A Visit to Auschwitz

Written by Sophia T and Ella M

On 12th November 2019, we were given the incredible opportunity to visit the small town of Oświęcim, Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. In one incredibly emotionally charged day, we were able to see the extent of the Nazi’s attempts to exterminate every single member of a people. We would say that the phrase ‘you have to see it to believe it’ applies to Auschwitz to some extent. Visiting these sites demonstrates the sheer scale of the Holocaust and forces you to confront what happened head on, as it is very easy for the human mind to subconsciously push away such monstrous displays of destruction. There is a certain shock value that comes with being there in real life and there is much that is hard to explain; we both agreed that one thing that is impossible to put into words is just how big the camps are. However, much of the information that we learnt through discussions and reading during the seminars and the trip has equal value to visiting itself. We hope that this article can at least give you somewhat of an idea of what it was like and how, if presented with the chance, we think it is an incredibly worthwhile trip to take.

Before our visit to Poland we had varied expectations. It’s difficult to predict how one will feel visiting the site of a genocide and you don’t know how you will react. We knew it would be a packed day, flying out at 4am and arriving back incredibly late at night that same day, visiting the site of the Great Synagogue in Oświęcim, Auschwitz I, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The first site we visited was the town of Oświęcim (more commonly known as its germanised name Auschwitz) which is the closest town to the camps, and it gave us a sense of Jewish life before and after the Holocaust. Before the war, the town had a huge Jewish community that made up 58% of the population with a Great Synagogue built that seated 1,000 people and was the heart of the town for the Jewish people that lived there. The rabbi travelling with us told us that this synagogue was brutally burnt down by the German forces and almost all the Jews removed from the town. It was shocking to us to find out that there are now no Jews living in the town. It really demonstrated to us impact that the Holocaust had and to see that the site that was once the Great Synagogue was now simply a patch of grass was heart-breaking.

We then moved to Auschwitz I. We walked under the infamous gates with the words ‘Arbeit Mach Frei’ (‘Work Will Set You Free’) towering over us and into the camp with our tour guide. We then toured the blocks that had exhibitions in them, walking through rooms filled with shoes, suitcases, pots and pans, shoe polish bottles, combs, canisters of Zyklon B that was used to kill millions, and even a room full of human hair. It is strange, you think you will break down in tears at such masses of items, and it takes a lot to force yourself to remember that these belonged to real people and even children. However, looking around us, we felt more of a numbness both in ourselves and in the people in our group. We imagine this is due to the human brain being somewhat unable to comprehend the prospect of so much death, but it brings with it a haunting feeling. Mostly, our entire group stood in utter silence, eyes scanning what was before us, with the constant reminder that each shoe, each bag, each pot of shoe polish, had a life behind it. A key concept that the LFA course kept at the forefront of our minds was this individuality. Focussing solely on the incomprehensible statistic of 6 million prevents us from understanding the Holocaust in its entirety. We were led into a room which held a book and told that it contained roughly 4 million names of people murdered in the Holocaust, their date of birth, and the date they were killed. Held up on multiple stands with the pages pressed into each other, the book spanned almost the entire length of the room; we were told there were more being added each year.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the final stop on our journey. The train tracks leading under what are commonly known as ‘the gates of death’ seemed to go on forever. Once inside, you could not see from one end to the other – it seemed never ending. The Russian army destroyed some of the wooden barracks on the right side of the camp in order to control the spread of disease upon liberation, but the chimneys had been rebuilt in order to maintain the demonstration of the number of barracks that were really there. There are no exact figures of those who died at Birkenau, though it is estimated to be around 1.1 million. As the hours went by, it got darker rapidly and this darkness seemed to settle over us as we walked over the ruins of Crematoria II and III. Finally, we walked the path that so many walked all those years ago through the registration rooms, most of which looked like a cattle farm. They would have their heads shaved, showers, uniforms given, a number on their arm, and then be put to work.

The question of conserving such sites is still a highly controversial topic and, unfortunately, there are still some people out there who deny that the Holocaust ever happened. 5% of the UK deny the Holocaust ever happened and 1 in 12 believe that the extent has been exaggerated. We feel that the preservation of these places therefore is crucial to remember what happened. As the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust has just passed, we are reminded of the phrase ‘Never Forget’ that survivors plead year in year out. The Rwanda Genocide of 1994 and the Xinjiang re-education camps in China that exist today bring into question whether this phrase is simply decorative. Therefore, we firmly believe that passing on the information we learnt is necessary in every way to ensure the permanency of the message and warning that remembering the Holocaust brings. The Lessons from Auschwitz experience has taught us both so much and we encourage students in the coming years to embark on this trip as it is incredibly worthwhile. Taking the time to recognise the lives of all those involved, the modern-day relevance and impact, and trying to prevent something like this from happening again in any shape or form by passing on this information has been invaluable to us. There is no straightforward way to address the site of a genocide, but we are grateful for the opportunity the Holocaust Educational Trust has given us to develop our understanding of it.

Sophia T and Ella M, Year 12

Disco Event

On the 11th December the AGGS Social Action Society held a disco to raise money for three social action projects.

  • A grassroots project in India; helping to fund educational, health and agricultural initiatives. Further information can be found on the project JustGiving site: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ahmedabadindia.
  • Amnesty International to help tackle Human Rights Abuses around the world.
  • Shelter to help combat the issue of homelessness.

The disco was a great success, raising £490 in total. Thank you to all the parents who supported the disco by allowing their child to attend.

A big thanks also goes to the staff (Mrs Clutton and Mrs Charlton) for supervising the event and to YR9 Social Action Society members for helping on the night: taking charge of music the tuckshop and games (some are pictured here).

We hope to hold another fundraising event soon!

AGGS Mock Elections

AGGS ran their own parallel hustings and elections. Students from Politics Society took up the role of various party leaders and put themselves forward to be quizzed by their peers in the AGGS Hustings.

On the 12th December AGGS took to the ballots and like the rest of the nation voted for who they’d like to run the country.

The results are shown below in the graph. Well done to the AGGS Labour Party.

Thank you and well done to all those who took part!

 

Mock Trial Champions

A huge congratulations to the Year 12 Mock Trial Team! On Saturday 30th November the Year 12 Mock Trial team took part in and won the Sir Rhys Davies School Mock Trial Competition in the Manchester Crown Court. The team competed against 11 other schools including Withington Girls, William Hulme Grammar School, Bury Grammar School, Oldham Hulme Grammar, Loreto Grammar School, Manchester High school for Girls and MGS.

Our barristers (Chloe B, Antonia A, Aakanksha L and Maddie T) were all commended for their fantastic advocacy and professionalism, our witnesses (Isobel W, Elsa J, Poppy C, and Lucia O) all put in star performances and our clerk/usher (Lucy B) kept the team in check and organised. The jury members were all very prepared and impartial until the end. The team worked really hard and were truly excellent. They won every single one of their trials including a very tense and close final against the previous champions Oldham Hulme Grammar School. A very exciting day was had by all!

ISOC Charity Week

One of the 5 pillars of Islam is charity, and that’s why this year we were most grateful when ISOC were given the opportunity to organise charity week.

AGGS were part of over 200 institutions which were taking part in an annual charity week led by Islamic relief.

This years theme was ‘Superheroes’ with the tag line ‘unite our powers’ which acts as a metaphor for the real life heroes struggling against the forces of poverty, injustice and disunity across the world. We can proudly say that we joined the growing movement of fundraising to help many individuals worldwide.

We had an array of fundraising events which took place through the course of one week; On the first day we had an international food sale in which members of ISOC brought in food to represent different countries. On the second day we set up a cake sale in which we had a large selection of cupcakes and biscuits on offer including a cake kindly donated by a restaurant. On the penultimate day, a giant Kahoot quiz game was organised in the main hall in which Everyman Cinema tickets were up for grabs. Finally, the last day consisted of henna designs being tattooed onto students.

All the money raised will go towards providing critical healthcare and education in countries such as Niger and Sudan. We had a very successful charity week and are grateful for all the donations received by students.

Written by Mariam S, Y13

WiMUN XI

On Sunday 30 June, delegates from AGGS, representing the states of Poland and the Philippines, made their way over to Withington Girls’ School in order to enjoy a ‘fruitful’ debate at WiMUN XI, the 11th Model UN conference at Withington.

As ambassador for Poland, I obviously had planned for this day months in advance, with well-written and witty acronyms at hand (WARISNOTWARSAWME) and a very bold fashion statement which involved wearing 2 different coloured shoes on each foot. Excited for the day, delegates engaged in (hopefully) friendly table tennis matches before gathering at the opening ceremony before going to their respective committees.

In Security Council, debate was as lively as usual, with the P5 being enemies of the UN as usual. I made an unpopular policy statement to begin with, for describing myself as “buzzin” to attend a “lit” debate, which almost got me evicted before caucus even started. During the course of the debate, we watched in horror as the Economic and Social committee rolled in a giant model of an outdated £1 coin accompanied by an even larger euro symbol – which perhaps was a metaphor for the current state of affairs between the UK and the EU. The Security Council debated my resolution on reforming the Responsibility to Protect, which notably had a clause suggesting the creation of a Security Council group chat to speed up response to atrocity crimes via the communication of emoji. However, Russia (who had been threatening to invade Poland for the whole conference) vetoed it so it didn’t pass. When it came to joke awards, I of course won the most important awards of the conference of “best-dressed” and “best shoes” – turns out my odd choice of footwear was a hit!

WiMUN XI also had a special new committee, called “Historical Council” which imitated Churchill’s War Cabinet with delegates representing people in the cabinet and debating as if it were post-1945, addressing issues such as the Soviet Union and the national healthcare. Our delegate was no longer one representing Poland, but instead represented Richard Casey of Australia, however when asked how the debate was she responded with “dead” – this can be taken both literally and metaphorically. The representative of Richard Casey managed to win “best-looking” and “best shoes” as well as a rather questionable “best couple” with another much-loved delegate.

In Environment, our delegate also had an interesting time by merging with the Netherlands and Ukraine to create “NethPolKraine” relating some rather controversial views on the issues at hand. This year’s conference encouraged everyone to bring reusable bottles to drink from to improve the environment, however the delegate must admit she witnessed a few rogue single-use plastics – no doubt from climate-change deniers such as the USA.

EcoSoc and Political had a fun time in joint committee dancing to Rasputin instead of debating the most captivating and realistic issue of a potential for a shared currency.

In Human Rights, our delegate representing the Philippines made a big impact not only with her fantastic debate, but her newly dip-dyed bright pink hair. Needless to say, she won “best hair”. Our delegates of Poland and Philippines merged with Israel, USA, Turkey and Australia too to create the new country of “PIPUTA”. The delegate notes that merging countries seems to be somewhat of a new trend at conferences. Our delegate of Poland also won “most likely to go to prison” and whilst we want to say that we’re surprised, we’re really not.

After committee and joint committee sessions, we came together for the closing ceremony and the announcements of the real awards. Our school were delighted to receive many awards, as follows:

  • Sanaa K (Philippines, Human Rights) – Highly Commended
  • Lauren F (Philippines, Human Rights Council) – Special Mention
  • Gowri A (Philippines – Special Commission on South-East Asia) – Commended
  • Eva E (Phillippines – Political) – Special Mention
  • Safa A (Poland, Security Council) – Special Mention
  • Ishita A (Poland [Richard Casey], Historical Council) – Special Mention
  • Hedye G (Poland, Human Rights) – Commended
  • Saffiyah K (Poland, Political) – Commended
  • Hania S (Poland, World Health Organisation) – Commended
  • Katie Y (Poland, Environment) – Outstanding
  • Katie Y (Poland, Joint Committee Environment and Youth) – Outstanding

We were incredibly proud of these achievements, especially Katie’s double Outstanding win. However, Katie had to leave early and I had to have the awkward experience of collecting her award and explaining to the whole conference that she had left. WiMUN XI was such a good experience with many awards won, fantastic debate, with all 3 of our first-timers enjoying it and speaking, and we thought we had finished the conference on a good note, but just had to wait for the delegation awards to be announced.

We sat through the awarding for commended and highly commended delegations, itching to take an MUN picture and head home, after the announcement of the overall winners with Outstanding Delegation, so many of us were barely listening until they announced that Poland won!

It was a shock for all of us, as it is the first time in the history of MUN that we have ever won Outstanding Delegation. Delighted, we all came down to collect our award and take a photo. This award was most special because it was our most loved advisor, Miss Mitchell’s, last conference with us. She was the one who started MUN at our school, and we were able to win this award as a thank you for all the help she has given us, and we wish her the best of luck setting up Model UN at her new school to further share the joys of the institution as she has done so here.

Whilst it’s regretful to see her go, we welcome next year full of conferences to enjoy with Mr Humphrys who also attended WIMUN XI with us. Thank you for everything and see you next year for even more ‘fruitful’ debate!

Safa A, 12-7

Safa A won a prize in the New College of the Humanities essay competition

On Tuesday 25th June 2019, New College of the Humanities (NCH) announced the winners of the 2019 NCH London Essay Competition at a special award ceremony in London. We are delighted to announce that Safa A, from Y12, won a £250 third place prize in the Politics essay category.

The competition received 3,600 entries into this year’s competition, so it’s an incredible achievement for Safa to have won this prize. We are truly proud of Safa’s great achievement.

Citizenship Campaign Makers Final

For the past couple of months, the whole of year 9 have been working on a Campaign Makers project in their Citizenship lessons. This project has led them to learning about social issues in their local area, to finding a charity who are just as passionate about that issue as they are. The whole year group have become active in tackling their chosen issue, raising money for their charity, and many may continue to support the charity in the future.

Groups of a few students chose an issue, and prepared an informative and persuasive presentation about their issue and charity to show to their classes. The best group from each class were voted for by their own peers, and the winning group from each class was put through to the final, which was held on Friday 17th.

There was a very wide range of issues discussed during the final, from sexism in the streets to addiction, from mental health to gang violence.

Each group put forward an explanation of why they were passionate about their social issue, why they had chosen their charity and what they had done to help. They had chosen a variety of creative, and very successful, fundraising methods; there were car boot sales, dog walking, car washes and sponsored walks. All the presentations were incredibly creative and effective, including homemade videos, songs, dances and role plays.

After all 7 groups had presented, the judges reached a decision. The winners of the £500 prize to their chosen charity, generously donated by the PTA, were…

Grace S (9-3), Rosa H (9-4) and Amelie Q (9-2) from 9A! Their chosen charity was The Wellspring, a homelessness charity based in Stockport. They had an eye-opening presentation about the reality of homelessness, an engaging true or false quiz, and an amazingly emotive dance capturing the story of someone who was homeless for a part of their life. They also raised an amazing £200 from a car wash and cake sale for The Wellspring, as well as the £500 prize.

The whole year group really enjoyed becoming active citizens; getting involved with issues they are passionate about near them and raising money and awareness to try and make a difference. Thank you to the three judges: Mrs Ogunmyiwa; Maddie H, the AGGS charity head girl, and Sue, part of the PTA, and thank you to Miss Mitchell for organising everything and making the final run so smoothly.

Read the following post written by one of the Year 9 groups talking about the charity they have chosen to campaign for: The Trussell Trust… Read their post here »

RS Quiz No 6

  1. Can you name the Muslim female World War 2 veteran who was awarded a George Cross for bravery?
  2. What was the name of the first mosque in Britain and who founded it?
  3. Where does the musical instrument the lute come from?
  4. When the  Prophet Muhammad received his first revelation as a Prophet, who was the first to believe in him and support him?
  5. 2 women in particular are mentioned as eternal role models in Chapter 66 of the Quran. Can you name them?
  6. Who built the first pinhole camera around 1000 AD?
  7. What does Allahu Akbar mean?
  8. What chapter in the Quran is named after a much revered lady?
  9. What contribution did early Muslims make to modern surgery?
  10. Do you know what the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ mean?

Click here to see the answers