Laura Visits Poland

Laura Visits Poland

Lessons from Auschwitz

Read all about Laura's once in a lifetime opportunity.

In April 2013, I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend a once in a lifetime opportunity to take part in the “Lessons from Auschwitz Project”. The project involved a visit to Auschwitz as well as a series of seminars to help us reflect upon what we had experienced. 

During the visit to Poland, we were to visit one of the pre-war Jewish sites in the town of Oświęcim, which was highly Jewish populated before the war. My group were taken to the Auschwitz Jewish Centre and the site of the Great Synagogue. The synagogue had been demolished by the Nazis, as had many of the synagogues at this time. There was only one remaining synagogue in Oświęcim which was saved only because the Nazi’s needed to store some carpets.  We learnt that only one Jewish man had ever returned to the town of Oświęcim, as many had died during the Holocaust and the rest could not face returning to a place that was once a hive of Jewish activity. 

Afterwards, we visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. By this time it was heavily snowing and nobody could help but feel guilty because whilst we were all in our thermals and keeping warm, the prisoners of the camp would have had nothing more than the iconic pair of worn out, striped pyjamas to keep them warm and would have experienced conditions far worse than we had on that day.  These two visits consisted of a guided tour and many readings from survivor testimonies. The main thing that occurred to me was the mental and physical and strength of not only the survivors, but all who had to endure the horrendous conditions at the camps. In any survivor story you hear or read there is an overwhelming attitude of strength, even in their lowest moments; mental and physical strength beyond humanly imaginable. One survivor story I’d recommend is the story of Zigi Shipper. He lost nearly all of his family during the holocaust and miraculously beat many illnesses that could have easily killed him. His attitude to life now is simply remarkable and the humour he uses in explaining his story is outstanding.

The visit to Poland was the most haunting experience I have ever had but with thanks to the seminars everybody was able to reflect upon their day and use it to go on to help others. I am so very thankful for this opportunity as it allowed me to begin to understand the atrocities people had to face. I have also been able to expand my knowledge of the Holocaust and intend on using it to educate others. The project was extremely worthwhile and rewarding and I am pleased to have participated.

About one and a half million men, women and children perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau and due to the mass amount of deaths it’s difficult to even begin to comprehend the trauma that people must have gone through during their time there. It is important to remember that every single person who was victim of the holocaust had lives and feelings no different to yours and mine, every single person had the possibility of a future no different to yours and mine, all but a few of these people had their lives, dreams, goals and futures taken away from them.