In an educational initiative to learn Lessons from Auschwitz, a collection of Calderdale’s next generation visited the site where more than a million men, women and children were murdered in an attempt to exterminate the Jewish faith, culture and race.
Holocaust. This word provokes an immediate and almost prescribed reaction. On the surface, we’re aware it shouldn’t have happened and what happened was abhorrent. But do we allow our consciousness to conceive the enormity of the atrocity? The human mind is not designed to comprehend the sinister connotations which lurk behind the Holocaust.
People are aware of the history and are only too aware of the fact it cannot be re-written. But, we can learn from that which went before.
Lesson from Auschwitz is a Holocaust Educational Trust project designed to inform and educate sixth-form students about the contemporary importance of remembering and learning from the genocide, performed blatantly on the world’s stage, of European Jews in the Second World War under the Nazi Regime.
Sixth-form students from Brighouse High School, Crossley Heath School, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe School, Rastrick High School, Rishworth School, Sowerby Bridge High School and Trinity Academy visited concentration camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II - Birkenau which, from the spring of 1942, became the largest site of the unlawful killing of Jews brought here under the Nazi ‘Final Solution’ during World War 2.
When I grow up and reach the age of 20,
I’ll set out to see the enchanting world.
I’ll take a seat in a bird like a motor;
I’ll rise and soar high into space.
The day was sombre. Two hundred sixth-form students from across the region and not a teenage giggle to be heard; only young faces etched in shock and disbelief walking in a trance around the vast site.
Barbaric barbed wire and narcissistic watch towers were stark reminders of Nazi control on these persecuted peoples. The snow and wet conditions added to the sobriety of the day and seemed fitting, considering. The snow could not aestheticise the austerity of Auschwitz.
The reality of the brutality was depicted through the showcasing of two tonnes of human hair; taken from men, women and children in a controlled dehumanising process; the house keys which would never be reunited with the lock - dweller never returning home; hundreds of thousands of shoes - from a child’s first pair to men’s Brogues - personifying the treacherous journey; the end of the line.
I’ll fly, sail, hover
Over the lovely faraway world.
I’ll soar over rivers and oceans
Skyward shall I ascend and blossom
A cloud my sister, the wind my brother.
I’ll marvel at the Euphrates and the Nile.
Why is this site of mass murder still in existence? It destroyed mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters - identities, cultures, memories and histories.
Karen Pollock MBE and chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “The visit enables young people to see for themselves where racism, prejudice and antisemitism can ultimately lead.”
The Calderdale students will become ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust and undertake a Next Steps project; sharing their experience with their school and local community.
The project is based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ and highlights the importance of early warning signs of accepted racism and prejudice in society.
I’ll see the Pyramids and the Sphinx of ancient Egypt, where the goddess Isis reigned.
I’ll fly over Niagara Falls
And immerse myself in a searing Sahara dune.
The track to Auschwitz embodies Gregory H.Stanton’s path to genocide which breeds with ‘classification:’ intolerance to difference - a them and us attitude within communities; visual ‘symbolisation’; ‘dehumanisation’ - victims are stripped of their dignity; ‘organistation’ - genocides take mass planning and regimes of hatred to coerce perpetrators to carry out destruction; ‘polarisation’ - incitement of hatred through propaganda; ‘preparation’ - victims are identified based on difference; ‘extermination’ - mass murder carried out deliberately and systematically; ‘denial’ - perpetrators deny existence of any crime.
I’ll drift over the cloud-strew cliffs of Tibet
And the mysterious land of the wizards;
And once I extricate myself
From the scorching, terrifying wave of heat,
I’ll meander over the icebergs of the north.
In the earlier stages on the path to genocide there is opportunity for members of the community or International Community to recognise the signs and do something about it.
Philosopher George Santayana was quoted: “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
The ethos of the project is to inform future generations of the early warning signs of incitement and hatred against a section of society.
By wind I’ll cross the great kangaroo island
And the ruins of Pompeii,
And the Holy Land of the Old Testament,
And over the land of the renowned Homer.
Auschwitz should never have happened.
This grotesque history should never have repeated itself. But it has. From 1975-9, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot claimed the lives of more than a million in a communist control take-over.
In 1994, in 100 days a million individuals were murdered in the genocide in Rwanda.
Between 1992-5, tens of thousands of Muslim civilians were executed in an ‘ethnic cleansing campaign’ by Bosnian Serb forces.
Today, Syria’s civil war has evolved as a reaction to a campaign of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. Human rights activists have documented cases of methodical torture and execution of civilians carried out by the Assad regime. With around 130,000 deaths, two million refugees in neighbouring countries and more than five million internally displaced victims at what point will the International Community help thy neighbour? What lessons have we learnt? Surely now is the time for the final solution for world peace.
I’ll fly slowly, slowly, hovering lazily.
And thus, basking in the enchantments of this world,
Skyward shall I soar and blossom.
A cloud my sister, the wind my brother.
*Dream is the poem written by Abramek Koplowicz, born 1930, at Auschwitz. He studied two years in elementary school before he was sent to Auschwitz with his mother Yocheved and father Mendel. His father was successful in hiding his son in the first selection and thus saving him initially from the fate of the gas chambers. His father returned to the ruined building to find his son was not there. Abramek was gassed to death at the age of 14.