When I left Kings’ in 2009 coming back was the last thing on my mind, looking forward to a beginning a life free of top buttons and the one way system I stepped away from school, focussed on the future. And yet, here I am returning from the 2017 Holocaust Tour as a member of Kings’ staff.
As a student I thought teachers just did things with no stress whatsoever, taking pupils through airports has completely shattered that illusion. By the time we got onto the plane at Heathrow I was wondering how on earth I would survive traversing Poland without collapsing and then we got to the Krakow salt mines.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, full of incredible carvings and seeped in historical significance, but the thing I will never forget is watching students lick the walls to test for salt whether those walls were made of salt or any other taste-able materials such as wood. It was from here I began to realise the extent of the treat I was in for and the trip just kept getting better from there.
After not enough sleep for staff and students we got up for a long day of exploring Krakow by foot, tram and even golf buggy. We left the hotel at 8am and went non-stop round Krakow until getting back at 10pm. We saw everything from sites of Holocaust ghettos to Oskar Schindler’s factory.
I also enjoyed the absolute privilege of meeting Lydia, a Holocaust survivor, something for which I will forever be grateful. Throughout this exhausting day the pupils and staff were incredible. It is impossible to be down or tired when you are surrounded by the smiles and warm feelings of 47 people. After even less sleep we were up at the crack of dawn to go to Auschwitz the next day.
I had presumed this would be a sombre trip with great emotional baggage so it was strange to sit and look out at Auschwitz Birkenau feeling as if a burden had been lifted from me. It has been a humbling perspective changer, the horrors of the past have brightened the joys of the present. I have been struck by the resilience of a world I feel better connected to than before.
Lydia survived the Holocaust and now has a son and two grandchildren. People of all ethnicities, religions, and disabilities walk in and walk out of Auschwitz now in a daily rejection of everything the Nazis stood for. A huge part of what has uplifted me is the Kings’ students.
As a pupil I did not notice what I was part of, but looking from the outside has shown them to be truly remarkable. Respectful to all throughout, interested in the world they live in, and in good humour even at 6am. Auschwitz may have made me reflect on the past and feel fortunate in the present, but it is the pupils that give me hope for the future.