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Lessons from Auschwitz by Isabella and Ellie

On the 6th of March both of us, Isabella and Ellie, travelled to the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum as part of a project called Lessons from Auschwitz by the Holocaust Memorial Trust.

On the 6th of March both of us, Isabella and Ellie, travelled to the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial and Museum as part of a project called The aim of the project is to help people learn about the Holocaust from a different view: through survivor’s stories. This way the holocaust becomes more personal and naturally it holds a bigger place in your life and this project shows how dangerous prejudices and discrimination can be. We both hope that after reading this you question any prejudices you may have and question why you do have them, by doing this you help to spread awareness of the destruction of prejudices when they lead to genocides which massively effect communities.

However, our journey on this project began a couple of weeks before during our orientation seminar where we learnt about pre-war Jewish history in the town of Oswiecim (which is the town where Auschwitz Birkenau is located) and in the rest of Europe. Oswiecim was a town full of Jewish culture, having a Jewish population of 58% but due to the stigma of living in a town so closely related to genocide, no Jewish people live there to this day. We both had never heard of Oswiecim before and found it sad that it could go from a wholesome town to a place associated with genocide and we believe that more people should know about the town  and its history with Jewish people.

On our one-day trip to Poland we had an excellent guide, Bartosz, who spent the entirety of the day with us talking us through Auschwitz I in the morning and then onto Auschwitz II or Birkenau in the afternoon. While making our way through Auschwitz I one thing that really stood out to me, Ellie, was the room filled with human hair from the prisoners at Auschwitz, it suddenly made everything seem so much more real to me because in my opinion it’s hard to show empathy with people I have never met. So, to actually see the hair made the whole place seem so much darker and more sinister and also made me emotional. For me, Izzy, the children’s clothes, located in the same room as the hair, highlighted the extents of the Nazi’s actions showing that all Jewish people were targeted, even children who likely didn't have any understanding of what was going on or why they were being unjustly persecuted against.

After our trip we had a second seminar in which we had the opportunity to listen to a Holocaust survivor share her testimony. We listen to Eva Clarke tell us of her mother and fathers life before the Holocaust, how her parents managed to remain close to one another even while in gender segregated concentration camps, how her father died just days before they were liberated by the Red Army and how her mother and herself managed to survive and their life after the Holocaust. We both found Eva and her parents story heart-breaking but also inspiring in the way her mother never gave up even when it seemed impossible, she persevered. Eva’s and her mother’s story underlined the strength for them both and other survivors after the holocaust and left us both in admiration towards there story of hope, strength and sheer determination to not give up.

This trips importance is not just about learning and remembering the Holocaust but also why it is still relevant today. When talking about the Holocaust another phrase that is often said is ‘never again’ but unfortunately this is not the case as genocides took place after and some continue to this day. Since the beginning of October 2023 antisemitism in the UK has seen a 400% increase, this is not okay and this must change. Instead of making assumptions without knowing the facts we must stop and take the time to research the truth instead of pinning the blame on communities who in reality have nothing to do with certain issues going on in the world. This is why this project is relevant in our lives today as antisemitism is rising and we must stop before it is too late, there are no excuses as we know what happens when antisemitism has spiralled out of control in the past.

Thank you for reading.