This term, Year 12 History students Zainab Hamid and Amal Ghaffar were selected to take part in the national ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project, which is run every year by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The four-part programme is based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’, and includes; an orientation seminar where participants listened to the testimony of a Holocaust Survivor, a trip to the former German Nazi extermination and concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a follow-up seminar to allow students to reflect on the visit and the impact it had on them, and a final ‘Next Steps’ project which required students to act as ‘ambassadors’ of the Trust to help educate others about the Holocaust.
As their follow-up ‘Next Steps’ activity, the students provided this on-line account to help highlight the importance of challenging prejudice and promoting tolerance.
This is their account:
With an early start to a challenging day, it soon became apparent that the visit to Auschwitz was one we would never forget. The journey to the Auschwitz camp from the airport evoked a mixture of emotions, ranging from excitement to sadness.
What shocked us the most was how soon we arrived at the camp, which truly encapsulated how close this atrocity took place from ‘civilisation’ The infamous gates was branded with the words ‘Arbeit Mach Frei’ which translates as ‘work sets you free’ – a slogan that fully captures the lies and evilness behind the camp. The scale of the horror could only be felt when you entered the gates and looked around at where it all actually happened.
Saying 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz seemed perfectly acceptable before the visit. One aspect of the day that placed the scale of the Holocaust into perspective was the corridor crowded with registration photographs.
It was not a dehumanising statistic; it was real photographs of real individuals who had led a normal life, as demonstrated through their range of professional occupations. This explicitly demonstrated that it did not matter to the Nazis how big of a contribution the victims made to society – the murders of the holocaust were sheer evil.
Every face was individually framed, which somehow gave back their individuality
We have never experienced anything as chilling as that. We were surrounded by the faces of victims who endured immense torture at Auschwitz, standing in the graveyard 83 years later. Death left a gaping hole in polish society and Jewish culture – one which could never be filled.
This brings us to the contemporary relevance of the Holocaust – the humanitarian crisis of Syria. Syria will never be the same again, just like Auschwitz. The desperation of the Syrians mirrors that of the Auschwitz prisoners.
Zigi, a Holocaust survivor, who spoke to all the students at the orientation seminar, emphasised the importance of not hating. From our experience, we feel it is hatred that created and continues to create devastating, evil situations that could have been prevented. We feel it is accurate to compare the Syrian crisis with the Holocaust largely because innocent lives continue to be stolen and families are being broken up. Parents losing their children and children being torn from their parents
The lesson we have learned from Auschwitz is that there is always something you can do to make a difference, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Hate breeds hate which eventually, as demonstrated through the Holocaust, leads to disaster.
There is no greater example than the Holocaust of the consequences of being a bystander to discrimination, hence why it is vital to learn from the past rather than forget it. We do not think we can ever find the words to truly describe Auschwitz because it is not just an event in a textbook; it is an experience and one that will never be forgotten’.