Nineteen Fifth Year Religious Studies and History pupils spent four busy and moving days in Poland as part of their GCSE studies.
After arriving in the southern city of Kraków on Sunday morning, pupils dropped their bags off at the hotel and had lunch in the beautiful and historic market square (one of the largest squares in Europe) before spending the afternoon visiting the Remuh Synagogue, the Ghetto and Kazimierz District – a bustling, bohemian neighbourhood, which was the centre of Jewish life in Kraków for four centuries before the Nazi Occupation during World War Two.
In the evening, the group explored the Christmas Markets and had a meal at a traditional Polish restaurant to round off a busy day.
Day two saw the pupils board a coach and depart for Auschwitz and Birkenau – the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. The visit started at Auschwitz 1, the original pre-World War Two concentration camp, where pupils were given an extended tour of the main site. The tour continued at Auschwitz II – Birkenau, the camp established as an extermination centre for European Jews.
The third day of the trip started with a guided walking tour of Krakow Old Town, which was the centre of Poland’s political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III Vasa relocated his court to Warsaw in 1596.
Wawel Cathedral was the next stop on the schedule. The Roman Catholic church, which is more than 900 years old, traditionally has served as the coronation site of the Polish monarchs. The morning was rounded off with visits to the Royal Chambers and Sigismund’s Bell, the approximately 13 tonne bell that hangs in the Sigismund Tower of Wawel Cathedral.
In the afternoon they ventured to Oskar Schindler’s factory. Schindler’s former factory, which has been turned into a modern museum covering the Nazi Occupation of Kraków, takes up the sprawling administration building of the defunct plant at 4 Lipowa Street. This provided pupils with a valuable insight into the events that led up to the invasion of Poland and the abominable treatment of Kraków’s Jewish population during the Second World War.
The final day of the trip saw the pupils visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine – a UNESCO heritage site. The mine was opened in the thirteenth century and produced table salt continuously until 2007.
After a late lunch the group made their way to Kraków Airport to board a flight back to Manchester.
Pupil Isabel Derbyshire said: “Going to places we spoke about in lessons has helped to put things into context. It was a saddening experience visiting the camp at Auschwitz but it kind of burst a bubble and made it real, although I still can’t quite believe what had happened as it was on such a big scale.”
Mr Jamie Swann, Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, added: “This is an extremely important and very sobering trip for our pupils. It is an experience that they will never forget. It not only allows them to reflect on events surrounding World War Two and the Holocaust but it also enables them to experience the rich history and culture of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.”