STUDENTS' VISIT TO AUSCHWITZ Print
Friday, 05 February 2016 12:18

On the 19th of December, 2015, the following article by Ioanna Fotiadis, entitled "We found ourselves in a place steeped in death", regarding the students’ visit to the Auschwitz camp, was published in 'KATHIMERINI' newspaper:

"After visiting Auschwitz, I realised that life should not be taken for granted, and this is why we have to enjoy every moment of every day", observes the 16-year-old Persa, a student at the 6th High School of Nea Smyrni, and member of the team that excelled in last year’s written competition on the subject of the Holocaust, organised by the Ministry of Education. The awarded prize was a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp, in Poland. Persa recalls: "We found ourselves in a place steeped in death while the vernal nature was blooming around us; it was a very
stark contrast". 


Ms Domna Hatzigiannakou, philologist and
vice-principal of the school, explains to 'KATHIMERINI': "From the beginning, our goal was for the visit to eventually serve as a life lesson for the students, but without traumatising them", acknowledging that this issue required special handling. "However, regardless how prepared one might be, it never suffices", she admits. "Even for us adults, standing next to tons of girls’ hair and layette shoes can be devastating", comments Ms Katerina Efremidou, the teacher in charge of the 7th High School of Thessaloniki, who accompanied her own laureate students in Poland last year. Overall, 21 schools and 79 students participated in last year’s programme, submitting 33 videos, and 52 among them were selected to travel with their teachers to Auschwitz. This year, the programme is open to students of the first (A') and second (B') grades of High School, from schools located in the prefectures of Achaia and Larissa.
"When I was younger, I read 'The Scourge of the Swastika'", says Mavroudis from Thessaloniki, citing this as a reason for deciding to devote his free time to the study of a historical subject, despite being a student of the Science Pathway. Ms Efremidou explains: "We created a closed group on facebook, where students could send me all the relevant material they collected daily and exchange opinions. I pointed out websites containing reliable historical sources to the students, since many myths on the Holocaust are spread over the Internet; Mr Vassilis Papageorgiou, colleague and history schoolteacher, suggested a list of books; and Mr Gregory Mavrokostidis, theologian and Principal, teaches students the history of the religious communities of Thessaloniki in a seminar form". During the mayoralty of Mr Boutaris, the historical past of Thessaloniki has come to the fore, thus 'untying the hands' of teachers who would like to broach the subject in the classroom. Mr Mavrokostidis, describes his effort to introduce students through experiential methods to the history of the erstwhile multicultural co-capital of Greece: "I am showing my students a picture of Thessaloniki in 1912, in which all religious leaders are depicted standing together, asking them whether they think something similar could happen nowadays". This experience motivated the students to seek out one of the living religious leaders, Heinz Kounio, and interview him in what was to become the award-winning video. 

Ms Hatzigiannakou, whose school was already showing interest in the programme since its pilot, non-competitive phase, in years 2012 and 2013, states: "Before I urged the students to start this project, I had personally attended a series of seminars on teaching the history of the Holocaust, held at the Jewish Museum of Greece". At the same time, her students are in direct contact with their peers on the other side of the Atlantic, i.e. the students at the High School of Social Sciences, researching together genocide as a historical subject. Ms Hatzigiannakou comments: "Let's not forget that we live in what used to be a refugee neighbourhood...". 

"ʹWhyʹ is what tortures me"
The above two-month historical study and the conducted tour at the Auschwitz chambers, left their mark on the adolescent students. Mavroudis states: "ʹWhyʹ is what still tortures me; why is man able to harm his fellow human beings like that?", Persa adds: "I realised the monstrous number of the Holocaust victims". Phaedra from Thessaloniki concludes: "I became conscious of how many population groups were targeted by the Nazi ideology, namely Romani people, homosexuals, dissidents".