Students at St Thomas More Catholic Voluntary Academy have experienced a “life-changing” and “unforgettable” trip to Poland.

This is the first time that the school has run a trip to Poland – which included visiting Auschwitz Birkenau – and 38 pupils studying History or Geography at GCSE went along.

The group, led by four staff, enjoyed a walking tour of Krakow Old Town, visited Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau, the Galicia Museum and went on a walking tour of Kazimierz, which is the Jewish Quarter and Ghetto.

They also heard from a Holocaust survivor and visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines.

Dr Michael Kelly, Acting Head of Humanities at St Thomas More, said: “A lot of planning went into getting this trip off the ground and this is the first time that we have done it. We have a fantastic team of staff who helped with the organisation of the trip and running it.

“The whole trip was a very good experience and it is something we would definitely like to do again in the future.

“The main aim for Geography students was to give them that sense of place, the opportunity to travel to another country and experience a different culture. To visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was an incredible opportunity to link one of the world’s oldest salt mines with the economic Geography curriculum and with the lives of people who lived and worked there, creating incredible sculptures out of the salt. For both Geography and History students it was about giving them that experience outside the classroom. I don’t think they will ever forget visiting Auschwitz Birkenau, seeing it for yourself is completely different and it will make them think a bit more about what the Nazis undertook during World War Two.

“The students were amazing and we did lots of preparation with them, especially around Auschwitz. They were very well behaved. After the Auschwitz visit we collectively said a prayer for those who had lost their lives and I believe the experience had a big impact on the students, it felt like they really bonded and the whole trip was very worthwhile.”

Gracie Kemp, 15, said: “I am interested in the history of World War Two and I really wanted to go, also my mum is from Poland. I’ve been to different parts of Poland but not Krakow. We went to Auschwitz Birkenau which was really interesting and we went to the old town which was quite historical and very pretty. I am used to speaking Polish so that helped. I think it will help me with my history GCSE as we talked about Nazi Germany and the occupied lands. I think it made me realise how much we take for granted and how children back then died and didn’t get to live their lives to the fullest and have the kind of freedom that we do.”

Vicky Wittbrodt, 14, said: “I have been to Poland a lot but this was different to when I go with my family. Also, I’ve never been to Auschwitz and that was actually quite a shock, to have someone explain what happened there to us.”

Francesca Hobbs, 15, said: “I wanted to go on the trip because I thought it would be beneficial for my GCSE. On the first day we had a walking tour of Krakow, which was really interesting. It was pretty and there was a nice atmosphere, I really enjoyed it.”

Amy McKnight, 15, said: “I thought Auschwitz was haunting and I think it has changed me as a person and it’s made me think about what happened there a lot more. It’s much more real when you are there. I thought Auschwitz felt like a museum but at Birkenau you could almost feel the souls of the people who were there. At some points it felt a bit too much, like you can’t imagine that could have happened.”

Ryan Beesley, 15, said: “It was a good trip. We heard from an Auschwitz survivor and even though it was done through a translator you could really feel what she went through.”

Ted Carberry, 16, said: “It’s not often you get the opportunity to go on a trip like this. I think the best bit was going to Auschwitz and how moving it was. It’s something you don’t often experience and it was really interesting, it’s really rare to see something like that considering how long ago it happened.”