Two sixth formers from Mill Hill School are preparing to relay the details of their emotional journey to Auschwitz to hundreds of their fellow students.
Bridie Jogela and Joe Robson, both 17, spent a day at the former Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz, as well as taking part in seminars organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The trust’s Lessons From Auschwitz project is based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ and is a four-part course which explores the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance to today.
Joe and Bridie are now preparing assemblies which they are hoping to give to each yeargroup at Mill Hill School, in Ripley, during which they will talk about their own experiences of Auschwitz.
The visit to Poland began with students seeing a pre-war Jewish site in the Polish town of Oswiecim, where they learnt more about the victims’ lives and visit a local Synagogue.
Sites that were visited included several barracks at Auschwitz 1 before going to Birkenau, where the vast majority of victims were murdered.
Bridie, of Ripley, said the project had helped her to have a better understanding of what happened during the Holocaust.
She said: “I think the project’s aim is to re-humanise the Holocaust and focus on individuals.
When you are sat in a classroom it’s more about facts and figures and actually going to Poland helps you to have a better understanding of what happened.
“We went to Auschwitz 1 which was an Army barracks that the Nazis had taken over as a prison camp. We saw the gas chamber and crematorium. Then we went to Auschwitz 2 which was built so that they could take even more prisoners.
“We saw some of the starvation cells and the standing cell with a wall at the back where people were shot. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I got there, I thought I would cry and be really upset but I felt more numb and couldn’t believe that this had happened. It was a lot worse than I expected.”
Joe said the visit really brought home the scale of the Holocaust to him.
He said: “I think it was very different to how I expected it to be, the camps were massive and it is difficult to imagine the scale of the killing that went on. I think it took a while to sink in, it probably wasn’t until a couple of days after the trip until you realise where you have been and what you have seen.”
Steve Richardson, Director of Learning for Years 12 and 13 at Mill Hill School, accompanied the students on the trip.
He said: “The whole project is about the re-humanisation of Auschwitz so that it’s not just about facts and figures, which can be quite difficult to process because so many people died. It’s about focusing on the individuals. When we were out there I read testimonies from victims at significant places and I think that really helped to bring home what had happened out there to the students. We had testimonies from victims who had worked in the crematoriums and gas chambers, making sure everything went smoothly, but knowing that they were going to die too. They were very powerful.”
Before they went to Auschwitz, Joe and Bridie took part in a seminar during which they heard from a Holocaust survivor and when they returned from Poland they attended a follow-up event where they talked about how they could plan their own assemblies on the topic.
Bridie said: “We are just coming up with ideas and planning for our own lessons and assemblies in school so we can share our experiences with everyone.”
Mr Richardson said the trip often made students reflect on their own lives.
He said: “I think often what happens on this trip is that students come back with a different perspective on life, they look at their priorities, think about challenging prejudice and they also have a renewed sense of the importance of family.”