Auschwitz trip 2017
Psychology and Sociology Trip to Auschwitz 2017
The focus of our trip was to visit Auschwitz, to think about how the work of Milgram could be viewed in the context of the Nazi atrocities and to discover more about what life was like at this time in Europe from a psychologist and sociologist perspective.
The initial impact on our students upon arriving at Auschwitz did not accord with the emotional expectations: a neat, seemingly benign collection of buildings, surrounded by trees and fields; a wrought iron sign greeting at the entrance: “Work sets you free”. It is the explanation of how the buildings were used, how the people at the concentration camps were treated, that reveals the horror of Auschwitz.
Our guide gave us an incredibly thought-provoking view into the past, and into the complexities of human behaviours and political, social and economic pressures which impact on them. He did not spare us when retelling the full extent of the cruelty and injustice which befell the inmates of Auschwitz; we were spellbound and appalled by the range of horrors seen and perpetrated within that camp, yet he frequently repeated that not all guards and Nazis were bad people and not all the victims were good people and that evil can bring out evil in others.
From Auschwitz we went on to visit the nearby camp of Birkenau, a vast expanse with the skeletal remains of the many buildings, which had housed so many unfortunate victims. The descriptions of the vast numbers of people sharing small spaces, the lack of hygiene, food, water available, the terrible de-humanising treatment and deliberate cruelty vested upon so many, the disease and death and rats, the disposal of those who were deemed to be of no value, have stayed with us all, powerfully bringing a familiar history topic to life.
Our next visit was to Schindler’s factory, now used as a museum about the war. We learned that Schindler too was a complex character, and had initially exploited the Jewish people who worked in his factory for his own financial benefit, as they had to work for no pay. Here our guide Cuba, known as “Jimmy”, reiterated the messages from the Auschwitz tour, that people are complex and we have to make sure what happened in the war is remembered, if we are to avoid it happening again.