My Lessons from Auschwitz

In March, I was privileged to participate in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ online programme. I wish to share some of the key lessons and stories I have learnt and also explore why it is so important as someone who has absolutely no apparent connection to the Holocaust that it is important we all remember and learn from it.

Photo from my visit to Auschwitz-BirkenauAuschwitz-BirkenauAuschwitz-Birkenau in late 2019

As we discuss the Holocaust, it is vital to be clear with definitions.

The Holocaust: Defined by the Holocaust Educational Trust as the murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War.

Antisemitism: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) defines antisemitism as a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards both Jewish and non-Jewish individuals, their property and both religious and community institutions. It can take place in both rhetorical and physical forms.

Genocide: According to the United Nations, genocide can be a variety of actions which are intended to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Clearly, with those clear definitions from trustworthy sources, we can start to interpret the Holocaust. I would like to zero in on the definition of the Holocaust itself by the Holocaust Educational Trust. I believe it exemplifies many points that challenged or at least expanded my own personal knowledge of the Holocaust.

‘Murder’ in the Holocaust was not limited to just the gas chambers as perhaps the wider public’s perception may be but covers a wide array of different deaths equally as important. For example, many victims died of disease, exhaustion or starvation in the camps as they were used for labour in the cruellest and most inhuman conditions throughout the war. Furthermore, many individuals died away from Concentration Camps in different places throughout the period of Nazi rule.

The phrase ‘approximately six million Jewish men, women and children’ contains a vital statistic of the scale of the Holocaust but is quite impersonal and ultimately incomprehensible. However, one way we can try to interpret this number is through the Book of Names located at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which lists 4.2 million names and any known details of the Holocaust’s victims. Unfortunately, there are just under two million names missing – as no records remain of their stories – but there is hope as blank space is left to hopefully record each missing person’s story.

The Book of Names – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We should also refrain from simply considering statistics and consider that all people involved (victims but also perpetrators and collaborators) were individuals. I was lucky enough to hear the testimony of Manfred Goldberg BEM, a holocaust survivor and educator, who truly brought home this point. Each person had their own story and motivations, and to truly understand the Holocaust, and we must consider this.

Finally, I wish to explain why this is relevant to everybody today, especially people like me who may not have an obvious connection to the Holocaust. Antisemitism hasn’t stopped – the Community Security Trust recorded 1668 antisemitic incidents across the United Kingdom in 2020 – and is increasing; therefore, we must learn to fight hate by educating ourselves and others. We must not limit this education to just antisemitism, as all forms of hate, whether it be islamophobia, racism, homophobia etc.. must be challenged. The remaining survivors of the Holocaust are now beginning to pass away sadly, so educating ourselves also becomes even more critical as we must ensure that we can all collectively continue their work.

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