Visiting Auschwitz with the School

Visiting Auschwitz with the School, Remembering Yesterday Tomorrow

Two students from Sir William Ramsay School in High Wycombe discuss their trip to Poland and the need to remember the Holocaust forever

Abbie and Kathy (2018)

 

To study the Holocaust and life at Auschwitz as part of A Level History, is thought provoking and fascinating. How could anyone inflict or endure such suffering we asked ourselves as the school organised our flight from Luton to Krakow. How is mankind able to behave in such a way that millions were put to death? As Year 12 girls stepping into Auschwitz, as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust trip, the cold air sharply pierced every part of our body. We were given a guided tour by a knowlegeble man. It was clear that our group of ten students were cold, shivering, turning blue under our multi-layered thermal coats and hats. 'You're cold are you?' bellowed the guide. He then explained how the inmates at Auschwitz stood in the very same spot, perhaps wearing only a cotton top and no shoes. We heard a rabbi asking 'why do people always ask where God was during the persecution of the Jews?'  I want to know 'where was man?'  For us, as students, this was much more than learning from a text book.

Each person that was murdered during the Holocaust had their own life and their own future. If those people had lived on then they could have gone on to discover things or cure diseases, but it is too late to ever know. At Aushwitz-Birkneau the pictures of hundreds on victims made the whole experience much more personal and emotional. It made it more memorable as it reminded us that they were people just like you and I whose futures were taken away due to hatred in humanity. Auschwitz has been so well preserved that you can almost feel the presence of every individual who perished. They were part of a community and when we speak of loss in regards to these people, we also mean a loss of culture, customs and ideas, as well as people. We believe that it is important to remember that it was not only the Jews that were objectified by the Nazis, but many other groups of people such as the disabled and gypsies were also murdered. On the trip we heard and saw images from all the different groups that were being targeted and how many people still believe today that it was only Jews who were murdered. Although the majority of victims were Jews we must not forget about all the other people affected.

Before our trip we had heard other people asking how long the Holocaust would be remembered and perhaps in a generation or two its significance would diminish. This must never happen. On our trip we learnt about so much suffering, sacrifice and loss, that this message must be portrayed to a dozen generations. Not everyone is lucky enough to visit Auschwitz, but by good teaching, interesting documentaries, purposeful memorial days and parents telling their children about what happened, the victims will never be forgotten. As young Year 12 girls at school, we know that we might be able to pass on our learning and our experiences in Poland to our own children and grandchildren. It was not just walking through the gas chambers or seeing the confiscated toys or mountains of victims' hair and glasses that engrained the importance of the Holocaust into our minds, it was the realilsation of how personal it all was that has been engrained in our hearts.

It is also important that we recognise the role of bystanders and how each person that did anything to help the Nazis succeed in these murders was a cog in the inner workings of the Nazi regime; People who built the camps, directed the trains through the gates of camps or built the weapons were all people who at the time may have felt that it was not their fault as they were not the one pulling the trigger. Each stage from getting someone from a home all the way to a gas chamber is getting them one step closer to death. As a bystander you may also feel as though you did not partake in this event, but in reality if everyone stood by then nothing would be done to stop horrific events like the Holocaust. People who do not stand up for what’s right are just as bad as everyone else.

Auschwitz is a place to remember the horror and fear that these people must have felt. We try to empathise but we cannot understand what they were feeling. The origins of the Holocaust began many years before through the passing of anti-Semitic laws in Germany. Jews went through years of emotional abuse and restraint, physical, financial and religious. Auschwitz is only one of many work and death camps across various countries in Europe. Having a focus on just Auschwitz limits and distorts our understanding of the scale of the Holocaust. We believe that it is extremely important to remember the Holocaust and all the lives of the people who were involved for many reasons. Future generations need to remember and learn from this time of terror so that extreme conflict like this will never happen again under any circumstances. The murder of six million innocent individuals is not something that we should push aside or forget about it. We need to learn and reflect on the actions which took place at this time to ensure safety for all people for many generations to come. It is almost impossible to explain the feelings you have after visiting Auschwitz; it changes you.