John Willmott School

6th Form Visit to Auschwitz Birkenau

On the 13th of February Lauren Brown and I had an opportunity to go to Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET). We visited the infamous concentration and death camp known as Auschwitz which includes the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. The HET’s main purpose is to make sure the remembrance of the holocaust is continued; we are in a time of holocaust deniers and I feel this is absolutely outrageous.

The reason for attending was because many survivors are unfortunately coming to the end of their lives and people are needed to continue retelling their stories and teachings to prevent atrocities such as this from happening ever again. The experience in my opinion was rather humbling. The thought of the Nazis trying to exterminate an entire race was depressing and the camps are there as a reminder of the dark side of human nature and the extreme acts of genocide we are capable of. The camps themselves I felt, were surreal when we walked in we couldn’t believe that so many people lives finished right where we were standing.

I remember being told a story of two siblings, who argued as they got off the train platform and the last words from the older sister to her brother were ones of hate. The boy was unfortunately sent to the gas chambers upon arrival. Also many of the personal belongings of the victims are still in Auschwitz One. Many people as soon as the word holocaust comes to mind immediately think of ‘gas chamber’ or ‘Jew’, however it was so much more; for example, the propaganda and assault of property (Kristallnacht), to the separation and destruction of numerous communities, not just Jewish and the everlasting impression it has left on all of us.

One of my most disheartening experiences at the Museum was the book that contained over 4 million names (out of the 6 million that were Jewish victims.) The book was 16000 pages long, on the way in you could hear the sound of people singing, knowing it was to their deaths. We must not forget those who were persecuted and we must not remember them as a collective but as individuals. I genuinely believe we all have a duty to humanity to remember the holocaust. In today’s rapidly changing society it still has relevance because we learn from history that we don’t learn from history. A bit of a paradox. We have to change that!

Many examples included the apparent problem with immigrants in the United States, the millions of Muslims killed in Bosnia & Herzegovina and also the genocide in Rwanda. These events are probably still in the memory of those affected but little action was taken.

The cost of silence and therefore no action was the deaths of millions of people which could have been prevented. I end my project with a quote from a rabbi I met whilst in Poland. “We are not at Auschwitz, we could never imagine what it was like for my people to suffer because of silence.”

Aamir Mehmood

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Aamir and I took part in Lessons from Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. We took part in 2 seminars and a one day visit to Poland. The main focus that I want to make everyone aware of is that every individual who perished was part of a community.

After listening to Susan’s testimony it made me more aware that everyone who was affected had a different story and were affected completely differently. During her testimony she wanted us to focus our minds on the individuals and not think of them as a group. Having the testimony made me realise that everyone was living a normal life before the war broke out. Susan lived in a small town outside of Budapest and lived a normal life, she was part of a working class family and helped out on her family farm. She went to school like any other normal child. However when the war broke out everything changed for Jewish people. The thought of everything being kept a secret was a scary feeling. It makes you question if the Nazis knew that what they were doing was wrong and was going to have a huge negative impact on Europe. Being at Auschwitz 1 and seeing the objects that were collected shows how people thought they were being relocated, however they were actually having their future determined. The objects are placed in one room which shows that some people may still remember them as a collective however the suitcases still have names on them which emphasises their individuality and shows that they are still remembered as individuals. My main message is that we shouldn’t remember the people as a collective we should remember them as individuals who suffered. We learn from history that we don’t learn from history, this means that we don’t take action on what has happened and we don’t try and change. However, we should, as we are one world and can only make a difference by working together.

Lauren Brown