History Trip to Poland

posted 12 Dec 2013, 01:45 by Shirley Wheeler   [ updated 12 Dec 2013, 03:18 ]

Friday December 6, four o'clock in the morning at London Southend Airport.  48 students and four staff, all in bright red Greensward Tour hoodies assemble bleary eyed for the annual trip to Krakow in Poland.  With temperatures hovering around zero for the weekend, and snow flurries for all of the three days we were there it was always going to be cold.

No sooner had we checked in to the hotel than we were off on a tour of the city, visiting Kazimierz with its Synagogues, the Jewish ghetto, memorials to the victims of the holocaust, Oskar Schindler’s factory, sites where Schindler’s List had been filmed. Exhausted (and by now it was dark and snowing) we had dinner at the hotel before walking (again) to the huge market square in the centre of the city where there was a Christmas market and plenty of souvenirs to be had.

A snowball fight involving staff and students was great fun, Mr Bowman’s bright orange coat being an obvious target for all!

The following morning it was up at 6.00am for breakfast at 7.00am in order to be on the coach by 8.00am. The journey to Auschwitz took about an hour, and we spent four hours there, guided around the barracks, the cells, the expositions, the photos and the collections of evidence of the atrocities that took place there. The visit finished with a walk through the original gas chamber and past the crematoria at Auschwitz One. It was a truly sombre and sobering experience.

A brief coach ride later we were at Birkenau. The size of the camp was incredible, two kilometres across and one kilometre long, with the remains of barracks as far as you could see. Bitterly cold we walked the length of the railway track, stood at the point where so many victims had their fate decided, and went on to look at the rooms where so many victims were registered, stripped, shaved, humiliated, given their uniforms, and passed through to live out the remainder of their days, usually no longer than 2-3 months in the camp. There wasn’t sight nor sound of any birds across the whole camp.

A quiet and thoughtful coach journey back to the hotel was the prelude to a fun evening out and dinner at the Hard Rock Café, last minute souvenir hunting and more snow, because Sunday morning it was time to go back home.