Sydney Jewish Museum Visit
On Sunday 24th of November, 23 girls from Years 9 and 10 took part in an excursion to the Sydney Jewish Museum. To start off the day, the girls were given a tour of the Holocaust exhibition, which featured artwork made by Jewish children while living in the ghettos, archival photos of Jews being sent to Nazi camps by train, as well as the clothing and items worn while living in the camps. This was especially confronting, as the guide explained that some Jews were forced onto cattle trains while being transported to the camps. The conditions people faced when thrown into these carriages was unimaginable, with each carriage only being able to fit an average of eight horses. The average amount of people that were put in each carriage during transportation to camps was between 100-200 leading to horrifically cramped conditions. Added to this they were also denied food and water. A specific item the girls were shown was a blanket partially woven with human hair from victims of a camp. Altogether, these items and stories allowed for the development of a deep sense of empathy and compassion within the students.
After our guided tour, the girls listened to the harrowing story of Olga, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor from Czechoslovakia. She was only a teenager when the war broke out in 1939; the catalyst for much undesirable change within her life and family during that time. Olga spoke about the experiences she faced when met with the discrimination that came with being Jewish and how it caused the rapid shift in her relationships and social isolation. With the unexpected betrayal of non-Jewish family friends, Olga’s family were sent to Auschwitz on cattle carriages. She was immediately separated from her father and many of her family members were taken to the gas chambers. Unfortunately, she would never see these family members again. Olga reflected on how lucky she was to be separated with her mother during the “Selektion” at Auschwitz, stating that it was “the best moral support” she could have had during those horrific and frightening years.
During the war, Olga was used as a worker, alongside her mother, digging trenches for the Germans on the Eastern Front. As the Soviet counter-attack penetrated further into Eastern Europe, Olga and her mother were moved to Bergen-Belsen in western Germany. It was here in 1945 that Olga and her mother were liberated from the camp by the invading armies of America and Great Britain. At the time of liberation, Olga was just 29kg and barely clinging on to life. Two days after liberation, all surviving inmates of the camp were encouraged to register their names so they could be returned to their countries of origin. As Olga and her mother approached the table to fill in their papers Olga’s mother died beside her. Even though her mother died after liberation, Olga still stated to us that she considers her mother a Holocaust survivor.
After Olga’s registration as a survivor she was taken to a German hospital, where she was left untreated as the nurses still believed Hitler would win the war, however, fortunately, an American Army Catholic priest came to administer last rites and Olga was able to tell him in English, “Thank you for your visit, but I am Jewish, and I am not going to die.” She asked the priest to return with a rabbi who proceeded to take her back to an improvised sick bay, which resulted in her incredible recovery. From here she was returned to her town in Czechoslovakia and nursed to full recovery by a team of Catholic nuns.
The girls were left with a powerful message from Olga when she said, “If I don’t mention the good people, like the nuns, we will lose faith in humankind”. She also made it clear to us that people did not “die” in the Holocaust, they were “murdered” and how important it was to be mindful with our use of language around this. After listening to Olga’s story of loss, survival and hope, we left feeling humbled and grateful for this extraordinary and unforgettable experience of hearing her story.
Ultimately, the students who were given the opportunity to join Mr Scali and Mr MacDonald on this excursion treasured the valuable and educational experience immensely.
Feronia Ding and Remy Savell-McKean