Krakow History Trip 2018
6 lucky members of staff were fortunate enough to spend their Easter weekend with 55 Vandyke Historians in Krakow, Poland! Having taken a late afternoon flight to Poland, the students had an early morning alarm call to board the coach to Auschwitz for a fascinating, if harrowing, trip. We spent the morning in Auschwitz One, a beautifully preserved barracks with a series of exhibits including the infamous display of victims’ belongings such as suitcases, glasses and shoes. Even more shocking was the large carpet of human hair displayed in one room – just 5% of the total hair harvested from prisoners. Nothing was wasted – human hair was used to line German soldiers’ boots. Another exhibition also presented a range of children’s drawings found at the camp, and a gallery of family photographs of people who perished in the Holocaust.
The afternoon was spent at Auschwitz Birkenau – the more recognisable and bleak setting of the transportations and selections conducted by guards and doctors. The scale of the site itself is visible at Birkenau. Most of the original barracks were demolished, however some are still intact and original details such as primitive lavatories; washing facilities and bunks provide an insight into the harsh existence of life as a prisoner. This site saw the execution of 1.5 million Reich prisoners, 90% of whom were Jews. We witnessed the destroyed gas chambers and crematoria which the SS Guards attempted to destroy in 1945 and commemorated those who died there. Students were highly respectful, and many travelled back to Krakow centre in silence reflecting upon what they had witnessed. That evening we walked to the main square in Krakow for an evening meal, enjoying the beautiful markets and gothic architecture in a well-deserved moment of down time.
The following morning we enjoyed a more leisurely start to the day before embarking from our hotel in the Jewish district of Kazimierz towards Schindler’s Factory Museum in the sunshine enjoying views of the Vistula River. The Museum provided an insight into the experience of Nazi occupation in wartime Poland. The Museum itself is in the old enamel factory which was once owned by the Nazi industrialist Oscar Schindler. A shrewd businessman, Schindler decided to use Jewish labour for commercial reasons during the war before realising their plight. He compiled a list of workers he wanted to save and set about manipulating Nazi leaders in Poland to secure these people work permits which effectively saved them from the gas chambers. His actions saved the lives of 1600 of his workers and their families. The end of the exhibition was memorable and depicted the reality of Nazi defeat in 1945. Polish people were liberated from one totalitarian regime only to be controlled by another, Stalinist Russia, which provided important context of life behind the Iron Curtain for students currently learning about the Cold War. Subsequently we heard the inspiring story of a survivor who had escaped the Nazis by emigrating to South America.
We had a fun evening at the Jewish Restaurant, where many students relished the delicious Cinnamon and Beef Soup whilst listening to a traditional Jewish group. The following day was our last, and a packed day it was. We checked out and headed with our guides around the Kazimierz district – the original Jewish district. Students were fortunate enough to be able to visit the main synagogue and learn more about the rituals of Judaism whilst understanding more about the Jewish experience during the Nazi occupation of Poland. We finished off this tour at Wawel Castle where teachers and students alike enjoyed a cake-fuelled respite from the history! The afternoon saw us viewing the spectacular sights at the 13th Century Wieliczka Salt Mines including the breath-taking cathedral made entirely out of salt.
Too soon it was time to board the coach for the airport. Everyone was tired and when Mrs Moore announced that we had walked 61km we agreed this was justified! It had been a hugely enjoyable trip with sensitive, caring students who had been genuinely engaged in the historical content of the trip.
Thank you to every student and staff member who made Krakow 2018 such a memorable experience.
Team Leader of History