I have just returned from a fascinating and moving two weeks following the trail of the Holocaust across Europe from Holland into Germany, and then on into Poland and the Czech Republic. The Holocaust was one of the darkest chapters of European history in the Twentieth Century and I have long had an interest in it as my grandmother’s French family, Jews who lived just outside of Paris, all died at Auschwitz having been deported there in 1944.
We began our journey in Holland with a visit the Anne Frank House. Now a museum, this is the original building the Franks sheltered in before they were betrayed in August 1944. The tiny, cramped space they lived in is evident as you make your way round this building but at times the whole experience felt a little soul-less as there is very little belonging to them left inside; it is pretty much a hollow shell of a building, albeit a very important one in the history of the Holocaust. Moving into Germany we continued with the Anne Frank theme at Bergen-Belsen, where she tragically died in 1945. The massive Interpretation Centre at Belsen retells the story of not just the site but the whole Holocaust and was a sobering introduction to what we were doing on this trip.
In Berlin we toured the city from a Holocaust perspective; it was amazing to see how busy such places were, even on a cold March day. Aside from the obvious locations like the Holocaust Memorial and the Anhalter Bahnhof, thanks to one of the group we went to visit Gleis 17, a platform on a suburban station in west Berlin where thousands of Jews were deported from Berlin during WW2.
In Poland we had a detailed look at the Schindler Factory and the Krakow Ghetto. This was truly fascinating wandering round the buildings where the Ghetto had been, seeing original signage and finding buildings where even young children were killed when the Ghetto was cleared in 1943.
Auschwitz was a difficult visit for me as this is where my grandmother’s French family died in 1944. I found one of them listed in an exhibition in the French section of the displays in Auschwitz camp. The number of visitors was a little overwhelming at times but when we moved on to the truly massive Auschwitz II – Birkenau, I found that I really couldn’t hack it after a couple of hours, especially after seeing all the ashes in a pond near one of the gas chambers. Were my distant ancestors in there somewhere? We returned to the hotel both physically and emotionally exhausted that evening.
In the Czech Republic we traced the locations connected with the Reinhard Heydrich assassination in 1942 and was able to find the slip road where he was killed by the Czech SOE team, although it did not seem possible to stop for a proper look; although we could see information panels there now. Next day we visited Terezin – or Theresienstadt as it was once known. I especially wanted to see this as I had researched a family who were held here for Channel 5′s War Hero In My Family last year. Pretty much left in its wartime state, I found this a fascinating site with a truly haunting Holocaust memorial.
Back in Germany we visited Nuremberg and it was a fitting place to end two weeks following the Holocaust to make our last stop the Nuremberg courtrooms where many of those guilty of the crimes connected to the Holocaust were tried after the war.
The research on this trip was for the Holocaust Tour myself and my team of specialist guides organise and guide for Leger Holidays and whether you join us on this journey or do it yourself, it is something I would recommend to everyone; as tragic, sad and horrific as it often is, the Holocaust is certainly something that should not be forgotten.