Report on the Study Trip for Teachers to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial 2023
From 19 to 22 October 2023, the National Fund of the Republic of Austria for Victims of National Socialism and the OeAD (Agency for Education and Internationalisation) programme ERINNERN:AT, in partnership with the Vienna Teacher Training College, organised their first study trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial for 23 upper secondary school teachers; to that place where around 1.1 million people were murdered between 1940 and 1945 with the involvement of Austrian perpetrators. It was there, at Auschwitz concentration camp, that thousands of people from Austria fell victim to the Holocaust, the genocide of the Roma/Romnija and Sinti/Sintizze and other inhumane atrocities committed by the Nazis on a vast scale.
During the four-day study trip and with the help of the educational material developed for schools, the teachers familiarised themselves with the memorial site and the Austrian national exhibition on display there and, together with a small team of experts, discussed how to deal with the challenges of a school visit. Above all else the teachers were grateful for the opportunity to take part in this trip and many requested that this format be continued in the future.
The first stop, on Thursday 19 October 2023, was the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Kraków with the old synagogue and a guided tour of the Jewish history of the quarter. The tour itself was well received, although it had to be cut short to just one hour after the group arrived in Kraków one and a half hours late.
The next day began at the International Centre for Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust (ICEAH) where the group was given a brief introduction to the educational and workshop programmes offered by the ICEAH and helpful tips on how to run study trips with school classes. This was followed by a four-hour guided tour through the main camp at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which many participants perceived as somewhat inadequate from an educational point of view due to the lack of space and the objects and images on display. In the afternoon, participants were placed in three groups to work on selected ICEAH workshops, which provided valuable insights into the methodological work of the education centre.
On Saturday morning, the study group visited the camp at Birkenau. Here they had a little more time to familiarise themselves with the site and the historical context. The vast scale of the horror became more discernible at this location, and there was also time to pause and reflect for a moment. That afternoon, during a guided tour of the Austrian national exhibition by its main curator, the teachers were able to get an idea of Austria’s national narrative at the site and compare it with the other national exhibits. Here, the chance to build on the learning material they had worked with in preparation for the study trip was mentioned. Many participants felt that the evening reflection sessions were an important opportunity to recall the day and process what they had experienced.
Before travelling home on Sunday afternoon, the group was given a guided tour of Jewish Oświęcim, including the old Jewish cemetery. The young and self-confident guide was very well received by the group. A number of the participants reported that they had already started planning a study trip with their classes. Some criticised that it could be difficult to fit a trip to the Auschwitz memorial into the existing school structures or that it would be necessary to offer a trip to Poland lasting several days. Budgetary considerations would also play an important role.