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History Trip to Krakow

 

We arrived at Belfast International Airport at 7am for check-in to our flight to Krakow, Poland.

Upon arriving in Krakow we immediately went to the Oskar Schindler Museum for a guided tour of the premises. On the tour we were given an idea of what it would have been like living as a Jew in a Nazi occupied country.  The tour was extremely insightful into what life was like in a Jewish ghetto and provided us with the perfect context to begin our four day tour.

The hotel stayed in, Hotel Krakus, was lovely and provided us with a continental breakfast and a three course meal each night. However, we weren’t accustomed to Eastern European traditions as we sat down to eat our starters on the first night we were greeted with a boiled egg cut in half in a bowl. There was a state of confusion amongst the students until Mr McVeigh it was to accompany a sausage based soup. The food was interesting and tasty over the course of the four days, with much debate over the meat on each night. Was it pork, chicken, beef or horse?

On the second day of our trip to Krakow we went to Auschwitz, a concentration camp where innocent people, mainly Jews, were transported to by the Nazis. This was the coldest day of the trip with temperatures reaching -10 degrees Celsius, which added greatly to the experience. I honestly was expecting to shed a lot more tears than I did, and while I was moved to tears when I heard of the way men, women and children were tricked into entering the gas chambers and seeing the glass cabinets filled with the hair, shoes and suitcases of the victims of this atrocity.  I found myself feeling disgusted at the thought of human beings having the ability to treat people in the way that they did.  The sombre, eerie feeling you got walking around the concentration camp, going to the original blocks with the original floors and wall still there, seeing photos of the victims, what job they had before coming to the cam, the dates of their arrival and deaths and being in the same gas chambers were over one million Jewish people were killed is something I will never forget. Overall the trip to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau was mind-opening, the huge numbers and brutal detail I was taught in history lessons was surreal so visiting the actual site where it all took place helped me to understand the realities of the way innocent people suffered under the Nazi regime.

That night we were dropped off by the coach and walked through the Jewish Quarter to go bowling. Here we divided into teams for an intense competitive game, at least within our group. Although Mr Brown seemed to be getting quite competitive it was Mr McVeigh’s superior skill that enabled him to become the overall champion; ousting Miss Gibson from the title she has held since 2015.  After this we went to a local hot food market and snacked on traditional Polish food and hot chocolate.

On Saturday morning, we took the tram into the city centre. Our tour began in Kazimierz, the former Jewish district of the city, and where we had been for bowling the previous night. While the Jewish population of the town has greatly reduced, synagogues and traces of Jewish culture still exist. Our tour continued to the fourteenth century Wawel Castle and former seat of the Polish monarchy. Our guide left us at lunch in the Old Town Square in the city centre, an area surrounded by historic churches and townhouses.

On the last night of the trip, in a last minute attempt to blow all our spending money, we travelled to Krakow Old Town once again. Here we purchased souvenirs  as well as local hand-made crafts and of course, stop to buy a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Café so you could prove that you had really been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Our final stop was a local shopping complex where everyone left with an excess of baggage, most notably Mrs Hanna!

Thanks to members of the History Department for organising such a fantastic trip.

Ashleigh Doole, Aimee Thompson, Kallum Kennedy, Chloe Smyth, Laura McCammond and Sophie Martin.