Alexander Evison and Stuart Coleman are both sixth year, advanced higher history students from Mackie Academy. They were recently selected to attend the Lessons from Auschwitz project, with the intention of them using their experience to educate the wider community about the Holocaust and what we all can do to prevent prejudice of any kind in our society. Alexander wrote about their experience....
Recently Stuart Coleman and I attended a ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ trip to the concentration camp which defined the Holocaust, Auschwitz.
The objective of this trip was to help us to gain a greater understanding of the reasons behind the genocide and what can be done today to prevent such a horrendous situation from ever occurring again.
We firstly attended a seminar in Glasgow, which aimed to humanise the atrocity for us by focusing our attention on one particular Jewish family and their experience at the hands of the Nazi regime. We listened to the harrowing testimony of a particularly remarkable Holocaust survivor called Eva Clarke, who had been one the few Jewish babies to have survived being born inside the Holocaust. She meticulously explained to us how the Nazi’s oppressive measures stripped her mother of her dignity, but never truly sapped her of her strength. For instance during the early days of Nazi persecution against the Jews, it was deemed an offence for Jews to attend the cinema; however her mother decided to ignore this law as she did not believe that the Nazi regime had any right to remove her civil liberties from her. This decision to overlook the Nuremburg Laws proved nearly fatal for her mother, when Nazi officers decided to storm into the cinema and subsequently arrest any Jewish person that was in attendance – they eventually stopped their callous search just one row ahead of hers. Her experience made her blood run cold, as she had been mere feet away from the merciless hands of the officers. As it turned out, her mother was to experience many worse forms of discrimination and violence when she was later sent to numerous concentration camps; however her experience in the cinema is perhaps the best example to reflect upon as it illustrates how the Nazi’s senseless loathing of the Jewish race resulted in them having to live their ordinary lives with a constant sense of dread.
Subsequently, we flew to Poland alongside other sixth year school children from across Scotland, to help us to gain a better understanding of what the death camp was like for the many thousands of Jewish people that were incarcerated and murdered there, and what effect its existence had on Poland’s former Jewish communities. Before we reached the camp, we visited the site of an old synagogue in the town of Oswiecim. The town’s story This town previously had a large and bustling Jewish community which comprised 58% of Oswiecim’s population and inter-mixed harmoniously with the other religious groups that also lived in the town. The finest example of how the town different ethnic communities co-existed fruitfully was the lack of distance between the town’s largest and noblest synagogue and its Catholic Church, as this evidences that the communities were content to live alongside the other. However Poland’s occupation by the Nazi regime brought an abrupt end to centuries of peace in Oswiecim as they rounded up and subsequently murdered all of the Jews in their newly built concentration camp. Upon returning to the town after the end of the Holocaust, the few Jewish survivors discovered that the Nazis had pitilessly burnt their once great synagogue to ash. The Nazis had evidently attempted to remove any trace of their existence; however the insistence of the survivors to return proved that prejudice will never ultimately prevail.
Our visit to Auschwitz forced us to open our eyes and to realise that everyone involved – the many thousands of victims and the Nazi officers, were all humans beings like you or I. This is a vital realisation for all of us to make, as it forces us to admit that the people who committed these horrific crimes were not ‘monsters’ or ‘animals’; they were humans who had been blinded by the prejudice that had been allowed to prosper in their society.
The people to blame for allowing the prejudice to prosper were the many millions of ‘bystanders’ whose indifference towards the plight of the Jewish people allowed the Nazis to carry out the Holocaust. In the 21st century, we are all bystanders. With the ever-present rise of islamophobia in the Western world over recent years, we have again allowed a single race to be scapegoated for the failures of others. It is even an issue in our schools as a recent study conducted by the University of St Andrews, has shown that that the majority of Islamic children in Scotland have experienced racist abuse whilst at school. Is this really any different from the experience of Eva Clarke’s mother in the cinema, all those years ago?
We urge you to do everything in your power to prevent the continuation of the spread of prejudice in our society. A conversation, a post on social media or a simple indirect act will all help us as a nation, to prevent the very racial animosity that caused the Holocaust from re-emerging, in our supposedly, developed world.