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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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The secrets of Sobibor revealed

We recently caught up with group member and artist, Hannah Wilson who is at the centre of the Sobibor excavation dig. The groundbreaking research has led to the geographical identification of the Sobibor Gas Chambers that were previsouly unknown. Excavation of the area was always going to be a sensitive matter for the memories of those who perished and the families who waited for news of what would be discovered. The incredible results of the dig have surprised everyone and offer an insight into the crimes that were attempted to be covered up by the fleeing Nazis in 1943. Hannah explains how she got involved with the project and her views for future handling of rembrance sites.

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Mengele's Secret Hideout

La Casualidad is an outskirt in all the meanings of the word. Was it here he hid from the Nazi-hunters, the well-known and infamous Dr. Mengele?

The man who used humans as ”animal experimentation” in Auschwitz, and then escaped from Germany in 1945. He was also the dictator Perons guest in Argentina, something no-one knew before now.

A cold high mountain-desert is surrounding me. Without humans, but still not totally empty of traces of civilisation. Everywhere we look, we are passing abandoned houses and a railways that hasn’t seen activity for many years. Nevertheless, nothing has prepared me for what I am about to meet in a small valley between these mountains, 4100 meters above the sea - La Casualidad.

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David Boder: the man who came, saw and listened for himself

At the end of the war, when the Allies found out about the atrocities committed by the Nazis in occupied Europe, General D. Eisenhower invited the American press to come and see what had happened there: they should have seen for themselves what the  Nazi ideology had brought about. The title of this paper is related to the words he said at that time and to the man who felt the urgence to come, see and listen to the testimonies of the survivors. 

After the liberation of the camps, many pictures were taken then, several  footages were shot which showed the images of thousands of corpses, emaciated and sick  prisoners, living skeletons who were lying in the barracks or could  hardly  walk. These images, which have become  widely known since then, were voiceless, though. What the American and part of European public opinion could realize watching them were the effects  of an inhuman policy, which seemed to be over, because  the war had ended. Of course this was not the case: the Holocaust had affected people  not only from a physical point of view, which paradoxically  was the easiest to be treated, but also from a psychological and social one. The immediate  emotional impact of the images of Dachau, Bergen Belsen, Birkenau, on the world’s public opinion was so strong that apparently there was no room left for any further reflection at that time. The immediate needs and the will to build a better future  were, in most  cases,  stronger than the will to deeper the recent traumatic past. 

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