Monday, 4 April 2016

Lessons from the Holocaust: Visiting Birkenau

DISCLAIMER: I have written two blog posts previously regarding the experience of visiting a Jewish Cemetery and Auschwitz. Please read these before reading this post. 

After visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, we drove and arrived at the biggest concentration camp that the Nazi's built - Birkenau.
The vast landscape of this torturous land was incredible. I could see miles of barren land and wooden shacks. I could also see the symbolic train tracks that lead into the camp - the victims had a one-way ticket to death and torture.

The bitterly cold wind rushed towards us and snow began to fall allowing us to imagine the brutality of Birkenau during the winter months. Workers would work, eat and sleep in freezing weather conditions and this led to a large number of deaths. As we walked parallel to the train tracks, we stopped at a train carriage that was used during the Holocaust to transport victims from across Europe - from countries as far away as France and Italy- to their deaths. Victims were forced to pay for full price one-way tickets and were stuffed into trains; they could experience journeys that lasted 9 days, with no place to excrete or sleep. They were truly treated like animals.

As we continued to walk throughout the camp, I noticed a large pile of rubble in the distance and eventually discovered that this was the remains of a gas chamber. Many Nazis demolished gas chambers when they knew they were losing the war in order to prevent people from discovering the horrors of the concentration camps - this is why there are very few gas chambers remaining today. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is difficult to imagine that the SS Soldiers were human but it is extremely important that we do. It is difficult to fathom just how evil the perpetrators were but by viewing them as human, their actions can be judged more accurately and the Holocaust will become more 'real.'

Near the rubble lay a plaque memorial of the Holocaust. It expressed a message that is the sole aim of the Holocaust Educational Trust: to remember the Holocaust in order to prevent anything like this from occurring again. Having said this, it is startling to realise that the world as it is today seems to have forgotten this atrocity and the lessons of peace that it offers.
Whilst the Holocaust occurred over 70 years ago, racism still continues to be a dominant and poisonous force in society, perhaps as real as a problem now then it was before. From the rise of Donald Trump to the Charleston shooting, America continues to deal with the repercussions of the prejudicial mindset of many. These issues are equally as prominent within British society, apparent within the continuous thread of videos which plaster our Facebook feeds displaying widespread ignorant and racist beliefs.

The Prime Minister's referral to the Migrants as 'floods' and 'swarms' as well as the callous headlines that embellish our newspapers are examples of the way people are being influenced to dehumanise the innocent individuals who are forced to leave their homes to find safety. It is important to humanise the victims of the Holocaust and this should also be reflected in our attitudes towards the Migrant Crisis. By viewing the Migrants as who they are, simply humans who desperately want a safe haven, a more positive and effective way of dealing with the Crisis can ensue.
Some people may question how the Holocaust is relevant to the debate over EU Membership and the upcoming referendum. After visiting the concentration camps and witnessing a glimpse of the brutality that many people underwent whilst being imprisoned in the camps, I truly believe remaining in the EU is imperative to keeping the peace in Europe and preventing anything as horrific as the Holocaust from occurring again. Europe was once tearing itself apart resulting in the destruction of countries, families and communities and by maintaining membership, Britain will be able to keep peaceful and strong relationships with countries within the EU.

As our journey drew to an end, our group began to walk to the building in Birkenau where many victims encountered the first moments of their prolonged torture. It was the building where they would encounter the callous Nazis, be stripped of their possessions and clothes and be forced to shave their hair. We entered the final room in the building and walked in to see hundreds of pictures staring back at us of the victims who had died during the Holocaust. Even writing this now fills me with sadness. I saw so many different faces, different eyes, and different lives. I read devastating stories of generations of families being killed from grandparents, mothers, fathers, children and babies.
I became transfixed with one family: The Hupperts. Below you can see Artur and Grete Huppert as well as their child Peter Huppert. They all died in Auschwitz.

To conclude the unforgettable experience of visiting Aushcwitz-Birkenau, the members of the Holocaust Educational Trust distributed candles, which we placed on the tracks in Birkenau. The tracks led people to their deaths and we lit candles to symbolise their sacrifice and to bring light and hope to a time filled with darkness and hatred.

 Please comment below with your thoughts.



  1. Neha,
    Thank you for posting such an informative blog post. The link between the past event of the holocaust and the ongoing migrant crisis was particularly striking as it emphasises how the dehumanisation of minority groups and the racist attitudes towards them are still pravalent in our society! I'm glad you highlighted the importance of staying in the EU as we may risk taking hundreds of steps backwards by leaving.
    Jessica x


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