Stonyhurst students visit Auschwitz

 Two pupils from Stonyhurst College experienced the present and the past when they visited Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust.

Gabriel Box, of Englefield Green, Berkshire, and Gabriel Cohen, of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, who are both 17 and studying A-level History, heard first hand experiences of life inside the concentration camp from a survivor who spoke at a special seminar.

Later they took part in a one-day visit to the Auschwitz Birkenau camp under the auspices of the Holocaust Educational Trust. They entered the camp through the gates, bearing the motto 'Arbeit macht frei' which means 'Work Frees', and toured the camp.

Many of the buildings, including the gas chambers, were destroyed immediately after the war but some of the barrack blocks remain.

The 'registration room' where families were often separated made a particular impact on the pupils. Everyday items on display in the room, such as shoe polish and combs, had been taken from incoming prisoners.

"The Holocaust survivor, who had spoken to us at the preparation seminar, had described her experience in the registration room," said Gabriel Cohen.

"Along with her eldest sister, she had been separated from her mother and other siblings. She had also seen a baby taken away from her young mother, so that the young woman could work in the camp.

"The registration building was the ultimate place of separation. Family members were separated from one another. Hopes of freedom and the world outside were separated from the reality of the camp."

The pupils also visited the town of Auschwitz (Owiêcim in Polish), which had a large Jewish population before the Nazi's took control in 1939. They saw how the cemetery had been destroyed and the grave stones removed to be used to pave new roads.

After the visit and seminar, in which they discussed the importance of visiting such places to understand the Holocaust and the genocide that took place, the boys discussed their experiences with Rabbi Marcus, who stressed the importance of not forgetting what occurred at the camp. The poem, Shema, (below) written by Primo Levi, was then read out.


You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man,
Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread
Who dies at a yes or a no.
Consider whether this is a woman,
Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember
Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.

Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house, when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.

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