Auschwitz-Birkenau trip revisited in Seaford College class

Two A Level students from Seaford College have shared their experiences visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

Sunday, 5th March 2017, 10:59 am
Tom Hennessy and James Thompson

Tom Hennessy and James Thompson spoke about the visit during a lesson held with the whole of Year Nine.

The two students had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz late last year after winning an essay competition for the Holocaust Educational Trust. The experience began with a day in London at the Holocaust Educational Trust, where they met a Holocaust survivor. This was followed by a trip to Auschwitz, where they visited the nearby town, as well as the concentration camp itself.

Tom said: “I found out about the Holocaust from many different perspectives, including a Rabbi. To say it was moving was an understatement. There is simply no other site quite like it. Everywhere you look, the most sickening events in the human story come to life. Visiting the site gives no feeling of positivity. It can only evoke despair.”

James: “You can’t get that experience anywhere else. No matter how much work in a classroom you do, how many books you read, that’s an experience that definitely changes you.”

As part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s programme, the two students were required to disseminate the information that they learned back to their school. James and Tom did so by delivering a lesson to Year Nine. It was a very thought provoking lesson, and the Year Nine pupils gave the subject the full attention it deserved.

Tom said: “We used a number of different resources, including print-outs, as well as visuals on the board. We talked about how the people who perpetrated the acts have to be humanised. You can’t just call them monsters. You have to reflect on the ethics of it. Who was to blame, the people who gave the orders, the people who carried out the acts, both?”

James said: “What we aimed to do was not only talk to the kids, but interact with them as well. You really want to engage them, interest them, and do something that’s relevant to them. Something I tried to do was show the people of an event like this are very similar to the people of today, how there are people who hurt each other, and there are people who just stand by and let it happen, and I used the example of bullying. Whilst they’re hugely different subjects, I think the ideas are still relevant today.”

The students had very positive feedback from the Year Nine students. Archie Sleeman said: “Not everyone can learn from sitting down and listening, and it’s good for people to learn by doing. Instead of just reading about it in books, or watching videos, they were actually there, and they got the message across very well.”

James Gisby, head of history, was full of praise for how the students went about planning the lesson.

He said: “The whole point of the experience is to pass that information back throughout the school. When they were thinking about it, they said they didn’t just want to give a talk to the whole school, because people can stop listening. They wanted the pupils to get involved in an active way, and think about what their possible role could have been in the Holocaust.”

This culture of younger students giving back to fellow students is something that Seaford believes firmly in.

As part of the Gifted and Talented programme, Year 11 students are mentored by Sixth form students, and Matt Kouris, a former Seaford student who now plays for The London Irish Rugby team, coached Prep school pupils in his time at Seaford.

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