In January 2017 the Listen to the Earth project returned to Oświęcim, Poland. This time 13 Oldham Youth Councillors and 13 Oldham Theatre Workshop performers came together to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau to learn about the Holocaust and mass genocide that took place during World War II. As with previous trips, the aim of the Programme was to use Holocaust Education to enable young people to learn and develop sensitivity and understanding but more importantly to be role models to others in Oldham.
We embarked on this year’s trip on the 5th January and returned on the 10th staying at the centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim, the town in which Auschwitz and Birkenau are situated. The programme of workshops drew on the learning from the Holocaust to look at comparisons and similarities with the current refugee situation within Europe as well as the Intolerance and hate that can be found in our own communities. The ongoing aims of the project are to build leadership capacity within the young participants so that they can stand against bigotry, discrimination and those that would see us divided by race or culture and inspire other young people to do the same. We want young people to be able to draw the lessons from the past to create a better future.
Whilst in Poland it was a pleasure to meet Mirosława Gruszczyńska who is recognized as “Righteous” for having taken risks to help Jews during the Holocaust. Miroslawa was awarded a medal in her name, a certificate of honor, and had the privilege of having her name added to those on the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Mirosława’s mother, Helena Przebindowska, agreed to shelter ‘Marysia’ (Anna Allerhand) at her home, for a few days. Even though helping a Jew could have results in death for the whole family if the Nazi’s found out, Mirosława and her sister, Urszula, agreed. Marysia quickly became seriously ill, making it impossible for her to leave the house. Helena attempted to cure her at home, as it was too dangerous to call a doctor. Fortunately ‘Marysia’ recovered, by which time she was so loved by the family that they decided she should remain with them.
The situation became more complicated when another Polish family moved in with them, wartime conditions often saw two families sharing one house. Without Aryan papers ‘Marysia’ could not even walk around the house and even had to hide behind a wardrobe so as not to be seen by others. Mirosława’s mother asked her Priest (and family friend) Father Faustyn Żelski, to prepare a baptism certificate for her in the name of ‘Marysia Malinowska’. From then on she was introduced as a member of the family from eastern Poland, and she was able to remain there safely until the end of the war.
Anna’s father and siblings all survived the war: Aleksander (Anna’s brother) was moved from camp to camp, and eventually was placed on Schindler’s List and was sent to the Brunnlitz camp, where he was liberated. Anna continued to pass as a non-Jewish girl, and after the war she was joined by her brother and father, who was released from the POW camp, and together they found Rozalia. The girls left soon afterwards for Israel, where they were later joined by their father and Aleksander after he graduated from university in Poland.
We hope that young people will learn that we are all citizens of the world and as such have a global responsibility to respect human rights, and to promote peace not just in Oldham, the North West or the UK but globally.
The project will used creative methods of drama, creative writing, visual art and film making to produce work based on the young peoples experience and learning.
All the work the young people undertook will be accredited via the AQA unit award scheme.
Following this trip the Youth Council will be hosting a youth conference on the 21st February ( to be held at the Oldham Coliseum) – the conference is for young people from schools across Oldham and will explore the themes of discrimination and enable young people to work together to find ways in which this can be challenged here in Oldham. Please save this date as we hope you will be able to join us at the conference and will be sending an official invite shortly.
And we had an additional amazing and very exciting experience while on the trip – as we were able to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury – who was on a retreat with other members of the Church of England and was staying at the same centre as us. We were able to have a brief discussion with the Archbishop to tell him about what we were doing and to tell him about Oldham, he was really impressed with the young people and it was such an honour to meet him – so again our young people were great ambassadors for the town.