A Krakow Experience
During February half term, 15 students and three members of staff visited Krakow, Poland to learn more about the holocaust.
Students visited Oskar Schindler’s Factory Museum where they learnt about Poland’s history across the 20th century, and the massive impact that World War II had on the country, and more specifically the city of Krakow. Students also had a guided tour of the Jewish Quarter of Krakow and saw where atrocities that they had learnt about in the museum actually happened; a hard-hitting lesson for all concerned.
Mrs Helen Cross, the teacher responsible for organising the trip and Head of Year 10, said, “The realisation of the atrocities was further reinforced the next day when the group visited Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The two-part visit, first to Auschwitz Concentration Camp and then to the Birkenau site where mass extermination took place, was a sombre experience for all concerned and an experience that will never be forgotten.
Mrs Cross added, “When reflecting on their experiences, one student described the experience as ‘harrowing’. Many of the students’ discussions focused on how we cannot be allowed to forget what happened during the holocaust to ensure that the events are never repeated.”
As well as the serious, historical aspects of the visit, students also explored Krakow’s beautiful city centre and visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines
The visit was certainly a varied and memorable experience. The students gained a detailed understanding of the events and the visit helped them to comprehend the sheer scale of the holocaust.
Here, Millie Hey, Year 9 student who went on the trip, explains what happened over the course of the three day trip.
“Though our trip was only three days long, each day was packed full of activities and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
We began our trip at 2:45am on Wednesday morning, meeting at school before travelling by minibus to Manchester Airport. The flight from Manchester to Rzeszow airport took around 2.5 hours, and we landed at 10:32am (CET). The coach journey from Rzeszow to Kraków took 2 hours, and after a small walk through the city, we arrived at our hotel, Hotel Alexander II. There was no time to rest though- we put our suitcases in the baggage hold and went straight back out, ready for a tour of Kraków.
Our first stop was Oskar Schindler’s factory, which has been turned into a museum about Poland and, more specifically, Kraków during World War Two. The museum chronologically led us through Kraków during the early 20th century, from the end of WW1 and Polish independence to Nazi occupation, the end of WW2 and the start of Communist occupation. Alexandria, our tour guide, explained how WW2 affected Poland and how the deportation of Jewish people started within Kraków, and she also helped us understand parts of the museum that were written in Polish. The whole experience took around an hour and a half, and enlightened us about the situation in Poland during Nazi occupation and the Second World War.
Following a quick stop to get some snacks, we moved on to the Kraków Ghetto Memorial. Standing where 15,000-20,000 Jews were concentrated in a ghetto from March 1941 onwards, the memorial commemorates the thousands of people killed there or deported to forced labour and extermination camps. The memorial was established in 2005 and was designed by Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Latak; it’s made up of 33 cast iron chairs at 1.4 metres high and 37 smaller chairs standing at the edge of the square and at tram stops. The chairs’ integration into the public transport system is symbolic of the fact that anyone can be a victim of fascism. On our walk back to the hotel, Alexandria took us through the Jewish Quarter of Kraków and we saw some of the active and inactive synagogues that survived WW2. After an early start and a long day, we ate at Bazylia restaurant before getting an early night, ready for the next day’s 6am start.
Following an early wake-up call and breakfast at the hotel, we boarded our coach to Oświęcim, the site of the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp. During our two-hour long coach journey, there was a definite sense of dread; none of us were quite ready for what we were about to see. We arrived in time for the start of our tour, beginning with the original camp, Auschwitz I.
As we walked through the gates reading, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free), the air seemed to cool down. We were entering a place where endless atrocities had been committed, where people had been tortured and murdered. The buildings we saw- including Block 11, which was the infamous torture block of the camp- were emptied, cleaned and prepared for visitors, but the atmosphere was still thick with the thousands of people who’d died there. When we moved to the second site, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and saw the formidable gates loom over us, the seriousness fell on us all over again. The paths we walked as we toured the camp were the last paths that 1.1 million people ever took; we had the privilege to walk away from the last buildings these people ever laid eyes on. The eerie silence somehow felt deafening, and once on the coach headed back towards Krakow, we used the time to reflect on our visit.
That afternoon, we got some much-needed relaxation time at the Main Square in Krakow, sightseeing and buying souvenirs before heading back to the hotel to get ready for tea. After another tasty meal at Bazylia, we rested after a long and difficult day.
As Friday was our last day, we packed our cases and checked out of our rooms before leaving our bags in the hold, once again, and heading off on our final activity of the trip- the Wieliczka Salt Mines. We ventured 135 metres deep underneath the ground as we toured the mines, learning that they’d been active from the Middle Ages and were only converted to a full-time tourist attraction in the 1970s. Inside the mines, as well as caverns where miners had extracted salt to sell, there were statues, memorials and even entire chapels made out of salt rock underneath the ground. The salt rock, just like table salt, was edible- some students even had a go at licking the walls!
After a brief stop-off in the centre of Kraków again to get a bite to eat and pick up our cases, we headed back to the airport for our flight home to the UK.
We all agreed that the trip had been educational; it has given us a new, very shocking perspective into the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the Second World War, but we also got to experience more enjoyable parts of Polish culture. This trip was a wonderful opportunity, and we all enjoyed ourselves.”