Lessons from Auschwitz: Why we must keep talking about the Holocaust

Libby Smith from Welwyn Garden City met Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke

Libby Smith from Welwyn Garden City (left) took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project and met Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke, pictured here with her mother - Credit: Supplied/Holocaust Education Trust

Welwyn Garden City resident Libby Smith, who is in Year 12 at Richard Hale School in Hertford, took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project and has shared her experience with WHT readers.

Libby Smith, who lives in Welwyn Garden City, took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project

Libby Smith, who lives in Welwyn Garden City, took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project - Credit: Supplied

I recently took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project run by the Holocaust Educational Trust. During the course I took part in three online sessions and independent learning modules to educate myself about the Holocaust.

I now want to share my experience of the project and some of the knowledge I have learnt about the Holocaust with my local community.

Unfortunately, antisemitism did not disappear with the end of the Holocaust and is still a large problem across the world today. The Community Security Trust recorded 1,668 antisemitic incidents across the UK in 2020, the third highest figure the trust has ever recorded in a single year.

This figure shows that this issue is still very much present in today's society, and signifies the importance of educating others about the Holocaust and helping play a part in preventing future genocides and decreasing antisemitism in the world today.

Oświęcim, the town in Poland, was stripped of its original Polish name and renamed Auschwitz by the Nazis when they invaded Poland in 1939.

In 1940, prior to the deportation of Polish Jews to ghettos, Jews comprised half of the town's population (roughly 8,000 of the 16,000 residents) and the Jewish community in the town were very much accepted.

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Jews contributed to every aspect of life in the town and held prominent roles such as business owners and money lenders, and were registered to vote, maintained organised sports teams, attended local schools and actively participated in raising funds for the Polish military.

The Great Synagogue was in the centre of the town, showing its importance. It gave the Jews a sense of connectedness, belonging and worth, giving them a chance to participate in town life.

Tragically, the Great Synagogue was torn down in 1939 and its destruction left a void in Polish and Jewish society. By liberation in 1945, less than 10 per cent of the Oświęcim Jewish population remained, and out of 8,000 only 77 returned home. This was just one town and we can see from these statistics just how much the Jewish community was decimated by the Holocaust.

Approximately six million Jewish men, women and children were murdered by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. This statistic helps us to try to comprehend just how many people were affected by the event, but it is still very impersonal and we need to start thinking of the victims as individuals instead of just a number. 

Each one has their own story; they all had families, jobs and hobbies just like you and me, and we must not forget that. Their entire heritage, culture, customs, traditions, religion and community were destroyed with them. The victims were stripped of even their names and most had no one to mourn their passing.

Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke and her mother

Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke and her mother - Credit: Holocaust Education Trust

I had the privilege of listening to Eva Clarke, a Holocaust survivor during the course. Eva was born in Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria, on April 29 1945.

She and her mother were the only survivors of their family, 15 of whom were killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau. She informed us of a time where the prisoners were called material instead of people and how the victims were dehumanised from the moment they stepped into the camp.

In block 21 in Auschwitz 1 there is a unique and moving memorial called the Book of Names - it consists of 4.2 million names of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Unfortunately, many communities were decimated meaning there is no one left to tell the names of those who lost their lives.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor once said: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

This quotation helps to highlight the message I want to put across, that we must stand up for what is right and must educate people of the enormity of this crime against humanity, to help more people understand why it is so important that we continue to talk about the Holocaust.

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