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'It Is Sweet to Die for the Fatherland…' - the Story of Bernard Świerczyna

“But you who knew me will write in your reports
That I spent my younger years for my country,
And as long as the ship battled, I sat at mast,
And when it sank, I went down with it...”

'My Testament' by J. Słowacki

On July 18, 1940 a twenty-six-year-old clerk and law student lost his freedom and identity. He was no longer Bernard Świerczyna but number 1393. The only things which could not be changed or killed by the Nazi regime were his patriotism and love for Poland…

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MA in Holocaust Studies Student featured in National Holocaust Memorial Event in London 2016

Today’s blog post is written by our student Hannah Wilson (Cohort II). Wilson’s participation in our ‘Visual Culture and the Holocaust’ course inspired the creation of a special piece that was featured at the National Holocaust Memorial event in London. Through her work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, and her experience from our program, Wilson was selected as one of 12 entries to be featured at this event. Here’s what she has to say about the experience:

As I began my Masters degree in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, I was thrilled to be offered a range of interdisciplinary modules, including ‘Visual Culture and the Holocaust’. As an arts graduate, my work and research has primarily focused around artists who produced work during and after the Holocaust, and how these pieces are represented in institutional settings. The course also introduced me to debates and issues surrounding the future of Holocaust education. Coincidentally, when I returned to the UK from Israel to finish writing up my thesis, I began working in a secondary school as a Learning Support Assistant.

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Kitty Hart Moxon - interview

Survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Death March from Gross-Rosen, Kitty speaks exclusively to the Auschwitz Study Group in a wide ranging interview from her time at Auschwitz, to educating a new generation.

Kitty Hart Moxon survived the Holocaust alongside her mother in an incredible journey that saw her escape the Lublin Ghetto, a mock execution, Auschwitz Birkenau, Gross-Rosen and the death march of the harsh winter in 1944.

After moving to Birmingham, England, with her mother just after the war, she became one of the first educators of the Holocaust in the UK and was recently awarded an OBE for her dedication to the subject. Kitty is still very active and can be seen on several documentaries, often with school children and on one occasion, even Neo-Nazis.

There was no formula for surviving Auschwitz. There was no such thing as a formula. Those who survived did so by shutting down all emotions and focusing on surviving another minute, another hour another day.

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The Auschwitz International Summer Academy

Last summer, approximately 25 intellectually curious, soon-to-be-colleagues from all over the world converged on the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for the Auschwitz International Summer Academy.  I was privileged to be among them, thanks to financial support I received from my school’s Clough Center for Global Understanding. 

I’m a veteran secondary school teacher at the oldest public school in the United States, Boston Latin School. I’m a Museum Teacher Fellow and Regional Museum Educator for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’m a Master Teacher Fellow at the USC  Shoah Foundation. Before teaching, I was an art museum curator, so I have a keen appreciation for the challenges that museum staff face. I first visited the site in the summer of 2001, with a group of educators led by resistance fighter and Holocaust survivor Vladka Meed. Plus I have been bringing groups of 50 students and faculty since 2001 to the site annually, so Auschwitz was hardly new to me. I was well versed in the literature and have met with many survivors of the camp.

In short, I thought I knew quite a bit about not only the Holocaust in general but about Auschwitz specifically. Or so I thought. 

I was wrong. 

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I broke into Auschwitz - interview with Denis Avey

The opening words of his book read “The Man who Broke into Auschwitz is the true story of a British Soldier who marched willingly into Buna Monowitz, the concentration camp known as Auschwitz 3”.

In the summer of 1944, Denis Avey was being held in a POW (Prisoner of War Camp), E715, near Auschwitz 3. He had heard of the brutality meted out to the prisoners there and he was determined to witness what he could.

He hatched a plan to swap places with a Jewish inmate and smuggled himself into a sector of the camp. He spent the night there on 2 occasions and first experienced at first hand the cruelty of a place where slave workers had been sentenced to death through labour.

In July 2015, Denis Avey formerly of the 7th Armoured Division in the British Army sadly passed away aged 96. For over 5 decades following the end of the war, Avey remained largely silent over his time during the British North African campaign fighting Rommel’s armies. He rarely spoke of his subsequent capture and the time spent as a British Prisoner of War in the Polish town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German).

I was fortunate enough to meet Dennis Avey on a number of occasions and particularly over 2 talks in 2011 and 2012 as Avey presented his book to students and scholars. I took this opportunity to speak to him about his time in as a prisoner, writes Michael Challoner of the Auschwitz Study Group.

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