Please enjoy this account from two Y12 Philosophy and Ethics students who were able to take part in the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz Project’ run by the Holocaust Educational Trust, Alice and Charles.
Our visit to Auschwitz – Alice and Charles
Just a few weeks ago, we were given the chance to fly to Poland to learn about the
Holocaust and the true extent to which the Auschwitz camp played in it. As two current A
level students, who both studied Nazi Germany as part of our GCSE course, we had some
prior knowledge of the atrocities that occurred. Therefore, when we both started the
course, we believed we knew what the holocaust was – the 6 million Jews murdered by the
Nazis. The statistics only show us the surface.
The trip’s main theme was to humanise the people who were the victims and perpetrators
of this horrendous crime. It’s due to most people generalising what the holocaust was.
Some people believe it didn’t even happen, despite the abundant evidence that proves
otherwise. It’s easy to feel detached when you hear statistics and generalisations. This links
to current society when we often turn a blind eye to the horrors that occur in the wider
This trip made us think about each unique individual. Those 6 million Jews all had names,
lives, families, but were murdered. When we think back on it, we only see the big blur of
people. I do not think that anyone could know a million people let alone 6 million, but we
could see the individual lives they had by learning a couple of their stories. Among the many
millions was a couple. Their names were Ota and Katerina Margolius. Ota was an
international hockey player for Czechoslovakia and a leader of a Jewish sport club; Katerina
was a hat maker and went to art school. Additionally, we had the honour of listening to a
survivor’s testimony – Eva Clarke. Eva told the story of her family, who were German but
also Jewish. Every single member of her family died during the Holocaust, other than her
mother and herself. This demonstrated how many generations this historical event affected
as she explained her grandparents’, parents’ and her own experience. She was born into
Mauthausen concentration camp; her mother and her would not have survived if it wasn’t
for the destruction of the gas chambers on the 28 th April 1945 and the liberation of the camp
just a few days after Eva’s birth. These only give us an insight into the backgrounds of a few
individuals. The Jewish community was full of diversity – no victim was the same as another.
Few survivors remain, so it is vital to learn from their stories in order to carry on their legacy
and continue to spread awareness. There were many people just like them, just regular
people whose lives changed forever when they were ordered to pack up their belongings
and board trains. Destinations unknown. We entered the gates to Auschwitz knowing the
awful fate of these millions. They did not. The part of this that resonated the most with us
was the poignant message ‘Albeit Match Frei’ – work sets you free. The irony behind this
is that the sign itself was cast by camp prisoners, in 1940, who probably thought this duty
would enable them to one day leave. The likelihood they did is very slim. In one room of
Auschwitz 1 Concentration camp there was a book which spanned the length of the room
and was double sided. This is the ‘Book of Names’. It contains the names of 1.4 million
victims of the Holocaust. We were told that it was extremely hard to piece together the true
extent to which it affected people, as whole communities were wiped out, with no one to
remember, no additional documents to tie them to this world.
It is impossible to convey the true reality of the Holocaust through words but we hope that,
by reading this, you have gained some additional understanding of the true horror of this
historical event, as well as the importance of considering each victim, perpetrator and
bystander as unique, individual human beings, rather than just a collective.