The Auschwitz trip 2016 began at 3:30am on Friday 8th July. When we first got there we looked around the Old Town in Krakow that used to have a population of over 70,000 Jews, however after the Holocaust (and still now) only about 600 Jews live there. After that we took a walk through the market in the town and saw where the Jewish businesses used to be that were destroyed during the Holocaust.

In the afternoon, we went to a museum which taught us all about life of the Jews before and after the Holocaust, the dramatic decrease in population really took you by surprise. After the tour we were taken into a room where an Auschwitz survivor came to talk to us about her experience. At the time she was three years old. She was transported there in a cattle cart, taken away from her mother and aunt when she got there and said she really didn’t know what was going on. She was there for two years until Auschwitz was liberated in 1945 and was amazingly reunited with her mother18 years later. We were so privileged to have met such a strong and inspirational woman, it was truly unforgettable.

We spent the second day at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, starting at Auschwitz I. We were given a tour of the camp in our two groups, each one led by a guide. We went through the infamous camp gate through which all the new prisoners to the camp would have walked – many never to leave again. “Arbeit Macht Frei” – work sets you free – was the slogan on the gate that all new arrivals at the camp would have seen. In block 6 we were shown the horrific living conditions in the camp. Block 11 was the ‘death block’ that oversaw punishment and executions at Auschwitz I.

After a short lunch break, we set off to visit Auschwitz II: Birkenau. Unlike the somewhat commercialised camp of Auschwitz I, Birkenau was left in practically the same state as that from when it was liberated. The rooms in which the prisoners would live their lives were also still standing. We walked inside of one of these rooms, and the realisation that people were forced to live in such terrible conditions really began to dawn on many of us.

We continued our tour of the concentration camp, but there is one thing I must discuss. Everyone could clearly see the devastation that took place in that area, but the feeling of emptiness and isolation I personally experienced in there was impossible to experience anywhere else. There was an atmosphere present that was hard to describe, but it almost felt as if you could sense the presence of those who had died there. The sheer size of the camp was enough to provoke this, but when you take into account the number of buildings, sizes of chambers and silent environment, there was no escaping that feeling. The last place we saw before leaving Birkenau was the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial. We all placed a candle at different areas of the memorial to pay our respects to those who were slaughtered there.

Upon our return to Auschwitz I, we went to see the Shoah exhibition (Shoah, meaning catastrophe, is the Hebrew word for the Holocaust). This is a new exhibition which opened in 2013. We then went to a reflection centre where we spent the afternoon doing two activities in our separate groups. In one room, we used documents to learn about specific victims of the Holocaust. In the other room, we used computers to access the opinions and responses of various people to questions posed after the Holocaust.

In the evening we went for a meal at a Jewish restaurant and heard traditional Klezmer music played. This concluded a harrowing and powerful visit to the Auschwitz concentration camps. There is no doubt that this experience will stay with us throughout our lives and make us always grateful for the lives that we have been fortunate enough to lead so far.

Written by Joshua Binns, Alex Dalton, Lucy Dodd and Chloe Fairbank.