Philosophy in Poland

This Easter holiday, a group of Year 12 and 13 students embarked on a trip to Krakow, Poland, to investigate the nature of evil by studying the Holocaust. Molly Monger was one of the students taking part and writes about her experiences below.

We met at Gatwick at 7.50am, which meant a very early start for a lot of us, but the surprisingly short flight meant that we arrived in Krakow at around lunchtime. On our first afternoon we visited the Wawel Castle, a 13th century gothic castle which was inhabited by the Polish monarch, which we were surprised to find was an elected position (until the last king abdicated in 1795 when Poland was annexed by the Prussian, Russian, and Austrian empires!) While the architecture and history of the castle were impressive, the furnishings were surprisingly bare; the many raids of Wawel in Poland’s unstable political history meant that many artefacts had been stolen or destroyed.

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On the second day, we made the one hour bus journey to the Auschwitz concentration camps. We first visited the original camp, (Auschwitz I) in which millions of prisoners of the Nazis (90% Jews, but Romani people, homosexuals, political prisoners, and Jehovah’s witnesses were also imprisoned) were forced to work and try to survive without food or sufficient shelter. In the museum we saw several harrowing exhibits, including a room piled high with shoes of the victims of Auschwitz, and a book of the names of those murdered that filled a room. We then visited the larger, second camp, (Birkenau) and saw where fleeing Nazis had tried to destroy the evidence of their gas chambers, indicating that they were aware of the evil nature of their acts. To reflect on what we had seen, Mr Stone and Ms Sleap held a discussion on how evil has been explained while maintaining a belief in God.

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The next day, we met a Holocaust survivor and visited an Orthodox synagogue, which further showed the irreversible and painful damage done to the Jewish community during the Holocaust.

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While the trip was based around a terrible concept, we did not spend all our time contemplating evil and had time to visit Krakow’s beautiful market and sample some local cuisine. Overall, it was a very thought-provoking trip and gave a new perspective to us on moral philosophy. 

*Incidentally it is pronounced Krak-off.  The Nazi’s changed its name to Krakau during their occupation – in which they made Wawel castle their base.