27th January, 1945. The concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated. This marks the beginning of the end to the Holocaust. Between 1941 and 1945, the Hitler Nazis attempted to wipe out all of Europe’s Jews, black population, disabled people, homosexuals and Gypsies. This systematic and planned attempt to murder the Jews is known as the Holocaust.
January 27th is now known as Holocaust Memorial Day, and this year, Selkirk High School pupils joined the rest of the country in remembering the victims and the survivors of the genocide, and spent time to think about the lessons we can learn from the horrors of the past, going forward into the future.
Two S6 pupils, Rose Macaulay and myself, Jack Oliver, recently became Young Ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust, and as a part of this experience, actually visited the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. This was one of the most unbelievable and emotional days of our lives, and we took so much way from our experience. We saw the terrifying dangers of prejudice, and hatred, and we wanted to bring this back to Selkirk High School pupils, and share our experience.
We have mainly been working with the junior school pupils, and they have been learning about different aspects of the Holocaust in their classes, from the history of the genocide, to poetry, and literature exploring experiences throughout the Holocaust. On Wednesday, 27th January, we held an assembly, and we explained to the pupils about what we had learnt throughout our time as Young Ambassadors, and shared our experiences. We told the pupils about the camps, and some of the horrors we saw, and focused on what we learnt.
Pupils seemed shocked to hear about the glass cases containing the shoes, suitcases and hair of victims. Each a reminder of the countless number of people who lost their lives. We talked about the horrible feeling of standing in a gas chamber where so many people were killed. Standing in Auschwitz-Birkenau is a memory that neither of us will forget, it was one of the worst places on earth, and stands to show the terrifying capacity for human evil. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a place that shows us true horror, and we cannot let it happen again.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day was Don’t Stand By. Prejudice can often go unnoticed, because it is ingrained in our brains as truth, or because it is subtle. We, have a responsibility to challenge prejudice, no matter how big or small, because we decide what is acceptable in our own society. . The Jews faced prejudice for years before the holocaust. Prejudice happens all around us; it does not have to be extreme such as murder or violence. Prejudice is name calling, it is stereotyping and it is excluding those who are different. For example, the Jews were stereotyped as being rich, greedy and untrustworthy. Prejudice still happens in society today.
The message Don’t Stand By is incredibly important, and we really wanted to have this message resonate throughout the school. With the help of the art department, we were able to create a memorial displaying the message. The memorial involved many pupils from across the school, contributing hand and finger prints on the memorial.
During the holocaust, people did stand by. People rarely challenged the prejudices surrounding them, and look at the result. We must learn from our mistakes. During our experience, we learned of some people who did not stand by. One of the most famous people who did not stand by, was Oskar Schindler, who employed Jews to work in his factory, to save them from being sent to concentration camps. Schindler saved 1200 Jews. Today there are 7000 descendants of Schindler’s Jews.
We also learnt the story of another, who comes quite close to home. Jane Haining was a woman born near Dumfries in Scotland in 1897, which is not too far from us, in Selkirk. She was a Christian missionary, who was working in an orphanage in Budapest, Hungary. Jane had a lot of Jewish children in her care. Even children were not free from the persecution of the Nazi’s. The Jewish children were to be deported to Auschwitz. However, Jane was determined to not stand by, not to abandon the children and tried to protect them. She managed to keep them safe for some time, but sadly, Jane could not protect these children, and she was deported with them to Auschwitz, and they sadly lost their lives in the gas chamber. Whilst Jane could not overcome the power of the Nazis, she refused to stand by.
These people, did not stand by. They showed bravery, and the fought against hatred and prejudice. It is so important to stand up, and not tackle prejudice. Every day, people face prejudice. Every day, people do nothing. Don’t stand by.