590 activities taking place nationally.

In October 2016 Steph Davison and Sharna Maddison, from the academy's sixth form, along with their history teacher, Mr Davison had the privilege to participate in the "Lessons from Auschwitz" project organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust. This involved travelling to Poland to visit Holocaust related sights. On their return and to contribute to Holocaust Memorial Day, they described their trip and shared their experience with fellow students at the academy.

Their first experience was a visit to the Jewish cemetery in the town of Oswiecim, where they discovered that the gravestones of the Jewish victims had been numbered. This is because during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the Second World War the gravestones were removed and reused as a building material at the labour and death camp built just outside the town of Auschwitz. After the war the gravestones were returned to the cemetery, but the record of who had been buried there had been destroyed.

The group then undertook a tour of the concentration and death camps, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tour consisted of visiting and seeing first-hand the buildings and conditions at both camps. Auschwitz I was originally built as a Polish army barracks but was reinvented as a labour and death camp by the Nazis when Poland fell under German occupation. Some of the rooms contain the personal belongings of those interred, such as Jewish prayer shawls (tallits), hair combs, pots and pans and suitcases. Quite shockingly in rooms at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Zyklon B pellets, the deadly pesticide used in the gas chambers could be clearly seen.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was originally also part of the army barrack complex and is where the majority of prisoners lived in buildings, which had originally been stables for 52 horses. The Nazis converted these barracks to accommodate 1000 people. This site also operated four gas chambers where, at the height of the Second World War, 6,000 people were put to death each day by the Nazi regime.

Prior to the Poland visit students attended a talk given by Eva Clarke. Eva's story gave an insight into the struggles many individuals faced during the Holocaust. Eva was born in Mauthausen concentration camp, Austria, on 29th April 1945. She and her mother are the only survivors of their family, 15 members of whom were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Returning back to school after the visit a series of assemblies were organised so that students could share their experiences with other students. They explained the horrors of the Holocaust and shared survivor testimonies of Ela Weissberger and Kitty Hart-Moxon. Photographs of Auschwitz that were taken during the visit and poems written by victims of the Holocaust were also shown.

Speaking about their experiences, Steph Davison said:

"In taking part in this very informative trip our aim has been to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust with fellow students and the important lessons to be learned. Sadly, even in more recent times there have been genocides in Darfur in the Sudan, Rwanda and Cambodia. We have inspired everyone at the Academy to be involved in the memorial activities through dedicated discussion in tutor time.

Sharna Maddison added:

"As a result of our project, students in The Blyth Academy have gained an awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust and taken into account how genocide, persecution and the denial of human rights have affected many different groups of people throughout the world. We have also shared our lessons from Auschwitz with the wider school community and emphasised why it is important for us to commemorate the Holocaust."