Still 'Harrowing', 'Traumatic', 'Horrifying' and 'Life-changing', 70 years after the event...
A Barton Peveril student has been speaking about her participation in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” project.
Sixth formers Jessica Jelley and Katie Wilson attended two half-day seminars in London and subsequently visited the former Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, returning with the objective of sharing their experiences with fellow students and the wider public, encouraging us all to think about the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance.
Eastleigh News asked Jessica “What can you tell our readers about the history of Auschwitz?”. She explained;
Auschwitz is in Poland and before the second world war it was called Oswiecim.
When the Nazis took over Poland in 1939 they called the town Auschwitz, and used the army barracks and converted them into a concentration camp, which was right near to a rail way.
Further down the rail way line in Oswiecim more of the city was demolished in order to create space for another concentration camp.
These two sites, Auschwitz Berkenua and Auschwitz 2 are what is commonly known today as Auschwitz.
These camps were where the Nazis sent social outsiders from Poland and other countries that they had invaded, these were normal people, but the Nazis saw them as undesirable. These were groups of people such as Romanian travellers, Catholics, homosexuals and Jewish people. Overall around 1.6 million people were killed there in the time they were open.
These camps are now open today for visitors to look round, and being in such a place is a truly harrowing experience.
I then asked “What is the Holocaust Educational Trust?”. As Jessica explains;
The Holocaust Education Trust is an organisation that works within schools and colleges and communities across the country, to try and improve people’s knowledge and understanding of the holocaust. It also aims to help people understand the relevance that the holocaust still has in today’s society.
The Holocaust Education Trust today works against racism, anti-Semitism, and the prejudices that there are still today. They also strive to ensure that the holocaust isn’t forgotten and brushed into the past.
My next question was “What is the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project?” . Jessica said;
The Holocaust Education Trust has set up the Lessons from Auschwitz project in order to educate people of the holocaust and ensure that it isn’t being forgotten. They also aim to show people that the events of the Holocaust are still relevant today.
The Lessons from Auschwitz project, takes two pupils from each college across the region and runs two seminars with them, and takes them on a day trip to Auschwitz.
Throughout the trip the students are given lots of support by the staffs who work for Lessons from Auschwitz. This runs all year round, with the different regions of the country, to ensure that all colleges get the chance to take part in it.
LFA also work within schools to provide resources and lessons on the holocaust. They can also help with schools getting survivors in to talk to students, which they are keen on doing as soon it won’t be the survivors that talk but the survivors children, and grandchildren which could make the talks have less of an impact on students.
With only two students from each college participating in the project I was keen to hear how Jessica and Katie came to be selected. Jessica said;
As history is my passion and World War two is my favourite topic, I have always felt that it was important for me to go to Auschwitz, as I felt that it was important to understand what the people went through there, at Auschwitz, and in other camps.
I felt the best way to do that was to go. Before the summer I heard about the Lessons from Auschwitz project at college and I knew that I had to go.
However only two students were able to go from each college, so in order to be selected I had to write a letter emphasising why I thought I should be able to go on the trip.
The Lessons from Auschwitz project allows two students from each college to go, so therefore it was only myself and my fellow student Katie Wilson.
Before the project started I had never met Katie, so I was slightly worried about going through such a traumatic experience with someone that I had only known for a few weeks, however we both really supported each other on the day visit to Auschwitz.
I asked whether this was a one off or something that Barton Peveril was involved with every year and wondered how many staff were involved. Jessica continued;
Barton Peveril has been involved with the project for the last few years, and as it is such a large project that is run nationwide, each college is only able to take part in the project once a year.
There wasn’t any staff that went from Barton Peveril College, it was just my fellow student and myself, however there were staff from the holocaust education trust that went with us, and some staff from other colleges.
All together there were roughly 150 students that went. We were split into groups of 10 and we each had one leader from the holocaust education trust, and a few teachers from other colleges.
“What did you all have to do…?”, I asked. Jess replied;
To take part in the project, we all had to go to an orientation seminar in London which was about a week before we went out to Poland for the day.
In this seminar we were introduced to the themes and key messages that the holocaust education trust wished to put across to us, and we also had some ice breakers within our groups, as obviously we had never met before and we would all be going through as life changing experiment together with in the next week.
After this we then had Kitty Heart-Moxen give a survivor testimony. Her testimony was shocking and at the same time the most amazing thing I had ever listened to, as when learning about the holocaust before I had never really though much about the people that had survived and would have to live with the memories for the rest of their life.
After this we then returned home, and a week later we were on our way to London again but at 2 AM in the morning this time, and we go to the airport and check in. After this we went to the departure gate and this is when we all found out that Nick Clegg would be joining us on the day trip to Auschwitz.
Having already said it was a harrowing experience a traumatic experience and a life changing experience, I didn’t press Jess for more details of the visit to the site, allowing that to remain a personal experience. The detailed history of Auschwitz is very well documented on Wikipedia [and elsewhere] if you want to discover more about what happened there, for yourselves.
I did however ask what messages she’d taken away from the trip. Jess said;
I have taken a lot away from my experience of taking part in Lessons from Auschwitz; it was an amazing experience, at the same time horrifying and extremely humbling.
I feel that it has shaped my outlook on life and what I feel is right and wrong, and I know now that I would definitely stand up for what I believe in, making sure that people weren’t being picked on for their race, religion or for any other discriminatory reason.
The main message I would like to convey from my experience, is that we should not look at the mass number of people that were affected by the holocaust, but the individual people that were affected. All of their individual lives stopped. Their families ripped apart.
But it also needs to be considered that not only the individual sufferers were affected, but also the perpetrators. They too were affected by the catastrophic events that took place during the holocaust, and they were just normal people, before the war…
Although Barton Peveril staff were not present with Jessica and Katie on this latest trip, Nick West, History teacher at Barton Peveril said;.
“The scheme run by the HET provides an excellent opportunity for students to discover more about this terrible period in 20th century history.
In allowing students to actually visit Auschwitz and also meet witnesses it provides an invaluable opportunity for them to go some small way in trying to understand the Holocaust.
The college has been participating for several years now and I have always been impressed by how much students gain from the experience and then pass on what they have learned to their peers and local community.
Jess and Katie have demonstrated a very mature and intelligent response to what they encountered.”
Eastleigh News would like to thank Jess for being prepared to talk to us about her experience, a tale that we have related her own words as much as possible.