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Claremont High School Academy

Silent witness

Mr Schmidt and two Year 13 students reflect on a life-changing visit to Auschwitz

At the beginning of November, two Year 13 students from Claremont High School, Kishan Mistri and Brittany Corlis, were fortunate enough to take part in the Holocaust Education Trust’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz Project’. This is open to two students per school across the country, and students here at Claremont had to apply to represent the school.

The project has four phases: first, students participate in a conference about Jewish life in Europe prior to the Nazis’ rise to power; then they go on a day-trip to Poland, making a very early start to fly to Krakow to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp and surrounding area, before returning home; next, they have a follow-up seminar reflecting on their experience; finally, they must complete a project in their own time about what they have taken from this vital initiative. They are then considered ‘Ambassadors’ for the Holocaust Education Trust.

The project has already had a significant impact on its participants, as Brittany testifies in this account of the trip to Poland itself:

‘On 2nd November, my journey to Auschwitz marked a pivotal moment that re-shaped my perspective on life. The day commenced at Stanstead Airport at 4.30am, where we took a flight to Krakow. From there, a coach transported us to Oświęcim, where the remnants of a once-vibrant village spoke of a time before Nazi occupation. Wandering through the village, I traced the echoes of a bygone era - the bustling markets and places of worship, where they would have had a harmonious co-existence with Christians. The profound impact of the journey intensified as we entered the solemn grounds of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The stark reality of shared beds, group toilets and the haunting remnants of personal belongings left behind - suitcases, glasses, clothes, pots and pans. These artefacts stood as silent witness to the shattered dreams of those who once believed in a semblance of normality. The echoes of Auschwitz transcend time, carrying a resounding message that genocides, like the one witnessed there, should never be allowed to happen again. The world must remember, learn and collectively strive to prevent the recurrence of such atrocities.’ 

Kishan was similarly affected by the time spent at Auschwitz:

At the end of the day, we lit candles and paid tribute to the people who had to endure such terrible things. This was a moving act of remembrance that allowed me to reflect and remember what I had learnt throughout the day. This project has taught me many lessons, the main one being that we must denounce anti-Semitism and any type of discrimination, because if left unspoken these vile acts carry on and increase in severity, something that will be disastrous for humanity.’ 

This trip has come at an incredibly important moment in history, given that anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Britain and elsewhere, so it was vital Claremont sent students to Poland and we are grateful to both Brittany and Kishan for representing the school so well. They will take part in Claremont’s Holocaust Memorial Day assembly in January and will doubtless take what they’ve experienced through the Lessons from Auschwitz Project into their later lives.

Both Kishan and Brittany commented that it was a challenging experience to visit Auschwitz – they saw first-hand the brutality of Nazi policy, the hope of those who thought they were travelling east for a new life, and how the Nazis tried to hide their crimes. Most importantly, they learnt a valuable lesson about humanity: that, sadly, human-beings are capable of terrible things and it is our duty to prevent these from ever taking place again. The History Department is confident that these two students will be excellent ambassadors for the Holocaust Education Trust, both now and in the future.

This incredible opportunity will be available again next year for students currently in Year 12.