PTE students visit Poland

PTE students visit Poland

In the May half term, 30 Year 10 students flew with us to Krakow in Poland, the main reason for which was to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. Prior to the visit students met with a Holocaust survivor to get a first-hand account of what it was like to be a Jew living in a Nazi occupied territory in the Second World War. 

There were 3 main visits on the trip. Firstly, students toured Krakow. They visited what used to be the Jewish Quarter where, for centuries, ethnic Polish and Jewish cultures coexisted. This included areas that we recognised from watching Schindler’s list before the trip. We did also see Oscar Schindler’s factory although, whilst a heroic man in his own right, Oscar came to Krakow as a Nazi, so instead we focused on the heroes not immortalised by Hollywood who risked their lives to save the Jewish people of Krakow. This was a particular focus when we moved on to visit what became the Jewish ghetto. At what is now Ghetto Heroes Square, but was the square Nazi occupants gathered Jewish people before deporting them to nearby Auschwitz, we heard accounts of just a few of these heroic acts. For example, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a pharmacist whose pharmacy faced onto the square, who distributed white coats to Jewish people and brought them into his pharmacy when they were being gathered for deportation so that they would not be taken. 

The next two days were spent first at Auschwitz and then Birkenau. Auschwitz is now a museum and students were able to see the relics that have been preserved by the museum, including the belongings of the prisoners that were kept there. As we were travelling with a partner of the museum, we were also able to see collections that are not usually seen by the general public. This included pieces of artwork that prisoners were forced to paint to be used in Nazi propaganda, but also those that were created in secret and hidden only to be found after the liberation, documenting a true reflection of life in the camp. Birkenau is much more a memorial, kept as it was found when it was liberated. Students saw what remained of the barracks and the gas chambers and heard of the brutal selection process and individual stories of some of those sent there, including the attempted uprising of the Sonderkommandos. 

The students were brilliant throughout, engaged and really reflective about what they had seen and learnt during the day. Every evening was spent in the beautiful Old Town of Krakow where students were able to go and sample traditional Polish cuisine, (or McDonalds!) engage in some retail therapy and even join in with a local dance troupe!