At the beginning of the Autumn Term a group of 31 Sixth Formers and staff travelled to Poland to visit the city of Krakow and the surrounding area. The group began its tour in the beautiful city of Krakow, visiting sites such as the Jewish Quarter, the WWII Jewish Ghetto and the chilling desolation of Plaszow concentration camp which was vividly brought to life in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.
The highlight of the first day was a private audience with Miss Lydia at the Galicia Museum, who recounted her experiences of a deeply traumatic period spent in Auschwitz 1. Lydia was sent to Auschwitz when she was only three years’ old, but her memory of events was startling – a truly remarkable woman and an incredibly heartrending story.
On the second day we visited Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Images familiar through films and books were suddenly brought to life as we passed through the entrance gate announcing the cynical message ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. Our Polish guides brought home to us the stark reality of everyday life in these brutal camps and how the infamous selections determined who would live or die on a daily basis. The day at Auschwitz left deep and lasting impressions on all of us and any hesitant thoughts about the purpose of this visit were swept aside; summarised very well by one of our Sixth Formers … “Everyone should come here to see this”.
A fitting end to the evening was exploring the largest market square in Europe at the centre of Krakow and having dinner in a splendidly atmospheric Jewish restaurant where we were treated to some traditional music.
Our final day was spent visiting Oskar Schindler’s factory where an oasis of humanity and sanctuary existed amongst the horrors of the Nazi occupation. We learnt how one human being’s capacity for love and personal sacrifice surpassed the brutality of this particular period in history and it was truly inspiring. We also visited the extraordinary Wieliczka Salt Mines outside Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage site where 300m below the surface we experienced a fraction of the 350kms of excavations carved out of granite and rock salt dating back to the prehistoric period. Underground cathedrals, vaulted chambers, endless tunnels and subterranean lakes were just a few of the mind-boggling things that we saw. Finally before departing for Krakow airport we were treated to a tour of the beautiful Wawel Cathedral and the museum dedicated to Blessed Pope John Paul II. The museum gave us a snapshot of the soon-to-be-canonised Karol Józef Wojtyła’s life before and after he became Holy Father in 1978. Exhibitions containing his robes of office and many personal effects were just a few of the interesting artefacts on display. This was a perfect way to end a visit that was not only an incredibly moving experience, but also one that was diverse and culturally enriching. We shall never forget or experiences in and around Krakow.
Mr Julian Williams, Director of the Wider Curriculum at Worth School.