The Holocaust Remembered | Leger Holidays

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.

The Holocaust Remembered – Charlotte Czyzyk

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. 

Achsenhausen Concentration Camp
Achsenhausen Concentration Camp

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. 
Krakow Ghetto
Krakow Ghetto

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. 
Bergen Belsen
Bergen Belsen

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.

David McCormack: Playboy, businessman, saviour, spy: Oskar Schindler's lesser known career with German Military Intelligence 1936-40

Oskar Schindler’s name became known to millions following Liam Neeson’s brilliant 1993 on-screen performance as the larger-than-life character in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Whilst this beautifuly crafted film captured Schindler’s shrewd opportunism and supreme confidence, it did not satisfactorily explain his conversion from casual war profiteer to selfless hero.

This is entirely understandable, given that the film was based on Thomas Keneally’s book Schindler’s Ark (1982), which only briefly touched upon some of his pre-Krakow activities. Those activities included his direct involvement in espionage and undercover operations carried out by German Military intelligence (Abwehr) between 1936 and 1940.

A still from the film ‘Schindler’s List’

Given the nature of Schindler’s clandestine activities, it is hardly surprising that he remains a controversial and shadowy figure. According to Schindler’s own account, he joined Abwehr III Breslau in December 1936 after meeting the organisation’s chief, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris at a party. The unit to which he was attached principally dealt with code-breaking and radio monitoring.
Following reorganisation, his unit was redesignated as Abwehr II Breslau, tasked with carrying out espionage/counter-espionage and sabotage/counter-sabotage operations. During the fateful summer of 1938 which culminated in the Munich Crisis, he worked to provide Abwehr combat and sabotage teams with reliable maps and information on Czech troop movements and defences.
Oskar Schindler (L), Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Head of Abwehr (R)

Schindler was a somewhat minor figure in Hitler’s plans to take over Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, his activities did not go unnoticed by the Czech authorities. He was arrested on charges of espionage on 18 July 1938, tried and subsequently imprisoned. However, he was  released early under the terms of the Munich Agreement.
Through much of August 1939, Schindler played a more significant role in Hitler’s planned invasion of Poland. Operating with Action Commando Unit VIII around the Sillein border region in Slovakia, Schindler smuggled arms and men across the border into Poland in preparation for clandestine combat operations. Later, he participated in operations to secure the strategically important rail tunnel and tracks which ran through the Jablunkov Pass.
The railway tunnel at the Jablunkov Pass

However, Hitler’s miscalculation regarding British and French guarantees to Poland led to the operation being hastily terminated as a result of his fear of provoking a general war.  On 31 August, the carefully staged Gleiwitz Incident provided Hitler with his justification for attacking Poland. Schindler may well have had a role in procuring Polish uniforms for this SS orchestrated ruse de geurre designed to create the impression of Polish aggression along the German border. However, the evidence for his involvement is largely based on testimony from his estranged wife Emilie. As such, it needs to be treated with caution.
Following the occupation of Krakow by German forces in September 1939, Schindler moved to the city in the hope of resuming his business career. However, in reality, he never left Abwehr, as in 1940 he was sent on a mission to investigate difficulties affecting the flow of intelligence information from Turkey. It is also quite possible that his purchase of the Emalia factory was subsidised by his Abwehr controllers, who wished to use it as a front for their continued intelligence activities.
Main building, entrance to Oscar Schindler’s factory in Krakow, Poland

Working with Abwehr brought Schindler into close contact with some of the more unpleasant organs of the Nazi state. Consequently, he developed a distrust of the SS Security Service and the Secret Police, whose activities he regarded as beyond the pale. This distrust would later develop as a distaste for all aspects of Hitler’s terror state and would form the basis of the actions which led to him becoming the saviour of 1,100 Jews, who would certainly have perished without his intervention.