Last week twenty four Franklin students made the trip to visit Auschwitz in Poland. Following on from work done in the last term including a talk in college from an Auschwitz survivor this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the power of history in a real setting.
Here is what they did.
"We arrived in Krakow at around 7pm on Tuesday 23rd January and were greeted by a chilly -6C. After exploring the Old Town for a few hours it was time for bed as we were due to leave at 06:30 the following day for Auschwitz. It became quite apparent on the morning of Wednesday 24th that many of the students had never seen 06:30 before, but all managed to get on the coach in time (just). We arrived at Auschwitz 1 and the mood on the coach immediately changed as we entered the gates. Our guide showed us around some of the prison buildings that are now used to exhibit some of the artefacts stored at the site. One room, around half the size of the LRC, was filled with 2 tonnes of human hair. Women and children had their heads shaved upon arrival of the camp before being sent to the gas chambers. The hair was then used to make rugs, clothing, bedding, mattresses and other items. Other rooms were filled with clothing, shoes, suitcases, artificial limbs and pots and pans. We were then taken to the gas chamber at Auschwitz 1 – a claustrophobic and dark room with a small hole in the ceiling where the Zyklon B gas was dropped in.
"The tour then took us to Auschwitz Birkenau – an enormous site the size of around 211 football pitches. From the gates you immediately see the scale of the camp, with ‘death barracks’ dominating the landscape. We were taken inside one of the original barracks which revealed the cramped conditions the prisoners were forced to endure with endless rows of wooden and concrete bunks. Following the tour, the coach journey back to Krakow was quiet as we all reflected on the experience and attempted to make sense of what we had seen.
"The next day (Thursday 25th), we had a walking tour of Krakow. Our energetic guide first took us to the Castle which overlooks the city (and Oscar Schindler’s house) before showing us around the old, untouched streets of the Kazimierz district. Traditional Jewish restaurants and bakeries line the narrow streets and our guide had stories for almost every building. The tour was then followed by a visit to the Schindler factory, which not only contains artefacts made by Oscar Schindler’s factory workers, but also offers a detailed and visual account of life in Krakow during the war.
"On the final morning of the trip we descended several hundred feet underground in the Wieliczka Salt Mines. The mines were opened in the 13th century and boast around 127 miles of warren-like tunnels, rooms and lakes. Commercial mining stopped in 1996 due to the fall in salt prices and heavy flooding, but today the mines are an incredible exhibition of intricately carved chapels, statues and chambers. Despite tired feet, the students covered several kilometres, stopping only to lick the walls along the way (our guide actually told them to…)".
Our thanks to Shane Harrison for organising the trip and taking such striking photographs.