The Holocaust – six million dead; it seems like just a number. But these numbers represent people – people like you, your sister or brother, your mum or dad, your gran or grandfather. They were killed for being born. For being born into a religion, for being a certain age, for speaking a certain language or looking a certain way.
There is no way I can put into words what my journey meant or what I have learned – how do you sum up the Holocaust in a few hundred words? So instead I attempting it through pictures, with small descriptions below.
The Principal’s Go Abroad Fund allowed me to travel across Poland, visiting sites linked to the Holocaust and related atrocities. Prior to my trip, I had always thought of Auschwitz Birkenau as the center of the Holocaust, but the study trip opened my eyes to the atrocities that happened throughout the country, not just in concentration and death camps. I had never thought about the city of Oświęcim itself, but after staying there for a couple of nights I soon realised that although daily life continues, the area will never escape the links to the nearby extermination camp.
From late 1941 to late 1943, executions took place in front of the purpose-built ‘Death Wall.’ The wall is situated in the yard beside Block 11, where prisoners were told to disrobe and await their fate. Often executed in pairs, women were the first to be led out into the yard and shot in the back of the head, their lifeless bodies dumped carelessly onto carts and sent to the crematoria.
In Block 5, a pile of suitcases takes up half of the room, each detailed with the owner’s name and address. Prisoners were told they could each take a small suitcase with valuables, which they would get back after ‘showering.’
This photograph has to be one of the most powerful I took throughout the trip. The inside of the gas chamber was covered in scratch marks from prisoners clawing at the wall, in their last few seconds of life.
This small handful of pellets, could kill hundreds of prisoners within 20 minutes. Zyklon B Gas killed an estimated 1.2 million people, including approximately 960,000 Jews.
My travels then took me to Kraków, where Schindler’s Factory explained not only Oskar Schindler’s story but the effect of the Holocaust and Nazi occupation in the city.
This memorial stands on the square, where thousands of Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. Each chair represents 1,000 Jews, with the seats each facing in the direction of departure; to Płaszów Concentration Camp, towards Schindler’s Factory or to streets with dead ends, where they would be executed.
The monument recognises all the children who fought, died and served during the Warsaw Rising in 1944. Children were involved as messengers and front-line troops – it just goes to show that everyone was effected in one way or another.
Umschlagplatz saw around 300,000 Jews transported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka Extermination Camp. The design of the memorial is said to represent the freight trucks, that at least 6,000 people were crammed into daily. The walls of the monument are inscribed with 448 Jewish and Polish names, in remembrance of those who were killed.
The largest bunker and headquarters of the Warsaw Uprising, was situated on Mila Street. This is one of two memorial stones to commemorate the brave heroes of the Jewish Fighting Organization, of which at least 100 committed mass suicide upon Nazi attack, rather than surrender. The broken forest image at the top of the rock symbolises the death of many.
The memorial refers to soldiers escaping from a collapsing building – during the Uprising, the majority of Warsaw was flattened and took many years to rebuild. Not seen in this photograph is another part of the monument, which comments on the use of the sewage system for communication and means of escape.
My study trip across Poland has opened my eyes and expanded my knowledge of the Holocaust. Seeing it first-hand means I can attempt to fully take into consideration the impact it had on the people and their country – the awful atrocities did not just take place in camps such as Auschwitz – it effected everyday life in the cities and in rural communities. The treatment of prisoners in places such as the ghettos is often forgotten about, but my journey has shown me that there is more to the Holocaust than gas chambers and labour camps.
The sad thing is, we’re not just remembering those who died in the Holocaust. We’re now remembering those who died in genocides across the world that have happened since; Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and Bosnia to name a few. You would have thought we would have learnt our lesson, but still these atrocities happen: don’t let yourself repeat history.
Thank you to the University of Edinburgh for giving me this unforgettable opportunity.