Written by Year 12 students Jacob Frost and Tom Jackson
The Lessons from Auschwitz project is run by the Holocaust Educational Trust where they take two students from a range of schools to participate. This involves two seminars, the trip to Auschwitz and the next steps to become an ambassador for the trust. The aim of the project is to educate students not only on the historical facts of the Holocaust, but also the personal ones to help them understand that the victims of the Holocaust should not be defined by the statistics but by their names and their stories.
On the 15 March in 2018, we went on a trip to Poland to visit former German Nazi camp, Auschwitz. It was an experience that one could not possibly prepare for and yet it was one we have learnt a great deal from.
One of the key things we learnt was that the Holocaust wasn’t a single event, it was the unique experience of everyone involved. We learnt that feeling bad for these people is an impossible task simply due to the sheer number of different experiences; different horrors felt by everyone. It’s hard to acknowledge and understand the Holocaust as an event, but it’s even harder to try to understand the reasons why it happened, how it happened, and the suffering it caused so many people. Upon returning from the trip, we found it exceedingly difficult to get back into the ‘normal world’ so to speak. How was it? Terrifying. Absolutely frightening. Being there makes the reality of these situations so much more real. No one could even imagine the extent of the 6 million people who had lived lives that ended due to the Nazis’ oppression, but even just imagining 1 person’s experience there is shocking. It was so huge, it was intimidating.
Between the two of us, seeing the house of the head officer at the Auschwitz I camp had the most profound impact. Rudolph Hoess had a house just off the site of the camp where he lived with his wife and children, with only a wall and some fence separating them from terror beyond our own comprehension. We stood there and looked over the wall, being told “his children literally played feet away from thousands of people who had been taken from their homes to be categorically slaughtered”. It really showed us that even those who we push aside as monsters, as evil, are people with their own lives. It’s a terrifying concept but it’s a fact of truth.
We want to pass on the message that the Holocaust wasn’t carried out by a force of evil. It’s a difficult thing to understand, but the horrors of the Nazi party extended to the normal everyday people. Even people that had no part in physically killing anyone but were involved such as the architects, the builders, the people that took names, were as much a part of the Holocaust as the Officers who operated the camps and saw them through. It is vital to remember that these people aren’t monsters, they aren’t evil, they were people. Auschwitz was built, by a lot of people. People with lives and families, they were all as much people as the victims. It’s hard to understand that what we designate as ‘evil’ is completely man-made.
Rudolph Hoess had a house just off the site of the camp where he lived with his wife and children, with only a wall and some fence separating them from terror beyond our own comprehension. We stood there and looked over the wall, being told ‘his children literally played feet away from thousands of people who had been taken from their homes to be categorically slaughtered’.“
We were asked why it’s so important we remember such an event. It’s important to remember because if we don’t, who will? We need to remember the truth because these figures are so unimaginable. We need to remember to keep the individuals alive through their stories, so that we can truly understand their experiences. There is no way that we can remember 6 million, but there is a way that we can remember a select few each then the victims of the holocaust will be remembered. By remembering we can ensure this never happens again.