Studying A level history has taught me to focus on facts, figures and events. So earlier this year, when I was selected to take part in the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz Project’ run by the Holocaust Educational Trust, I immediately started preparing for the seminars and visit to Auschwitz by studying lots of history books. But after taking part in the initial orientation seminar and listening to the moving account of Susan Pollack, a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz, I began to understand the Holocaust Educational Trust’s real aim of humanising the individual suffering behind the statistics. My visit to Auschwitz in March, along with other students from the Solihull and Coventry area, made me realise that history is not just about learning information from books – it is about understanding the experiences of real people. I can honestly say that standing in the same place where so many Jewish people and other persecuted minorities were slaughtered 70 years ago, was a truly emotional experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Seeing the physical piles of shoes and hair was particularly traumatic especially when I realised that they belonged to only a tiny fraction of the people who had perished at Auschwitz. Also witnessing the scale of the gas chambers and the crematoria where so many people were murdered on an industrial scale was a truly numbing experience.
The day after my visit I returned to school and I still felt quite traumatised by what I had seen. Indeed, initially, I found it quite difficult to convey the enormity of what I had seen to teachers and other pupils, with mere words. It took me several weeks to prepare a presentation about my visit until I felt that I had composed a project that would really communicate my experience and the lessons that I had learned. As one of the first girls selected to represent Saint Martin’s School at the ‘Lessons from Auschwitz Project’, it was important that my presentation was made to the largest audience possible. In a whole school assembly I explained the terrible events that took place there whilst emphasising that each person who died was an individual by using a picture of the photos that I had seen of Jewish people on the walls of the Auschwitz museum. I also described how ordinary, civilised people who gave their cooperation that made the Holocaust possible and how each one denied any individual responsibility for their actions. The final message of my talk was to emphasise how we must never allow racism or discrimination to go unchallenged and how each of us has a duty to prevent the Holocaust from ever happening again.
Since the assembly, I have had many further discussions with teachers, other sixth formers and some of the girls from younger age groups. I feel privileged to have been chosen to take part in the LFA Project and although I understand that visiting Auschwitz can never mean that you have truly experienced Auschwitz, it has been an experience that I will never ever forget. Although most of the girls listening to my presentation will probably never visit Auschwitz, I really hope that my message will stay with them throughout their lives. After all in the words of George Santayana ‘The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.’