The Importance of Holocaust Education
Holocaust Memorial Day is an international day of remembrance, commemorating the six million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered during the Holocaust. The occasion plays a vital part in addressing the horrors of the past, but most importantly it brings people together to listen and learn from those who survived. In 2021 we are among the last generation that will have the privilege to hear the first-hand testimony of Holocaust survivors, making events like this one more important and poignant than ever before.
The importance of Holocaust remembrance was reaffirmed for me early last year when I took part in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s, Lessons from Auschwitz project. Since starting the project and becoming an Ambassador for the Trust I have been fortunate enough to hear from four incredible survivors including, Mindu Hornick MBE, Joan Salter MBE, Mala Tribich MBE and most memorably for me; Hannah Lewis MBE, who’s heart breaking recollection of how as a young girl she watched SS gunmen execute her mother, will stay with me forever. I could see how difficult it was for each of these survivors to revisit their past so it is truly inspiring to me that they are able to do events, like this one. When we listen to a survivor share their testimony, we too become a witness to the events of the Holocaust. We are being entrusted with these stories to pass on to future generations so that they are never forgotten.
As part of the project, we visited the notorious death and concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. This trip completely changed my life. No longer was the Holocaust something I read about online or saw on TV. It was real. I was stood on the same ground, where approximately one million Jews were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War.
I was shocked by the sheer scale of the site. This single camp had such a massive impact on me. To try and fully visualise the extent of the damage it caused was unfathomable, but I know by visiting it I took one step closer to understanding the impact it had on the world.
It wasn’t until I entered the room of hair that I first really began to comprehend where I was. I had never seen anything like this before. I still remember how I stood rooted to the spot staring for several long seconds at the enormous display of hair before me. This room showing how brutal the Nazi regime had been.
In another room was The ‘Book of Names’, a sixteen-thousand-page book, which contained the four point two million names of those who are known to have been murdered in the Holocaust. The book made me realise the importance of remembering every single person who made up that figure. It made me see beyond the numbers, instead seeing people, the same as you and me, whose lives were so callously taken away.
As a photographer, I took part in the visit with the intention of documenting what I saw. I remember thinking a lot about how I was going to go about doing this; but it was not until I was in the security line talking to Rabbi Epstein, that I began to understand the importance of what I was doing. He said to me that there was no right or wrong way for me present the Holocaust and that me being there at the camp in 2020 with my camera was significant enough.
The Nazis went to great lengths to try to alleviate any knowledge of the Holocaust, files were destroyed, gas chambers were blown up, and evidence was removed. We were not meant to know about Auschwitz-Birkenau. But the Nazis failed. Seventy-five years on I was there bearing witness to the atrocities they committed and documenting it through photography.
By visiting the places that we were never meant to know existed and by listening to the testimonies of incredibly brave survivors such as Hannah Lewis, we are ensuring that the Holocaust is never forgotten and that hatred and discrimination will not be allowed to permeate in our society today.
Following the visit, I wanted to communicate the invaluable lessons that I had learnt, so for my Next Steps Project I chose to put together a book of photos. This book allowed me to share with my friends and family what I had seen on the visit: the scale of the site, the ‘Book of Names’ and the memorial to those who were murdered. Through this book I wanted to demonstrate the importance of Holocaust remembrance and inspire them to share what they had learnt with others.
Although the events of the Holocaust took place almost 80 years ago, its impact is still felt today. Around the globe anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, and discrimination still exist and even more scarily in some places they are being allowed to thrive. It is the aim of the Holocaust Educational Trust to make sure that hate is not allowed to go un-checked and is always being challenged.
In my role as Ambassador, it is my responsibility to share what I have learned and to encourage others to remember the Holocaust - my friends, my family, and our community. Attending this event is a great first step for many of us in doing our own part to stand up against hate and discrimination.
I would like to say a massive thank you to the Holocaust Educational Trust for providing me with this life changing opportunity and to everyone here today; by attending this event you are making a difference. And I would also like to say another massive thank you to the incredibly brave and inspiring survivors, who find the courage to share with us their personal experiences, to try and make the world a better place.
Lessons from Auschwitz Ambassador
Dudley College of Technology