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Year 12 Lessons from Auschwitz

Each year, we give our Sixth Form College students the opportunity to apply to participate in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project run by the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Students are asked to submit an essay to the Sixth Form team on why they would like to participate in the project and what they would learn from it. The Sixth Form team then judge the entries anonymously and two students are selected. Year 12 Student Ceri, who is studying A Levels in History, Law and Politics, gives us an overview of the project…

Many of us have learnt about the Second World War at some point throughout our lives, whether it be through our time at school or through our own personal journey to educate ourselves. We all know about the Battle of Britain, the Blitz and Dunkirk but often the horrors of the Holocaust are left out of the story of the Second World War.

The Holocaust Educational Trust, run a course titled Lessons from Auschwitz which is aimed to educate and commemorate post-16 students about the Holocaust and its relevance today. I was lucky enough to be picked by the Sixth Form team to participate. The course aims to teach its participant about the history of the Holocaust and the role of the camps - more specifically Auschwitz-Birnkenau; it teaches about the individuals whose lives were affected by the Holocaust; reflect on the relevance of the Holocaust today and share their leaning with others.

During one of the live sessions, we heard from Holocaust survivor, Manfred Goldberg MBE. Manfred spent time both in a ghetto and a camp. One part of Manfred’s testimony will always stick with me. Manfred recalls how he and his little brother would run to the gates of the ghetto to wait for their mother to return in the evenings. On one particular evening, Manfred recalls witnessing a woman being shot as she attempted to smuggle food into the ghetto. During the same live sessions, we experienced a tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau through the means of a virtual reality headset. We witnessed the train tracks where 11 million Jews were moved from all over Europe. We also witnessed the infamous ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gates and the barracks in which hundreds of people were forced to live in cramped, inhuman conditions.

Arbeit Macht Frei gates

The Lessons from Auschwitz course taught me a lot about the Holocaust where the curriculum tends to leave off. It is easy to think of the Holocaust as an industrialised process. It’s easy to look at the statistic of 6 million and not think of that 6 million being an individual who lost their lives through an act of murder. The course emphasised the importance of the individuals of the Holocaust - the victims and the perpetrators. We looked at the town of Oświȩcim in Poland -  which was renamed to Auschwitz in German following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Before the Nazi occupation, Oświȩcim had a large Jewish population and life in the town revolved around the central market square. The Hertz Hotel stood in the centre of Oświȩcim. It was the centre of both cultural and political life within the town. This rich history of the Polish town of Oświȩcim tends to be covered by the dark history of Auschwitz. The course emphasised this, as learning about a town such as Oświȩcim shows how each individual that was persecuted during the Holocaust was a pillar of the community much like the buildings that stood at the heart of the community. 

The Lessons from Auschwitz project has changed my outlook on not only the Holocaust but history entirely as I will never again look at statistics such as 6 million, and not think of the individuals that make up that number. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, grandmothers and grandfathers.

Many lessons can be learnt from the Holocaust, such as speaking up in times of injustice. The Holocaust is a reminder to every single one of us as to where discrimination can lead if we turn a blind eye to it. If you are ever a witness or even a victim of discrimination, then please speak out. The following poem demonstrates this sentiment perfectly.

First they came for the Communists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me