“Those who do not learn from History are doomed to repeat it”
Updated: Feb 6, 2019
On Thursday 22nd February, Mrs Wright accompanied two Year 12 students, Hope Holliday (12AL) and Sean McCann (12TE), to Auschwitz-Birkenau in a day round-trip, followed by a seminar in order to help them process the experience. Auschwitz-Birkenau are the sites of the mass murder of 1.1 million Jews during the Holocaust of World War Two. The group spent two to three hours at Auschwitz and then the remainder of the day at Birkenau.
Entering Auschwitz was an emotional experience but Hope explained that “it wasn’t emotional in the way I thought it was going to be. As you walked up, you saw the gate with the words ‘Work sets you free’. We had a tour guide that explained how ironic that actually was because it wasn't that work would set you free: it was a game that the Nazis were playing with the people there as they were really sent there to die. As you walked in, the first thing you saw on your right was a kitchen. That was where a choir or orchestra would assemble in the morning so that, as the prisoners walked by, they would walk in time, and it would be easier for the guards to count them.”
At Auschwitz, they entered a few of the barracks. The barracks are made of brick and they are now used as exhibitions to teach people about the Holocaust. One of the barracks was filled, floor to ceiling on both sides, with shoes. Another barrack was full of hair, all taken from the people who were murdered.
One of the most important memorials of Auschwitz-Birkenau is where they show the pictures of the people who were killed there. Hope explained that this makes the whole experience more personal as you come to the realisation that these people were real; they had families and lives that were ripped apart. We know that 6 million people were killed in the Holocaust. “Statistics are impersonal” but this makes us realise they were really people.
Over the course of our conversation, Hope made clear to me that visiting Auschwitz had made her
realise the consequences of standing by during victimisation and discrimination against others. So I
asked her if she thought this could happen again.
“I would hope not. But then I’m not sure that anyone thought that the Holocaust could happen. I
just want to say: do not be a bystander. Be on the victim’s side and stand up for them. Being a
bystander is just as bad as being a perpetrator. Do not just let it happen. Stand up for what you believe is right.”
"Being a bystander is just as bad as being a perpetrator."
We think we all know what the Holocaust was about but sometimes we fail to appreciate current
situations like the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Thousands of Muslims are fleeing their homes and
accusations of genocide are being made by the International Community. The Myanmar
government rejects these accusations but the UN has described it as a “textbook example of ethnic
cleansing.” We all hope these acts of violence and persecution can be stopped.
That is why it is so important to keep listening to stories from the Holocaust; this has taught us that
we must continue to speak out against these crimes. Hope said that schools should continue to
organise trips to visit Auschwitz and other concentration camps, just so we understand what humans
can do to one another and so we make sure that nothing like that every happens again.
Philosopher George Santayana said “Those who do not learn History are doomed to repeat it.”
The Holocaust is history that survivors will continue to talk about. They want their stories to continue
to be heard. The victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides are commemorated every year
on the 27th January. It is important to remember that the victims were not just statistics but living,
breathing people who were murdered for something that they had no control over. This is why we need to commemorate those who died and learn from the mistakes of the past. That way, we can try to ensure that events like these do not happen in the future.