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Auschwitz Trip 2016

 In early September, Cerys and I were selected to take part in a course which allowed us to learn more about the holocaust, it’s effect on people and let us visit a site of genocide. We were both very fortunate to have our names chosen as we both felt that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn’t pass up.

Our first step was a seminar in Glasgow where we heard the testimony of a holocaust survivor. It was so fascinating to hear her tell the story of her mother’s survival in several different concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and how she, herself, was born on a cattle truck on its’ way between different camps. I found this so interesting and felt afterwards that I knew what to expect when we visited the camp a week later.

The next week, we set off from Moffat at 3am for Glasgow airport and were on our way to Poland by 7am. The first site we visited was a Jewish graveyard in a town called Oswiecim. There, we were told that the gravestones we could see had been removed at the Nazi’s order during their reign and used for paving roads. They had been found and put back after the war by some of the survivors from the town.

We then went on the Auschwitz one. We went on a lead tour of the site and saw where the prisoners would have slept and worked. We also saw cases full of the prisoners' belongings they had taken with them to the camp like shoes, suitcases, pots and pans and toys. One thing in particular we saw that had a big impact on me was a large display case that was full of hair that had been shaved off the victims to stuff mattresses and make sacks. It was then that I realised the sheer scale of the Holocaust.

Before we headed to Auschwitz Birkeneau or Auschwitz two, we went into one of the gas chambers the Nazis used to kill the prisoners that weren’t fit enough to work. It was a horrible, dark room and wasn’t made any better by the fact we knew exactly what had happened in there decades ago.

After Auschwitz one, we moved onto the second Auschwitz camp, known as Birkeneau. We were able to go into the main commandment watch tower. Here we were able to see the size of the camp; it was huge, it stretched as far as the eye could see and was marked out by tall fences of barbed wire and smaller watch towers.

There were barracks there showing the work conditions the prisoners had to suffer through and the toilet facilities, which were a concrete  block with holes evenly but closely spaced out. Seeing these things made both Cerys and I feel so much more grateful of the facilities we have in our houses and at our school.

Before we set off home that evening, all of the students partaking in the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ trip gathered together for a service given by a Jewish Rabbi who travelled with us for the trip. We lit a candle each, to commemorate all of the victims of the Holocaust.

Looking back now at our experience, and reflecting on what we saw, it makes me realise how lucky we are in this day and age to live in a safe environment in Moffat and the surrounding area. I understand now, why it is so important to celebrate Remembrance day and those whose lives were lost during the holocaust, not just the soldiers who fought.

By Imogen Paterson S6