Krakow Trip October 2012

KrakowTripDuring October half term 22 students from Years 10 and 11 visited Krakow in Poland. The Holocaust is a topic studied across the curriculum so the aim of the trip was for pupils to gain a better understanding of how the ‘problem’ of Jews in occupied countries was dealt with by the Nazis and how the ‘Final Solution’ was subsequently executed.

Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. By the outbreak of WWII the city had 260,000 inhabitants, 65,000 of whom were Jews. During the war, Kraków, like all other Polish cities, saw its Jewish citizens herded into a ghetto and transported to Nazi work and extermination camps; most of them would never be seen again.

 


The students on the trip began their learning experience with a walking tour of the city covering Kazimierz (the location for some of Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List) and Podgorze. 


Kazimierz is the former Jewish district where the community lived, worked and worshipped prior to the Nazi occupation. Kazimierz was originally established in 1335 and became home to the Jews who were expelled from Krakow in 1495. In March 1941, during the Second World War, the Jews in Krakow were forced by the Nazis into the ghetto at Podgorze across the river. For many Polish Jews this ghetto was the last stop before the death camps at Belzec, Plaszów or Auschwitz-Birkenau.

 

In the afternoon we visited the Galicia Museum which commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and celebrates the Jewish culture of Polish Galicia. Whilst we were there we had the opportunity to meet with a concentration camp survivor. The lady who spoke to us had been taken to Auschwitz from Belarus with her mother. Whilst at the camp she had been separated from her mother and held in a children’s barrack where she had been subjected to tests and experiments by Nazi doctors. When Auschwitz had been liberated she was adopted by a local Polish family and believed that her mother had not survived – only to discover 40 years later that this was not the case.

 

A visit to Krakow would not be complete without a trip to one of its famous tourist attractions – the Wielizcka Salt Mines. The mine, built in the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007 - they are the oldest mines in the world still open. After descending 800 steps the guide took us on a fact-filled tour of the chambers which included statues carved by the miners, an underground lake, three chapels and the Chapel of St Kinga - a full-blown underground church in which everything from the altar to the chandeliers is carved entirely from salt. Some students even took up the offer of licking the walls to taste the salt!


We finished our visit to Krakow with a tour of Auschwitz – located about 60km outside of Krakow.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of the extermination camps in Poland, although it was not initially built to house/murder Jews and other identified ‘untermenschen’ (sub-humans). Auschwitz was first built to house Polish political prisoners who were deemed to be a danger to the occupying Nazis in Poland. A new camp – to be known as Auschwitz-Birkenau – was to hold 100,000 prisoners at a time. However, the original plans for Birkenau did not include Jews but Russian POW’s. In October 1941, 10,000 Russian POW’s arrived at Birkenau to start building the new camp. By the spring of 1942, only 200 of the original 10,000 were still alive. On April 29th 1942, the first of the Jews arrived at Auschwitz. This was the start of the mass murders with which Auschwitz is associated. The number of murders a day peaked in May 1944 with 10,000 a day being killed.

We hope that students not only developed a deeper understanding of the tragic events in Krakow during the Second World War but that this was a sobering and thought-provoking experience that will never be forgotten.


Miss Baran
Mr Brown
Mr Curtis

Krakow Picture GalleryPicture
Gallery

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