With the atrocities of the Holocaust brought firmly back to the forefront of our attention this week, it’s important for us to remember the millions of victims who suffered at the hands of evil during one of the most horrific parts of World War 2.
Our Holocaust Remembered tour follows the moving story of Anne Frank as well as the story of Oskar Schindler. Our specialist guide, Charlotte Czyzyk, who also works at the IWM North, specialises in the Holocaust, and here talks us through some of the most moving and thought provoking aspects of this emotional tour.
This tour covers the history of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jewish men, women and children were murdered, as well as countless others because of their race, religion, sexuality, nationality, or disability. We follow the footsteps of those whose lives were affected by persecution, and include testimony from individuals such as Anne Frank to bring our excursions to life. We visit beautiful, vibrant cities where Jewish culture thrived before the war, including Berlin, Krakow and Prague, which reminds us of everything that was lost in the Holocaust.
We see the traces of Nazi architecture in the German capital of Berlin, and visit the villa outside the city where senior Nazis held the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This secret meeting sealed the fate of European Jews, and it is always striking to think that such a beautiful lakeside location could provide the setting for such cold and calculated decision to murder millions of people. We also visit one of the earliest concentration camps at Sachsenhausen, where barracks have been preserved to gain a sense of the prisoners’ daily life.
Moving onto Poland we walk through the sites of the former Krakow ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp, which during the war were plagued by overcrowding, violence, hunger and squalor. Later in the tour we also visit the so-called ‘model ghetto’ at Theresienstadt near Prague, which deceived the Red Cross inspectors into thinking that conditions were acceptable for the people held there.
For many passengers, visiting the former concentration and death camp at Auschwitz is a particularly emotional experience. Seeing the huge displays of confiscated belongings – shoes, spectacles, even women’s hair – is overwhelming, and it helps us to begin to come to terms with the human tragedy that unfolded there.The remains of the vast death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including the railway lines, prisoner barracks and gas chambers, show how the Nazi machine was geared to destroying people using industrial methods.
And yet amongst the suffering and loss, there are tales of hope and courage. We look at stories of inspirational individuals such as Oskar Schindler, and visit the museum at his former factory in Krakow where he employed and saved 1,200 Jews. We also move to the Czech Republic to see the church in Prague where the brave assassins of SS leader Reinhard Heydrich met their fate, a building which still bears scars from the fighting that took place there over 70 years ago.
The end of the war created new challenges for survivors. We visit the former concentration camp at Bergen Belsen, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945. At this emotive site we think about the difficulties that soldiers faced in providing the food, clothing, and medical assistance required to save as many people as possible, as well as the psychological support needed to help survivors to make sense of all they had come through and all they had lost. Some people poured their efforts into seeking justice from the perpetrators, and we end the tour by visiting the Nuremberg courtroom where the trials of leading Nazis such as Herman Goering took place.
This tour follows journeys of many kinds:journeys of death in trains, in ghettos and in camps; journeys of escape, hiding and survival; and journeys made after liberation to a new life. I hope that you will join this special trip to unforgettable sites, which create evocative memories for all those who travel with us. Click here to view WW2 Battlefield Tours.
This month marks the 72nd anniversary of the relief of Bergen-Belsen where more than 50,000 people perished through wilful neglect, including the young diarist, Anne Frank
Anne Frank’s posthumously published diary first appeared in print in 1947. Since then, it has become an international best seller, instantly recognisable to millions. Less recognisable, indeed largely unknown, is the posthumously published (1979) wartime diary of Etty Hillesum (An Interrupted Life), a young Dutch woman who was murdered in Auschwitz in November 1943.
Hillesum’s remarkable diary shares the same literary qualities as that of Anne Frank, which is hardly surprising as both aspired to be professional writers. Arguably, it is Anne Frank’s far more complex afterlife which has resulted in her much greater posthumous success and reinvention as a symbol of hope and forgiveness.
The reinvention of Anne Frank began with the publication of her diary in the United States in 1952. To make what Anne herself initially referred to as ‘the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl’ more attractive to a wider (non Jewish) audience, the diary underwent a process of Americanisation, bowdlerisation and sentimentalisation.
This process extended even further with the dramatisation of the Diary of Anne Frank on Broadway in 1955 and the release of the Hollywood film (adapted from the stage production) four years later. Whilst both the play and the film were critical successes, neither captured the true essence of who Anne Frank really was.
Neither Susan Strasberg on stage, nor Millie Perkins on screen came close to capturing the mercurial and precocious young woman whose words have fascinated and inspired so many. Instead of highlighting her particular qualities, the version of Anne Frank presented to the world was a universal figure, designed above all to appeal to American youth.
This distorted, reduced, infantilised and decontextualised figure was even furnished with a happy ending. In true Broadway and Hollywood style, the adaptations of her story conclude with those lines in her diary about believing that people were good at heart.
However, we know that in reality, there was no happy ending. As such, the decontextualising of her good-at-heart passage represents the literary equivalent of plucking a rose from a bed of thorns. The impact of that decontextualised passage has nonetheless been enormous, as from it, she has come to be recognised as a universal symbol of hope and forgiveness.
In recent years, the story of Anne Frank has been subject to literary interpretations, or re-imaginings, most notably Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer (1979) and Sharon Dogar’s Annexed (2010).
Whilst both are written with a degree of sensitivity, neither help us to understand the true story, that of a life of great promise cut tragically short in the most terrible of circumstances.
For me, as a guide, it is important to distinguish between the crafted image of Anne Frank and the real person. Therefore, on The Holocaust Remembered tour, we take in the locations which serve to inform us about her real life and the circumstances of her death.
In a sense, Anne Frank lives on through her diary. However, we know that she isn’t alive, as this ordinary, yet extraordinary young woman was buried in a mass grave in Bergen-Belsen in late February 1945. That is what makes her story so unbearable and yet so fascinating. Furthermore, it is what makes this tour such an emotional, yet rewarding experience.
Having wanted to go on Legerâ€™s Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler battlefields tour for quite some time, Linda and David Barrington-Smith found it was certainly an experience to remember.
Linda is a Freelance Journalist and David is a professional photographer. They have both travelled with Leger Holidays before and this time they have kindly written an article about their experiences whilst on our tour – The Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler.
On January 20, 1942 in the dining room of a beautiful lakeside villa in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, 15 high-ranking representatives of the SS, the NSDAP and various ministries met for a conference, chaired by Reinhard Heydrich, to discuss and co-ordinate the implementation of what they called â€œthe final solution of the Jewish questionâ€. The â€˜Final Solutionâ€™ being the code name for the systematic, deliberate, physical annihilation of 11 million Jews in Europe.
While the enormity of the European Holocaust can be very emotive and hard to take in, Legerâ€™s The Story of Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler battlefield tour helps bring into perspective the events of that terrible period in European history.
The tour is one that we had wanted to take for quite some time. So when the opportunity finally arose, we didnâ€™t hesitate!
The local pick-up arrangements for the trip down to Dover, where we met up with our excellent tour coach drivers Dave and Gary and specialist historical guide Richard Bass, went smoothly, as did the journey to the first overnight stop.
Day two saw the tour start to follow the story of the Frank family with a visit to the Anne Frank House and museum in Amsterdam.
For just over two years Anne Frank and her family hid in the Secret Annexe of the canalside house at Prinsengracht 263 where Anneâ€™s father, Otto Frank had his business.
A bookcase marks the entrance to the annexe, reached via several flights of steep stairs, which they shared with four other Jews.
Although today the rooms are sober and unfurnished, they still breathe the atmosphere of that period of time.
Anne, who was 13 when the family went into hiding, wrote her now famous diary in the annexe. Quotations from this, as well as historical documents, photographs, film images and artefacts illustrate the events that took place here.
On August 4, 1944 the occupants were betrayed and deported to various concentration camps. Only Otto Frank survived the war.
After our visit, the tour continued to Hannover for an overnight stay.
The next day we paid our respects at Bergen-Belsen where Anne Frank and her sister Margot died of typhus in March 1945, only a few weeks before liberation.
Today, Bergen-Belsen is a place of remembrance â€” a tranquil cemetery with mounds of mass graves containing more than 70,000 people and various memorials â€” including one dedicated to Anne and Margot Frank.
We have visited the site before, but at that time the new Documentation Centre hadnâ€˜t been opened. A forbidding concrete building, designed to make one aware that Bergen-Belsen was not a pleasant place, we spent quite a while looking at the excellent exhibition. Packed with information, videos, photographs and personal belongings excavated after liberation, it graphically tells the story of the people that worked, died or somehow survived at the camp.
Next stop was Berlin.
The first day in the German capital was spent studying the â€˜Final Solutionâ€™, starting with a visit to Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum.
Established as a concentration camp in 1936, up until 1945 more than 200,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned here; tens of thousands died from hunger, sickness, forced labour and abuse, or were victims of systematic extermination.
Liberated by Soviet troops in April 1945, the freedom was short-lived as the Soviet secret police turned it into a prison camp and the misery and death continued for another five years.
Several buildings and structures survive or have been reconstructed, including the camp entrance, guard towers, cell block, small gas chamber and crematory ovens.
After this sobering visit, a walk was taken across the Glienicke Bridge, where East and West swapped spies during the Cold War, before going on to the House of the Wannsee Conference.
Our second day in Berlin was packed. Starting off at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery, we then visited the Olympic Stadium before continuing to the PlÃ¶tzensee Memorial Centre, in the old prison yard behind the modern day prison, where among nearly 3000 people executed here were some of the July 1944 plotters. The execution chamber still houses the original gallows.
After this chiller we saw the German Resistance Memorial Centre, located in the historic section of the former headquarters of the Army High Command at the Bendlerblock. It was here that Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and other members of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 were shot by firing squad.
Then it was on to the Topography of Terror Documentation Centre with exhibitions illustrating the European dimensions of the Nazi reign of terror.
After seeing the site of Hitlerâ€™s Bunker, we finished up at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Designed by New York architect Peter Eisenmann as a Field of Stelae containing 2711 stark concrete blocks, it is only by walking among them that the powerful atmosphere of this memorial can be felt.
Next day the tour travelled on to Krakow in Poland.
The first day in this beautiful city we strolled through the old narrow streets of Krakowâ€™s Kazimierz district, which still retains a unique atmosphere of its Jewish past. After the ravages of the Second World War the area became run down. But in recent years it has become a thriving district once again, thanks in part to Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List.
Next stop was PodgÃ³rze, site of the former Jewish Ghetto between 1941 until 1943 and from where the Jews were deported to the nearby PlaszÃ³w Concentration Camp and other death camps. Today, the main square has been turned into an evocative memorial to the victims of the Krakow Ghetto, laid out with 70 large bronze chairs symbolising departure as well as subsequent absence.
Close to the ghetto lies Oscar Schindlerâ€™s Factory of Enamelled Vessels Emalia, used by Schindler in his remarkable attempt to save the lives of his workforce. It has been turned into a modern museum with ingenious exhibitions combining period artefacts, photographs and documents with multimedia and set-piece arrangements to create a full-immersion experience of life in Krakow from pre-war until after liberation.
Oscar Schindler, his factory, and the fate of its Jewish workforce feature prominently. The main part of the exhibition dealing with Schindler himself is his office which retains original elements of the interior in the shape of architectural detail and a 1940s map of Europe with city names in German.
Opposite a desk from the period, with an arrangement of Schindlerâ€™s family photos, is a stunning glass cube filled with metalware. The walls of the metal cylinders inside the cube bear the names of around 1100 Jews saved by Schindler.
Afterwards the tour headed for PlaszÃ³w Concentration Camp, a windswept park where all traces of Nazi atrocity have been erased. But we did manage to see the house that the campâ€™s notorious commandant Amon GÃ³th lived in and the PlaszÃ³w Memorial, dedicated to the victims of the camp.
Next day was spent at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex â€” a symbol of terror, genocide and the Holocaust around the world. The total number of victims at Auschwitz between 1940-1945 is estimated at between 1.1 and 1.5 million people, around 900,000 thought to be Jews.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum includes two sections of the camps â€” the brick buildings of Auschwitz I and the immense concentration and death camp at Auschwitz II (Birkenau) three kilometres away.
Some of the most chilling exhibits at Auschwitz I, set behind protective glass, must surely be the cans of Zyklon B used in the extermination process, tons of human hair, suitcases with names and addresses of deportees, shoes, artificial limbs, spectacles, childrenâ€™s toys and clothing â€” which make pretty powerful viewing.
While there is less to see at Birkenau, its size and solitude makes it more deeply moving than Auschwitz I with its thousands of daily visitors.
At Birkenau one can see the watchtower, railway line and selection ramp â€” images well-known from documentary films and books; remnants of four crematoria, gas chambers and cremation pits, all of which make a profound impression on everyone who visits the camp.
Leaving Poland an overnight stop was made in Prague in the Czech Republic, where we saw the site of Reinhard Heydrichâ€™s assassination. Then it was on to Nuremberg for a look at the Courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials took place, before travelling through the Rhine Valley on our way to Calais and the ferry home.
Although our epic 4570 kilometre journey was emotional at times, there were lighter moments â€” a free jazz concert in Celle, dancing to a pop concert at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and a cruise on the Rhine among them.
It was certainly an experience to remember.
Keep an eye in your local newspapers and magazines for further details about this thought provoking tour from Linda and David Barrington-Smith