Hurst visit Auschwitz-Birkenau - Hurstpierpoint College

Hurst visit Auschwitz-Birkenau

In December, when most of Hurst were busy with Christmas shopping, 27 students and 3 staff met in the small hours of the morning to head off to Krakow, Poland.

Though challenging in many ways, the highlight of the trip was visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau: what became the largest of the Nazi extermination centres during WW2, and what played an essential role in the execution of the regime’s ‘Final Solution’ (the Nazi plan to eliminate the entire European Jewish community). Originally intended as a concentration camp to cope with the increasing numbers of Polish citizens being imprisoned by the Nazis, from mid-1942 Auschwitz-Birkenau’s function primarily became the mass murder of Jewish people. Estimates place the total death toll of Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz at a minimum of 1.1million. Click here to read further information about the history of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Pupils were particularly moved by this experience; they were shocked by the sheer number of people imprisoned in the camps and who were subjected to medical experimentation, as well as by how young some of them were. Pupils were surprised to learn that the prisoners’ hair was often sold to German companies to make fabric during the war, and that other nations did not attempt to bomb the site, despite the desperate attempts by escapees to show the world what was happening.

After visiting the camp, the pupils met Lidia Maksymowicz; an Auschwitz survivor. They were moved by her harrowing story and memories of the camp. Up until her liberation aged 4, she had only known the walls of Auschwitz; she had never seen clean sheets. Before being adopted by a family after leaving the camp, Lidia made absolutely sure that there would be no guards, no guns, and no Doctor Mengele!

Despite the challenges of an unexpected bus breakdown, and in the midst of architecture reminiscent of the Soviet 5 Year Plans, the pupils had time to enjoy Christmas markets in the city centre as well as horse-driven coach rides. Traditional pierogi and toasted cheese were sampled too, along with the world’s best hot chocolate.

Click hear to keep up to date with all of our other Hurst trips!

It was a trip of a lifetime. Miss Clarke, Head of History