Created on: 03 Feb 2012 | Last modified: 19 Feb 2018
To help prepare pupils for what they will experience, the Holocaust Educational Trust runs an extensive preparation programme ahead of each visit.
Pupils are required to undertake preparatory study and to attend two seminars – one before the visit and one after – as a condition of signing up for the Lessons from Auschwitz programme.
This is vital in ensuring that pupils are properly prepared for all that they will experience, and that they have an appropriate outlet to discuss their feelings after they have completed their visit.
The preparatory seminar for our visit was held in Edinburgh a week ahead of our departure. Lessons from Auschwitz programme organisers and educators ran a comprehensive and highly informative session that included a history of the Holocaust and the Auschwitz camps, as well as a full explanation of the aims of the visit and all that we would experience on our day in Poland. However, by far the most compelling aspect of the induction seminars is the survivor testimony.
At every orientation seminar, pupils have the chance to listen to first-hand testimony from a Holocaust survivor, and to engage in a question and answer session to help provide a human scale on the immense horror of the Holocaust.
At the Edinburgh seminar, we were privileged to hear from Zigi Shipper, a Holocaust survivor who was interred aged nine and liberated from Auschwitz in 1945 at the age of 15. He gave an extensive account of his own personal story of the Holocaust, from his early days of confinement in the Jewish Ghettos with his grandmother to his eventual transportation to the Auschwitz camps.
Zigi was remarkably open and honest about his experiences and his feelings and it was genuinely compelling to hear his personal description of the horror of the Holocaust. In particular, his description of his feelings as people that he knew and was close to fell dead around him was particularly shocking,
"I saw them dead upon the ground, but I was numb to it. The truth was that I just didn’t care. I was totally focused on myself and on my own survival – this was no place to worry about friends.”
To hear a man such as Mr Shipper, who is clearly a warm and deeply caring individual, speak in such terms really drove home the dehumanising nature of the experiences that all Auschwitz prisoners faced, and the long-lasting impact on the few who were lucky enough to survive.