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Lessons from Auschwitz - from the student perspective

By Eve Head and Lottie Ludlow

We recently took part in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ programme, which comprised two seminars (one on pre-war Jewish life and one to reflect on the Holocaust) as well as a one-day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We found both the trip and the seminars extremely informative and profoundly emotional. Before our trip, we were lucky enough to hear the testimony of Holocaust survivor Susan Pollock, who spoke candidly about her experiences and provided us with an invaluable first-hand account of the unimaginable horror of the Holocaust, and a harrowing testimony to what the victims were put through.  Throughout the programme, there was a focus on humanising the victims of the Holocaust, and remembering each of them as an individual, rather than a statistic. Susan’s deeply personal testimony helped us to do this, giving a sense of the devastating impact the Holocaust had not just on her, but on her family and community as a whole.

We also had several opportunities to discuss the events of the holocaust with an experienced educator, who has done the trip more than forty times, in order to try and comprehend how something so awful came about, and recognise the individual pre-war lives of people in the Jewish community.

On the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, we continued to think about the individual victims, while also grappling with the challenging question: why did the Holocaust occur? In order to do this, we also had to spend time considering the perpetrators’ motives and reasoning— while uncomfortable, we felt this was essential to gain a true understanding of why this genocide occurred, and even how to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Coming away from this experience, we feel that we have learnt a huge amount, not just about the Holocaust, but about human nature and the importance of compassion and acceptance. We deeply believe that, decades on from the Holocaust, this lesson is still hugely relevant, and it is our responsibility now to continue education on the Holocaust into the future.

As part of our ‘next steps’, we hope to pass on what we have learnt to the school, focusing on commemorating the victims of this atrocity and trying to learn from it where we can. On a plaque at Auschwitz is a quote from George Santayana: “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. By sharing our experience of Auschwitz-Birkenau, we hope to ensure, in any way that we can, that people remember the Holocaust.