Participants are given the opportunity to hear a Holocaust survivor share their testimony at the Orientation Seminar. During the seminar participants are divided into small groups which are facilitated by a Holocaust Educational Trust educator. The participants remain in these groups throughout the course. Each group discusses their reasons for taking part in the Project, their expectations, preconceptions and the potential impact that the visit may have on them. It also provides a useful opportunity for participants to get to know each other before they share what for many is a very moving and important life experience.
2. The visit
During the visit itself, students are first taken to Oświęcim, the town where the Auschwitz concentration and death camps were located and where the local Jewish community lived prior to the start of the Second World War. The groups are then shown several barracks at Auschwitz I – registration documents of inmates, piles of hair, shoes, clothes and other items seized from the prisoners as they entered the camps. Participants are then taken the short distance to Birkenau. This is the site that most people associate with the word “Auschwitz” and where the vast majority of victims were murdered. The remnants of barracks, crematoria and gas chambers are in stark contrast to Auschwitz I. The tour of Birkenau culminates in a memorable ceremony held next to the destroyed crematoria. The ceremony includes readings, a moment of reflection and ends with all participants lighting memorial candles.
At the Follow-Up Seminar participants discuss the visit, their personal responses and the impact it had on them. Participants also discuss the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust and how they might go about sharing what they have learnt and experienced on to others in their school or community.
4. Next steps
All student participants are required to disseminate what they have learned to their peers and wider community. In undertaking this, participants have led assemblies, created public exhibitions and memorials, taught lessons to younger students, organised day-long anti-racism conferences and written articles which have been published in local papers. As a result of participating in the Project, students become Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassadors in their own communities, raising awareness of the Holocaust and challenging prejudice and racism today.