'Seeing the human cost of the Holocaust reminds us this must never be repeated' - The Evesham Observer

'Seeing the human cost of the Holocaust reminds us this must never be repeated'

Lorna Morris 18th Feb, 2017   0

THE HOLOCAUST Education Trust operates trips to Auschwitz each year to give students from across the West Midlands the chance to visit the site as part of the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project.

Here is a special report by Lorna Morris who accompanied a group to the site for the project which is aimed at humanising the victims as individuals, not numbers.

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

These haunting words from philosopher George Santayana hang in the entrance of cell block five at Auschwitz 1.

To me, as I walked through the dank rooms of one of many cell blocks where up to 1,000 souls were forced to live among each other in squalor, these words epitomised the importance of remembering the atrocities more than 70 years ago.

With an estimated 6million victims, the sheer number makes it seem much more unbelievable that such horrors could occur in living memory.

Established in 1940, more than a million Jews, Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and victims from other groups, were murdered at the world’s most well-known Nazi concentration camp before its liberation in January, 1945.

Karen Pollock MBE, chief executive of HET, said the project was vital and allowed young people to learn about the Holocaust in a way they could not in the classroom.

“They can see for themselves where racism, prejudice and antisemitism can ultimately lead and its importance is demonstrated by the inspiring work students go on to do in their local communities.”

First we visited the quiet market town of Oświęcim where, before the Second World War, 58 per cent of the population were Jewish and now, there are zero.

Standing on the site of the Great Synagogue that once stood proud in the town for hundreds of years before being destroyed by the Nazis was a sombre reminder of what was lost.

A short drive from Oświęcim, we pulled up to Auschwitz where the snow fell thick on the well-trodden ground and a strange smell lingered in the air.

As we walked in the footsteps of the the thousands of unsuspecting victims, the entrance sign at Auschwitz 1, loomed over us with the motto ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ – ‘Work Makes You Free’

We looked upon the photographs of the first groups of people who arrived at the camp, suitcases in hand ready for a new life, a lie very much alive.

We all fell silent as we walked in our groups around the camp and past the belongings left inside the cell blocks.

The hair brushes, spectacles, pots and pans, shoes strewn across the floor with tangled laces, the items that made them human, that dignified them, taken away.

The two tonnes of hair sitting in piles, shaved from the female prisoners ready to be sold to make textiles.

The scratch marks in the gas chamber, the Star of David etched into the wall showing the power of their faith, staying with them till the very end.

And then the home videos, played on a loop, filled with joy and happiness, only now bringing pain as we know their fate.

Situated 3KM from the camp is Birkenau, up to 20 times bigger than Auschwitz 1 and built with the sole purpose of murder – a killing centre created with Nazi efficiency.

Hundreds of barracks, originally designed to keep horses, scattered the landscape, all divided by the iconic railway track where thousands of people arrived packed into cattle carts.

Many didn’t survive the journey across Europe, which in some cases lasted nine days.

We stood where children were taken from their mums, where families were ripped apart with the single motion of hand, never to be reunited.

To end the day Rabbi Andrew Shaw led a memorial service, telling the story of his own grandfather, Carmen, whose name sits on one of the thousands of pages in the ‘Book of Names’ at Auschwitz 1, along with 4.3 million Holocaust victims.

Speaking of the importance of being tolerant and loving towards others, he stood against the backdrop of smiling faces, photographs of those whose lives were cut short.

As we left our candles burning bright, we thought not only of the victims but also the survivors, some of whom are alive today and how important it is to tell their story, however painful it may be.

Many students understood that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ and felt they had a duty to keep the memory alive of those who perished.

Student Connie Jordan-Turner, from Paget High School in Staffordshire, told me she felt it vital to acknowledge prejudices in today’s society and to take action to stop anti-semitism.

“I want to teach what I have learnt to other generations.

“It is important an event like this is not repeated.”

In silence, we walked along the railway track and under the archway out of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A privilege denied to so many.

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