I was one of 200 pupils from Northern Ireland to take part in this event led by the Holocaust Educational Trust. We attended a seminar before the trip were we met a Holocaust survivor called Mala Tribich. After our three hour plane journey we went to the town of Oswiecim, which when the Nazi’s invaded in 1939, they named it Auschwitz. This town wasn’t far away from the camp.
After our visit to Oswiecim, we went to Auschwitz 1 were most of the exhibits were e.g. human hair, clothes and shoes taken from arriving transports- many of which were taken from the prisoners before entering the gas chambers.
The only standing gas chamber and crematorium was in Auschwitz 1 which was very emotional as we got to go inside. You could see the scratch marks on the walls and door, and the wall were 20,000 people were shot (you could sill see the bullet holes).
We then visited Auschwitz Birkenau. This was the most overwhelming for me, as you could see the scale of how big the Final Solution was. In Birkenau, we saw the barracks in which the prisoners were kept and their toilet facilities, which were basically holes in a block of concrete. We also took the 10 minute walk the prisoners would have taken up the railway tracks to get to the gas chambers in which they perished, which for me was the most overwhelming part of the trip. Birkenau was where most of the prisoners died, and was were the biggest gas chamber was. This gas chamber was blown up by the Germans before the war ended so they could try and hide their tracks.
History Behind It
Auschwitz was the largest site of mass murder in the history of the world. 1.1 million people died here, more than the total of British and American losses during the whole of the second world war. An average 90% of people died upon arrival to the camp, by usually being sent to the gas chambers but in the early years were shot by a firing squad. The rest were to work doing hard slave labour. It wasn’t just Jews who were taken to Auschwitz to die but also gypsies, poles, homosexuals, etc.
Gassing of prisoners:
After the doors were shut, SS men dumped in the Zyklon B pellets through vents in the roof or holes in the side of the chamber. The victims were dead within 20 minutes. Johann Kremer, an SS doctor who oversaw gassings, testified that the “shouting and screaming of the victims could be heard through the opening and it was clear that they fought for their lives”.
Sonderkommandos (special work crews forced to work at the gas chambers) wearing gas masks then dragged the bodies from the chamber. The victims’ glasses, artificial limbs, jewellery, and hair were removed, and any dental work was extracted so the gold could be melted down. If the gas chamber was crowded, which they typically were, the corpses were found half-squatting, their skin discoloured pink with red and green spots, with some found foaming at their mouths, or bleeding from their ears. The corpses were burned in the nearby incinerators, and the ashes were buried, thrown in the river, or used as fertilizer.
This was an amazing opportunity for me, and I learnt many new things. I am very grateful for having received this opportunity as well. I highly recommend you take this offer to go to Auschwitz if you receive it when you’re in Year13 because not only is it an unforgettable experience, but you will also make new friends from all over Northern Ireland.
By Yasmin Bain, 14D