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Moving and insightful trip to Poland

Twenty three Fifth Year pupils studying History and Religion, Philosophy and Ethics for GCSE built upon what they have been learning in lessons on a visit to the Polish city of Kraków.

After arriving in the central European country following an early morning flight, the pupils got straight to it as they went on a short walking tour of the Old Town – with stops at the Main Square (Rynek Główny), Planty Park, Barbican and Floriańska Gate. The area was the centre of Poland’s political life from 1038 until 1596.

A tasty lunch was followed by a visit to the Rynek Underground Museum where they learnt about the city’s rich history, as well as the connections between the city and mediaeval Europe’s chief centres of trade and culture.

Wawel, and its stunning Cathedral, was next up. The building is more than 900 years old and has traditionally served as the coronation site of the Polish monarchs.

The day concluded with time spent in the traditional Christmas Markets and a well-earned dinner.

The following day the group made their way to Auschwitz and Birkenau – the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres.

The original pre-World War Two concentration camp of Auschwitz 1 was the first stop and the pupils were given an extended tour of the site. The tour continued at Auschwitz II – Birkenau, the camp established as an extermination centre for European Jews.

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 – started day three of the trip.

In the afternoon, they ventured to Oskar Schindler’s factory, which has now been turned into a modern museum covering the Nazi Occupation of Kraków. This visit provided pupils with a valuable insight into the events that led up to the invasion of Poland and the treatment of Kraków’s Jewish population during the Second World War.

In the evening they had a look around Kazimierz Shopping Mall and had dinner in a Jewish restaurant with a live traditional Jewish band.

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.

Pupil Alex Ward said: “Visiting Auschwitz was surreal and extremely moving and it helped put what we had learned in class into perspective.

“I really liked the city of Kraków as a whole, the architecture – particularly in the Jewish Quarter – was really interesting and the whole place was just amazing to see.

“I would definitely recommend this trip to other pupils.”

Ewan Curran added: “The trip to Kraków was very interesting. We got the opportunity to walk around the city which meant we saw a lot of the historical buildings and culture including the Jewish Quarter, synagogues and Wawel Castle.

“The most memorable part of the trip was going to Auschwitz and it was the main reason why I wanted to take part in the trip in order to understand what really happened.

“Visiting the former concentration camp was harrowing and, although we learned about it in school, actually being there made it more real and I have a greater understanding of what took place and this will help with my studies.”