21st October 2015
Writing: Daniel Cox (Year 11)
Editing: Matthew Dagnall (Year 11)
The Krakow visit was a packed three days which really achieved a quite difficult task. It showed off the city of Krakow as the wonderful and picturesque place that it is, but also provided a fantastically detailed education on the Jewish experience in Poland as a whole. At the same time it was an emotional rollercoaster, taking us through the sobering horror of Auschwitz to the truly heart-warming acts committed by Oskar Schindler to save over 1000 Jews.
After the flight into Poland, the visit began with a visit to the concentration and execution camps, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz Birkenau. This was a thoroughly saddening experience for all involved. It reminded everyone of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War, and the experience was made even more harrowing by the fact that the possessions taken from the prisoners were on show in the museum. We even went inside one of the remaining gas chambers at Auschwitz 1 that killed so many people during the Holocaust. This, combined with the iconic views of both concentration camps, contributed to an experience that no one involved will forget.
The second day of the visit began with a walk round the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, Kazimierz, towards the Galicia museum - a museum dedicated to the history of Jews in Poland before, during and after the Holocaust. Compared to the harrowing experiences presented by the Auschwitz camps this gave some real context to Jewish history and experiences in Poland throughout the ages. The information in the museum was presented through the medium of photographs which really captured far more of Jewish history than any piece of writing could.
It was also here that we met a member of the Righteous Among the Nations (an honour presented to non-Jews who helped protect Jews during the Holocaust). She presented not only her experiences of the atrocities of the Holocaust but also told us a heart-warming story of how she and her family helped to shelter one Jewish girl throughout the Holocaust and how they went on to survive the remainder of the war and are still in contact today. This was a welcome change from the sobering doom and gloom of the previous day.
We also visited the last functioning synagogue in Krakow, this was another particularly poignant visit considering that there were once upwards of twenty functioning synagogues before the Holocaust. The Wailing Wall, constructed from the fragments of Jewish headstones that could not be reassembled after the war, highlighted the impact of the Nazis on Judaism in Krakow.
Rounding off day two was a visit to Schindler’s factory, where we were told about the acts of Oskar Schindler during the war and his background, and were given a look into life in Krakow under Nazi occupation.
The final day consisted of a walking tour around the old quarter of Krakow. A highlight of this tour was going inside the cathedral, a building that showcases how Krakow has been historically ruled by many different powers, shown by the juxtaposition of different architectural styles making up both the cathedral’s exterior and interior. The walking tour also covered a view of the castle as well as a walk around the historic city walls, which have now been replaced by a tree-lined path. Overall this was a fitting end to a stunning visit to Krakow which will be remembered by all involved for years to come.
Finally I would like to thank the staff involved for their vital work in organising the visit. They all did a fantastic job in ensuring everyone had an enjoyable and unforgettable time.