Thursday, 10 May 2012

Reflecting on the experience of Lessons From Auschwitz.

 Hello.This is a blog post about the experiences I have learnt from participating on the Lessons From Auschwitz Orientation seminar and the trip to Poland which I went on the 21st -22nd March 2012.I am writing this post to raise awareness and hopefully to inform people who read my blog about some of the knowledge I have gained from the Lesson From Auschwitz as a student ambassador for the South West Midlands.

This is what I wrote in my Lessons From Auschwitz reflective diary before I attended the Orientation Seminar – Here's what I thought: “My aims for participating in the Lessons from Auschwitz project are to deepen my knowledge about the History of the Holocaust but also increase my knowledge about the faith of Judaism. Also, I hope that by participating in the project I will have a tolerance for everyone and respect other people's beliefs, even if they are different from my own. I would also like to use my knowledge that I gain to help other people have a more informed understanding about the Holocaust.”

From hearing the personal testimony of Renee, I heard the emotional pain which she felt but also she lost the opportunity to have her full childhood and do the every day things that I have done when I was little like playing outside with friends, going to school and 
the cinema because in September 1939, Renee was 10 years old when the war was declared and the Germans marched into Germany. I feel that it has been a very overwhelming experience to have had the opportunity to hear a holocaust survivor speak about their journey, even by hearing talk with such courage about the terrifying nature of the ordeal it is still hard to comprehend the scale of the destruction and the amount of suffering experienced by the people lost through the persecution. It is significant for all of us to remember that all of those involved were individual human beings and by hearing the story of Renee, we are faced with seeing the people behind the statistics of the holocaust as they are impersonal. It really touched me that she had the optimism and hope that one day wars will be over and we can live peacefully alongside each other. The message which I heard from Renee, I will forever keep in my thoughts and heart because she actually experienced the Holocaust first hand, I heard a first hand account from a Holocaust experience which is becoming increasingly rare. 

Firstly, we travelled to the town of Oświęcim and stood on an empty patch of wasteland with a few trees, the ground was rough grass which was a former Great Synagogue which would have been a place which was at the heart of a community and religious worship for a Jewish population in 1939 which made up 58% percent of the population in the town of Oświęcim. The fact that a town which had a majority population of Jews not only had its population decimated, but also its culture utterly destroyed, is a real tragedy of the Holocaust. Since the war the people of the town have had to deal with the economic problems and the stigma which is attached to living in a place which is so closely linked to the genocide.

That is why visiting the restored synagogue which has for an educational resource centre in the town, focuses on a memorial aspect, now than a place of worship, was a significant symbol of defiance. The final member of the pre-war community to live in 
Oświęcim was Szymon Kluger who having survived the Holocaust, returned to his home town, where he spent the rest of his life. He died in 2000 and is buried in the Jewish cemetery in the town. It is worth mentioning that there are no Jews living in the town today.This really emphasises the loss of a significant part of the Oświęcim community which has not been regained,and we are now in 2012.

This is a collage window outside the educational Jewish centre which shows the people.

I wear glasses as I am short sighted, without my glasses I can't read things which are far away.  My glasses are just as much as part of me as the bracelets I wear. Glasses give people the benefit of improving sight, seeing more clearly. Glasses in piled up like this truly makes me realise how many pairs of eyes would have looked through the lens of glasses to see through out their lives, young and old, people with varying degrees of sight difficulty but to know that this a small number of the glasses that were here gives a small insight into how more people who wore glasses were effected by the events of the holocaust. I can relate to the pile of glasses because I am a girl here in 2012 wearing glasses but without my glasses, I would be lost, disorientated and I think may be that's how the people within the concentration camps would have felt. Feelings are so significant to this.

Seeing this really touched me on a deeply personal level.
I wear shoes everyday, I walk in them and I have a variety of different styles and colours. So did the people, who were at Auschwitz 1 and all the concentration camps, the people were unaware that the shoes that they packed, they would never see. Now, it is enormous to comprehend the magnitude of the loss of life. By having something in common with the people who died, you gain a greater appreciation of the scale. However, it is not only the shoes which you can see but the two tones of human hair, which is the amount that the Nazis failed to destroy at the end of the war. It is a very strange concept to see that the hair which you have seen was previously attached to someone’s head. The hair is part of a person’s identity and now there is a great emphasis on hairstyles and fashions to do with hair, the people who were in the camps may have also had this connection with their appearance as well.

Seeing the suit cases with names of people who I recognise in my life now, especially focusing on the Minska Hanna case; The girl from college who I was participating on the trip with was called Hannah. Also, one my best friends is called Hana as well, it really made me think about the people actually sent to work/labour camps and death camps. Some people may have got off the train and never seen their belongings again which is deeply sad especially when people value their belongings and probably would take their most precious possessions with them as many people were under the impression that they would be starting a better life. However, that was not the case for most people.
The view which we had from standing at the top of this watch tower in the second camp of Auschwitz Birkenau  which was a perspective that people who were inside the camp would never have seen. Although, I still think it overwhelmed me to see this and I don't think I will ever be able to understand the full extent of the scale. Mentally I don't think I will ever be able to understand the scale but visiting the camps did help put it into a better perspective. The loss of human life by being able to visually see a small proportion of the belongings and items which belonged to people, just like me and you.
When I saw this sunset through the trees, it really made me think about the people in the camp more because I thought that the strength of the sunlight would give people hope that there was light beyond the perimeters of the camp which may have given people strength to carry on. I was surprised that the weather was fine, I really was under the impression that it would be grey and dark, I think it was a bit of a shock for me,that it was fine weather.

At the end of the railway line, we placed lighted candles as a symbol to remember, it was a very moving and emotional sight. The service by Rabbi Barry Marcus was inspiring and very moving. The feelings and thoughts from the whole day came together, and although the experience I believe I can't describe, it is something that a person needs to experience to understand the impact that a place can have on you. Rabbi Barry Marcus stated that if we had a minute’s silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we would be stood still for three years.

“Where is the love”, is a lyric from the black eyed peas but I think it is relevant to the community we live in as acts of kindness, promoting equality and diversity among people, having a healthy respect for people's values and beliefs is important because it shapes the cultural identity of people. Through the history of exploring the Holocaust in a greater depth, one of the greatest conclusions I made was that every individual who perished was part of a community,for example - Renee Salt was a pupil in a Jewish school, she belonged to that community, she had an identity as a school pupil at the beginning of the war. She lost that identity, but also her customs and religious traditions as part of a Jewish family. I believe that we play an important part in promoting the tolerance of others by recognising the roles that people have regardless of gender, race, or creed. As long as prejudice exists there will always be the chance that it could happen again and it is our moral duty to do all we can to ensure that it doesn't, for example: the small things that we do in our daily lives such as helping others, being kind, promoting peace not violence and communicating with people. I believe that we must keep the memory of the Holocaust victims alive and most importantly we must learn from our history, lest we repeat it.

Thank you for reading this post, I hope you found it interesting, the experience was overwhelming physically and mentally but I truly learnt so much and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go because it is an experience that humbles and makes you appreciate the life of those who were lost and the appreciation of the loved ones around you presently. Also, it was my first experience going to the city of Birmingham and flying by myself.

* Please be respectful and sensitive to the views of other people throughout your daily lives, just to make that small difference to make the world a more positive place!
Love Emma,<3

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