A visit to Krakow was a Life Changing experience for our students

In March 2018, Malmesbury School in Wiltshire took their Year 9 students to Krakow to support their studies of the Holocaust and prepare them for GCSE studies the following year. Group leader Emma Hall gave us her insights into the planning and highlights of this unforgettable trip.

We organise a lottery to select students for the trip. We launch the trip in an assembly at the end of Year 8, explaining what we will cover on the trip and what the experience is like. It is always oversubscribed, usually with 90+ students, as it is open to the whole year group. We then organise a lottery to select which students will get a place as this is the only fair way to do it. It works really well as we get students on the trip who don’t know each other quite as well so it gives them opportunities to bond and the trip isn’t dominated by friendship cliques.

The students handle this sensitive subject very well. Our students cover the Holocaust in a detailed module in Year 9, so it’s the right time to go with the curriculum. Although nothing can really prepare you for what you see and learn at Auschwitz, we work with the students beforehand, both in class and through lunchtime sessions, to help prepare them emotionally for the trip. We discuss the different ways in which people react to visiting Auschwitz, how they might respond and that however they feel both during and after the trip is fine; it’s perfectly acceptable to feel that way.

The trip acts as a form consolidation. By the time we go we have covered the Holocaust topic in depth, so it consolidates everything they have learnt in the classroom. Once we return we move on to look at the liberation of the camps so the fact the students have been to Auschwitz means they can better understand the horror and shock of liberation for the Allied soldiers. We encourage the students who go on the trip to share their experiences in class with those who don’t go.

Taking an Anglia guide halves the workload and halves the responsibility. I didn’t have to worry about the general organisation of the trip such as transport, where the packed lunches were, getting around. I didn’t have to worry about where we were going and being on time as our guide knew it all. It also meant that because Richard was taking care of the organisational side, I could spend time talking with my students, which was really important with this topic. I’ve organised trips to Auschwitz myself in the past with smaller numbers of A Level students, but with a younger age group and more students I feel there’s more responsibility, so choose to work with a tour operator.

Our guide encouraged the students to think about aspects we wouldn’t have considered. I feel like I know the topic inside out but Richard gave us little snippets that made me think about things in a different way. For example, we viewed a display cabinet of prosthetic limbs that had been taken from the prisoners and he pointed out that many of these people had probably suffered their disabilities from fighting for Germany in the First World War.

Our guide gelled really well with our students. Our students don’t need much nagging and respond very well to praise. Richard picked up on that and was very positive with them, encouraging them to talk openly and ask questions.

Meet a Holocaust survivor experience really brings history to life. Although the opportunity to meet someone is becoming increasingly rare, it does help students to realise that the horrors of what they were hearing about were not that long ago.

A visit to Krakow was a life changing experience for our students. It has made them appreciate the quality of their lives. One student said it made her appreciate that she lives in a tolerant society and that she will have a political voice in this country.

If you are planning a school trip to Krakow, here is my advice:

Divide your group into smaller groups. We split ours into groups of ten, with one member of staff responsible for each group. It’s more manageable and it works really well, particularly getting them through airports, collecting passports, counting numbers and generally getting around.

Take a guided tour. For that extra bit of money, it is really worth not have to worry about organising the students.  I was able to focus on the needs of the students, rather than the needs of the tour. On a trip to Auschwitz, your students really need you to support them and taking a guide meant I could devote myself to the students’ needs.