Last week I was honoured to accompany 20 students from Calderdale and a further 200 students from Yorkshire and the Humberside on a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
This is the second year that we have supported the Holocaust Memorial Trust in encouraging young people to experience and learn from history. Not to mention remembering and keeping the atrocities of the Holocaust alive.
I am conscious that although my generation have had no direct experience of war on the scale of WW2, we have at least had the ‘benefit’ of the experiences of parents and grandparents to relate to and to assist our understanding of the consequences of that period. For me, my oldest friend’s father Ruben Goldstein survived the atrocities of Auschwitz and was just 14 when he was liberated by the Russians. Ruben would never talk about his experiences but rebuilt his life in Sydney in the 1950’s and became an incredibly successful businessman.
Four years ago after arriving in Singapore after a cruise around the South China Sea he announced to his wife at the airport that he was not returning home to Australia but was going back to Auschwitz for the final time. He met his son (my friend) who now lives in the UK in Poland for his final visit. He then came to the UK for a week’s rest before taking his journey back to Australia and I had the absolute privilege of spending the evening with Ruben over dinner. It was fabulous catching up with him and more importantly Ruben wanted to talk and get off his chest so much pain and suffering that he had held in all these years. We cried together, laughed together and just soaked in the
experience of catching up and learning about Ruben’s hidden years. As a child and young man I remember Ruben’s piercing blue eyes shining through when he was fired up and passionate about something. The evening prompted those same wonderful eyes to sparkle with the same passion that I remembered so vividly from childhood - but instead in the body of now a frail old man. I didn’t want the evening to end knowing it would be the last time that I saw Ruben, but before I left in the early hours of the morning, he made me promise that I would go to see for myself Auschwitz-Birkenau. Ruben went home to Australia and passed away shortly thereafter.
The current generation are gradually losing the opportunity to hear directly from those who experienced the war at first hand so it is vital that we support other ways of remembering the Holocaust and its consequences, so that they are kept alive for generations and forever. The Holocaust Memorial Trust’s programme involves taking 25 plane loads of young people a year from the UK to go to Auschwitz. For my part, we promote this with all of our high schools as well as helping facilitate and promote these events for educational purposes within the Calder Valley. A wonderful programme, which helps honour the memory of not just Ruben, but of all of the 1.6m Jews and others who perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau under the Nazi regime.