Content Warning: this article discusses the Holocaust and Auschwitz
A year ago, I was given the opportunity to visit Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust with the aim of rehumanising the Jews and the people who helped to collaborate the act of the Holocaust – whether they were the perpetrators or bystanders. In today’s blog I will discuss the importance of remembering the Holocaust in our daily lives.
‘the holocaust was the murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War’
definition of the Holocaust
Before flying to Poland, we had an orientation seminar where we discussed the Jewish community and listened to a Witness testimony.
We were reminded that everyone was human, and the Jewish community were all integrated within society where they were proud to show their faith. However they were still slightly segregated in their religion throughout specific youth groups to celebrate their faith. Overall, the Jewish community was respected for their help within the First World War as well as them being across Eastern Europe.
We then listened to a witness testimony and ours was told from Hannah. At the time of the Holocaust, she was just a young girl. During this time, she never really understood what was happening until many years after where she was able to create modern links with her experiences. A memory she vividly remembers from this time was when she saw her mother die to protect her. Her family has a ‘pact’ which made sure that her grandfather was properly buried in his hometown to allow her family to keep their beliefs and values strong. Before her family left their town, they buried a box hidden with photographs which she was able to retrieve and show us. Hannah has regrets from not being able to pull her friend into the hay to save him from his death and is haunted by the vicious dogs which would threaten the villagers.
Yet whilst listening to Hannah, she was calm. Her experiences had not changed her faith in God. As she recalled her testimony, her memories flooded back in emotions which no one would be able to ever fully understand. To me it showed how surreal and recent the Holocaust still is. The Holocaust happened and if we cannot change the past, surely we can prevent it happening again within the future. However today we can still see antisemitism, for example some of the white supremacists who stormed Capitol Hill last month. The Holocaust was over 75 years ago and still people are uneducated on the history and horrors from this time.
Within the photo on the left, you can see Jewish children in a youth group making the star of David. Zagreb is in Yugoslavia and around 12,000 Jews lived here. In April 1941, Germany invaded Yugoslavia and Hitler allowed Croatia to become a separate country controlled by Croatian Fascists which passed a law to remove Jews’ rights. In June 1941, they started sending Jews to concentration camps in Croatia and most Jews were killed by the end of 1942. By May 1943, any Jews who were still left in Zagreb were handed over to the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau where the majority were killed in gas chambers when they arrived.
The town of Oswiecim:
Once we arrived in Poland, our first visit was to the town of Oswiecim. Here we looked at old photos of the town and compared them to the town today.
As shown in the black and white photograph, the town of Oswiecim had a large Jewish community of around 58% in 1939. The market square was very important for trade and business. After the outbreak of the war in September 1939, occupying forces burnt down the Great Synagogue in the town to show their authority which as a result removed all Jews from this town. It was soon renamed Auschwitz and was the closest town to the building of the Auschwitz concentration camps. The large church by the water remains however the synagogue which proudly stood next to it was burnt down. This shows how before the town of Oswiecim was well integrated, everyone was respected and proud of their identities. Today there are no Jews in this town.
We then visited Auschwitz I and were giving a tour guide from one of the local workers. Before my visit I was expecting it to be solemn, reserved, quiet, monumental, historic and thought provoking. During my visit, I found it to be some of these characteristics. It was historical and monumental however it was bright with green grass, yet the buildings were plain and simple. In a way, the buildings were reserved, solemnly quiet – as if reflecting on their purpose within the Holocaust. It was neither silent nor loud instead more peaceful as we all took in the true history reminding ourselves that the Holocaust unfortunately was very real. It was so recent for such inhumane evil activity with the brain washing included. In a way I learnt how it was unintentional the mass murder, with the gas being used to prevent the outspread for diseases yet this is a worrying thought.
In the top right photo you can see the ‘gate’ reading Albeit Macht Frei. This translates to work sets you free.
‘They beat us between the cars and the gate. They gave us such a hard time. There was a young boy standing next to me, maybe he was sixteen, fifteen even, and he was crying, tears were falling. We were afraid, we didn’t know where we were. It seemed to me that we found ourselves in hell. You cannot describe it any other way. And it turned out that this was hell.’
This is an extract from Jerzy Bielecki whom was on the very first transport to Auschwitz of 728 Polish political prisoners at Tarnow on the 14th June 1940. Its tales Jerzy describing his arrival at Auschwitz prior to the construction of the current entrance building.
Excluding the top right photo, all the photos show the belongings the Jews and others brought with them to the concentration camps. As soon as they arrived, they would’ve been stripped of all their belongings and their identities. Their hair would be shaved to be sold to factories in order to be used for wool – though much was never sold and sent to factories. The suitcases are all named with returning addresses and many prosthetic limbs from those who were disabled or needed them after them helping in the wars. There were many pots and pans as well as glasses frames, keys, shoe brushes and prayer mats. However, what surprised me most was the shoes. There were many different styles, shapes, sizes and colours, making you question what pair of shoes would you have worn and how a single pair of shoes can define and individualise every person who arrived there. Also, those who brought keys with them, would they have known it would be the last time they locked their home?
The top right photo shows empty canisters of the gas used within the gas chambers. These hadn’t been destroyed and the gas was originally used to try and kill those who had diseases and were ill. However someone soon told the ‘hierarchy’ who gave the order to be used within the gas chambers. No one knows who or why.
The top left photo shows the gas chamber at Auschwitz I. This was around 10-15m away from the camp owners house who lived with his family where their children played in the garden, they would be able to see all which was happening. This goes against the whole idea at Auschwitz – to dehumanise the Jews whilst the children were enjoying their lives. The bottom left photo shows the striped pyjamas the ‘prisoners’ would wear.
The middle photos show a book of names, of all those who died or suffered during the holocaust. The book is incomplete and merely shows a proportion of those who suffered as a result of the Nazis actions. Block 10 was used for experiments and block 11 was used as a prison where there was a mass shooting between both these blocks. Near these blocks lived the ‘bird watcher’ who would go around spotting birds at Auschwitz and would be paid for his findings. After the Holocaust ended, he was rewarded with a job as I believe to be a professor. Was he a bystander or a perpetrator?
Auschwitz II – Birkenau:
Auschwitz II – Birkenau was known to be the end. This was where the train track stopped and ended but in reality, this was the end of everything leading up to arriving here to face your death.
The top left photo shows a train, cart which would’ve arrived full of passengers to Auschwitz Birkenau. There were no windows and seemed like a cargo for livestock and goods. There would be a single bucket for a toilet on what might be a 9-day journey from Corfu. The drivers of these were they a perpetrator? Many bought a home return ticket as well expecting to return home.
Once you got off and had arrived you were greeted with a guard. A thumb left meant you would face death up at the gas chambers and a thumb right meant you’d be able to work. Many lied about their age and claimed skills in order to survive.
The photo on the right shows one of the two gas chambers. In the moment leading up to the defeat of the Nazis within the Second World War, they tried to destroy all evidence by collapsing the gas chambers and burning the wooden barracks in the area they called ‘Canada’ which held the belongings of the Jewish community to be searched through and sold on.
The middle photo shows the turning of the thumb left and right. The bottom right photo shows items in ‘Canada’ being sorted through by the prisoners as work. The bottom left photo shows the brick huts where many would’ve been squashed in to sleep and live. They were triple bunks and there was also holes as a toilets, more than 700 people would be living in here. One worker who worked in the toilets felt as if their job was royalty. They would be able to talk to the others in the toilets as no SS guards would come in from fear of typhus and catching any diseases. The worker was able to hear stories and find out about the camps gossip.
The top left photo shows the site of where a wooden barrack once would’ve situated and within this barrack would’ve held more than 200 Jewish children between the ages of 2 to 16 being kept as prisoners. Many of them were twins who were being used for criminal medical experiments.
The top left photo shows the section of Auschwitz Birkenau which was called ‘Canada’. Lots of workers would want to work in ‘Canada’ to sort through clothes and items. The Nazis burnt down this section of the camp and so only the bottom bricks remain of what once were wooden barracks. If you were a worker, first your belongs would be stripped and men and women would be separated. Then you would burn or steam your clothes before having a shower to clean yourself. Everyone would gather into the same room (of each gender) before boiling hot or freezing cold water was tipped down. Your hair would then be shaved before getting your tattoo and then getting your clothing to wear (the striped pyjamas). The photo on the left shows more photos of items and belongings people brought with them.
Some may say the Jews were free and the guards were the prisoners ‘locked’ up being held captive. This is shown by the Jewish community using the moon as guidance to remind them of their heritage through their festivals. Even through the Nazis dehumanising the Jews, they were still able to fight back and hold onto the remnants of their self belief.
After my visit I reflected on what I’ve learnt about human beings. I’ve reinforced the idea that everyone is equal no matter your beliefs however at Auschwitz, everyone was dehumanised and torn away from their own views for being so called ‘wrong’ yet they stood stronger together and became more resilient despite their lives completely being torn apart.
The key points I would like to share and hence take away from my experience is the harsh reality of the ‘production line’ at Auschwitz Birkenau, including the items each family brought with them to continue their ‘new life’ at the camps which were rapidly stripped from them. Another concept I would like to reinforce is where can we draw the line between a perpetrator and a bystander – in a way both their actions, however big or small, consequently it all added up and made the holocaust happen.
Nazi Germany tried to kill all the Jews through dehumanisation in the following ways; Concentration camps, Gas chambers, Murder camps (Auschwitz Birkenau), Shooting, Starvation, Beating/Strangling and Mass murder -when they realised that they were not sufficient in their methods.
The words perpetrator and bystander now mean two new things. A ‘perpetrator’ I see is someone involved within the act of the Holocaust. They were the Nazis, the guards, the bird watcher, the farmers who provided food to the camps, the photographer and the train drivers. Yet more importantly as such this act never would’ve been carried out if the ‘bystanders’ who knew what was happening but did not act against it would’ve done something. They include country leaders and governments, families of Nazi believers, the local community who watched their Jewish community be removed from their towns and villages. However, both terms link as the hierarchy cannot run without the bystanders.
On the 15th of January, Why Don’t We released their new album called ‘The Good Times and The Bad Ones’. Here is my review of each song on their album.
1) Fallin’ – 7/10. This song would receive a higher ranking except I have been listening to it since it’s release in September non stop. It is an upbeat song with live percussion.
2) Slow Down – 10/10. I could listen to this song on repeat all day long. It is really addicting and the tune is inspired by samples from The Smashing Pumpkins January 1996 track ‘1979’ where in the music video, Why Don’t We have included Easter eggs.
3) Lotus Inn – 8/10. The whole concept of this song is about turning back time to ‘do it all over again’ due to them staying at the Lotus Inn. The Lotus Inn reminds me of the Lotus Hotel and Casino in the Percy Jackson series. Why Don’t We teased this song by creating a website for their song as promo.
4) Be Myself – 10000/10. This song speaks for itself by just listening to the lyrics. It discusses anxiety and the feelings you may get. I find this song really beautiful to listen to as mental health is important to speak about. Whilst I am now in a 3rd national lockdown, it is important to remember to speak out about our feelings and we are never alone.
5) Love Song – 9/10. Every good album needs a love song and this one fits perfectly with the whole albums aesthetic. It is very upbeat and the chorus is really simple but effective as a whole.
6) Grey – 8/10. When I say this song is simple but beautiful, it really is. I love how thought out the melody is with the lyrics. It fits perfectly together and is completely different to the other songs on their album. I can imagine a really nice, solemn lyrical dance being choreographed to this song.
7) For you – 7/10. It is another amazing song on the album with lots of layers throughout. The pre-chorus really reminds me of one song though I cannot pinpoint which song yet.
8) I’ll be okay – 11/10. Imagine the movie credits rolling and this song will fit perfectly. Within the song, the lyrics mostly represent the albums name. I have given this song a bonus point for the line “But once you light a fire, it’s gonna burn” as it reminds me of Scout camps.
9) Look at me – 6/10. The lyrics are not my cup of tea but the tune is really cool and gives off groovy vibes.
10) Stay – 8/10. It is a lovely song to finish the whole album together and wraps up the whole albums vibes perfectly.
On the 4th of January, England announced a 3rd national lockdown. This led to the closures of schools and the uncertainty of examinations. Recently the government have release a survey (which you can find here) about the grading of these exams which I ask for you to fill out.
Over the past weeks, I have been partaking in online school which has been very different from last years online school (March to July). This is due to our lessons being live via. Teams rather than having work being set primarily on Show My Homework. At first, it was very hard to get into a routine but after two weeks, I have found my routine.
Throughout this new lockdown I am going to try and pick up some new hobbies such as learning some more guitar, learning a new language, teaching myself to write with my right hand, embroidery, crocheting, playing chess and doing computer art.
Here is a piece of art I completed a few days ago:
Yesterday was the last day of school for me this year and after some reflection, I realise it was very strange and chaotic. The year started off well working upon my Extended Project Qualification and applying for head student however, soon it took a strange turn. I was not offered a head student role but instead was offered the Centenary position. I flew out to Poland for a day with the Holocaust Education Trust to visit Auschwitz and continued Sixth Form usually until March the 20th when everything changed. Suddenly it was online school, copying from a textbook whilst revising for my year 12 mocks.
During England’s first national lockdown, we were not in school instead completing our school work at home (and sometimes completing an online lesson). We completed our year 12 mock examinations at home. Over June and July, I was able to attend school twice which I blogged about here and here. Then it was the summer holidays before returning back face to face in September, this raised many concerns for me and so I wrote to my school expressing my view.
I survived the first half term and then the second half term where I submitted my UCAS application and applied to American universities abroad. I wrote to my MP and was filmed for the schools Christmas concert. Yesterday was a half day at school so we had virtual events within our form groups. This included completing a virtual Christmas quiz, watching a virtual assembly and watching houses got talent (which my house won!). Overall the day went very quickly and it was a good way to end the strange year. I am now waiting to see what the New Year has in store for school.
In today’s blog I will be ranking my typical Christmas dinner giving a my views on each item.
Pigs in blankets – 100/10 these are a stable to a British Christmas dinner where they only appear upon the 25th of December. For anyone who does not live in Britain, this dish is sausages wrapped in bacon.
Roast potatoes – 10/10 when made perfectly they are crispy on the outside being fluffy in the centre.
Cranberry sauce – 9/10 game changing to add a new flavour onto your plate.
Roasted parsnips – 9/10 parsnips are just below roasties due to being just as tasty but never as elite as roast potatoes.
Sage and Onion Stuffing – 9/10 stuffing brings the plate together and is my job to make on Christmas. The secret is to add butter to make it 10x better.
Gravy – 8/10 it is standard for a Sunday roast and adds a good flavour however, sometimes it can be too watery of too thick.
Turkey – 8/10 without this, you cannot consider this dish to be a Christmas dinner. Turkey is the pinnacle of the dish being the base of the other items.
Swede and carrot mash – 8/10 a lot better than normal mash but is more elite.
Brussels sprouts – 7/10 they are average. Could be better, could be worse but I’m not complaining.
Broccoli and cauliflower – 7/10 similar to sprouts, they are average but are needed for a Christmas dinner to be complete.
Bread sauce – 6/10 it’s good but sometimes I am not a big fan if it is cold.
What are your rankings? Leave your opinions in the comments below.
Today at school we have been filming for the virtual Christmas Concert. This year, I am in three pieces with two being part of the Sixth Form Choir (‘A Glad Noel’ and ‘The Colours of Christmas’) and the other piece I am in is The Boar’s Head carol.
During lunch, we filmed out Sixth Form Choir pieces which went pretty well. It was very weird being filmed singing instead of performing live and in a way it was slightly nerving due to having a professional film crew to film each of our pieces. I am very happy that we were still able to put on the annual Christmas concert allowing for a little normal to the current world.
Throughout the day, I was able to send off my UCAS application – which I have chosen to apply for a Mathematics and Computer Science courses. I also spent my break time fixing the Christmas tree lights upon our school stage and did some homework throughout the day.