A live virtual tour of the Nazi concentration camp and a conversation with a survivor deepen eighth-graders’ exploration of history.
As part of their study of the Holocaust, Ravenscroft eighth-graders participated in a live virtual tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, led by Jerzy Wójcik, one of the world's foremost experts on the Holocaust; and a conversation with Bernard Offen, who survived the Krakow Ghetto and several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Here are three students’ reflections on the experience.
Our grade spent a whole unit reading a book of our choice about the Holocaust. Originally, there were plans to visit a museum about this event in Washington, D.C., but unfortunately the trip was canceled. As an alternative, we were able to take a three-hour virtual tour of Auschwitz, along with seeing primary-source footage and hearing from a survivor of the Holocaust. There was a presentation (nicely put together, might I add) with images, facts and past recordings linked onto the different slides. There was also a 3-D map used to show us where the different buildings were located and where everything was placed in general. Afterwards a Holocaust survivor, Bernard Offen, talked to us about his personal experiences and answered any questions we had for him.
At first I was shocked, to put it simply. It was only after several hours and some contemplation that the things I witnessed and heard really settled in. Hearing from a first-hand witness and survivor of the Holocaust added more weight onto the things I saw and what I realized. It was a realization that this wasn’t just some distant thing that happened in the past, but was a very real, tragic, and terrible event that should never be repeated. It was something that had affected countless people, and still does to this day. I began to think about the Holocaust in this way while reading my book of choice, “The Book Thief,” but this virtual tour was what really slammed the last nail into the coffin for me.
Mr. Offen pointed something out to us that stood out to me, partially because it’s something that’s been on my mind since we’ve started the unit and also something I’ve mentioned in other assignments relating to the Holocaust. Before we were shown the gas chambers, he interjected and talked about how the astronomical numbers listed on the plaques were difficult for us — well, anyone really — to process. Sure, you could tell us the exact number of Jews who died, but those numbers don’t mean anything to us. To us, they’re just numbers. Symbols carved into a piece of stone or appearing against a white backdrop on a website. Those numbers aren’t measurements that can be easily put into perspective. However, a story from one person is something that can be put into perspective. Mr. Offen told us about his two brothers, his father, his mother and his sister. He talked about the kind people at Auschwitz who helped him through the terrible conditions and his persistent journey across Europe in search for his brothers after the liberation of the concentration camps. I distinctly remember seeing a quote somewhere, perhaps in the comments of a YouTube video or whilst conversing with others in a Discord server. “The saddest thing isn't that a thousand people died, but that a single person died a thousand times.” Unfortunately, I was unable to find where it originated, but that quote has stuck with me ever since, and I think, in many ways, it applies to one of the big points of realization for me during this virtual tour. The Jews who were killed en masse weren’t just numbers, but people. They are people with families, with friends, with relatives, and none of them were immune to the atrocities committed against them. Hearing from Mr. Offen and the pure passion in his voice made me realize that there were so many others out in the world who had gone through similar experiences as him and gave me at least a small idea of the scope and the tragedy of this event.
— Shirley Yang ’26
Recently in class, we read a Holocaust choice book and wrote an essay on why that story mattered. I read “Prisoner B-3087” by Alan Gratz, which describes the events of Yanek Gruener as he experiences 10 death camps and the Nazis’ reign. In the book, I read descriptions of the horrors of the concentration camps and the brutality they entailed. However, I had no real vision of anything that occurred throughout the story. The tour of Auschwitz changed that. It went through the two death camps of Auschwitz and opened my eyes to the true torture that went on. Reading stories can only paint a picture in my mind. Seeing the barracks and the gas chambers put the paint on the canvas, and I finally could get a full understanding of the atrocities.
I was shown the wood barracks that Bernard slept in. They fit four in one bunk with no mattress below them. Bernard said, “I was on the top bunk because all of diarrhea went to the bottom.” He slept every night hoping diarrhea wouldn’t fall on him. I was also shown the bathrooms, which were many wooden holes in a big room with dirt as a floor. Also, our tour guide also showed us where the selection process took place — the inhumane way where Jews were either sent to the gas chambers immediately or to the barracks to continue work. Mr. Offen choked up when describing this part since it was the last place he was with his dad. The thought of watching my dad being sent to sure death seems like a nightmare, but for Bernard Offen, it was reality. We went further and looked inside the gas chamber. While there is not much to see inside, the message is still strong. You can almost feel the souls of the victims just by looking in the gas chamber.
Then, for the last hour, we had a Q&A with Mr. Offen. Here, many students asked questions such as, “How is anti-semitism similar from before the war and today?” He gave great insight into the way anti-semitism has been a constant throughout his life. Before the war, he was called derogatory names, and these acts continue in the world today. As we are the last generation to witness Holocaust survivors, it is our role to share their stories and attempt to combat anti-semitism. Bernard only survived by what he explained as “angels.” These angels have a meaning of luck. He was only able to make it out because he was lucky. At any point in time, he could have been shot by the Nazis, but his angels protected him at all times. Bernard Offen persevered through unimaginable horrors such as the smell of burning flesh and being forced to build gas chambers where his friends were killed.
The Holocaust must be remembered so a genocide can never happen again. I would like to thank Ravenscroft and Bernard Offen for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
— Ethan Silverman ’26
I logged onto the Zoom meeting not knowing what to expect. I knew about this special experience that my teachers had planned for us, but I had no idea how it would go. To be honest, I was nervous sitting at my desk at home waiting for the meeting to start. As soon as I heard the familiar doorbell noise signaling that the meeting had begun, I was welcomed by our tour guide. What I experienced then was something I would remember for the rest of my life.
Leading up to this day, we had been reading a book of choice based on the Holocaust during our language arts classes. I chose Anne Frank’s diary, and her genuine and even relatable writing of her life in hiding was a hard but valuable adventure for me. I then wrote an essay on Anne’s story, and I became excited to learn that I would soon hear from someone who lived through that same difficult time.
The first thing that we did during the tour was locate Auschwitz on the map, and before we knew it, we were flying over the camps to see an aerial view of what still remains there today. I was filled with so many feelings, and I became very sad as I listened to the horrors that so many faced in this very place. Sorrow and distress engulfed me while we saw pictures of the living conditions and images of what the camp looked like when it was in use. The ways the guards treated the innocent prisoners was without any dignity, and learning about this was disturbing and horrifying to me. To be honest, it was very hard for me to listen to these distressing events of our past. My thoughts turned back to reality as I listened to the Holocaust survivor speak of his many troubling and horrific experiences. I was overwhelmed with sorrow while listening to his stories.
But then he explained how we should learn from what we saw that day, and how we should treat others with respect and dignity and not with hatred and cruelty. From that moment on, I realized that this emotional experience, although very hard, is very important for all of us to try to learn from. If we do not learn from our past mistakes, it is very hard to grow and even better our world. I am very thankful to everyone who helped make this experience possible, and to all those who helped give us this enriching opportunity. I will truly never forget what I experienced that day, and I will carry the lessons I learned into my everyday life forever.
— Keira Segars ’26