Viggo Stanczak, Trinity Cully, Jake Givan and Hollie Taggart represented Portadown College in a Lessons from Auschwitz Project organised by The Holocaust Educational Trust whose aim is to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today.
Based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’, the students took part in a four-part course exploring the universal lessons of the Holocaust and its relevance for today. This involved a site visit to Auschwitz as well as an interview with a Holocaust survivor. These four students were selected from 10 students who applied for this opportunity, writing a 250-word essay on why they should be a part of this project.
Jake Givan’s reflections on his visit to Auschwitz–Birkenau
As we anticipated, Auschwitz-Birkenau was a horrifying and profound experience. These concentration camps capture another era of remembrance, one that must not be forgotten.
I found the entire Auschwitz experience very uncomfortable. Walking into Auschwitz, entering through the gates, I felt a chill breeze going down my spine. I saw the destruction of the cell blocks in Birkenau, and just the sheer size of the place was unbelievable. I saw the piles of shoes and among the pile of rotten shoes there was a little red shoe shining through. This shoe shone like a beacon of hope for a little Jewish girl, promised a ‘better life’ in Auschwitz, only for her to be brutally murdered, cut down, starved by the monsters that were Nazis. These events happened and they happened to millions. I also saw the ash carts where Nazi soldiers would dump the Jewish people’s ashes into a lake.
I could only respond with questions: how did this happen? How were 1.1 million Jews murdered in Auschwitz? Where was everyone else?
I left Auschwitz with more questions than answers. When something so tragic, so profound, so enormous happens, the world must talk. We must remember. We must learn. Why is there still persecution happening in the world, still?! My challenge for you is if we don’t continue talking and reflecting, the world is bound to repeat itself.
Viggo Stanczak’s reflections on his visit to Auschwitz–Birkenau
“When faced with the question how to describe my experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau I am met with a dilemma. Any other simple museum would be easily described: informative, interesting, impressive, fun…but how can you describe what is seen in Auschwitz-Birkenau? It no longer feels appropriate to describe what I experienced in one short sentence, nor does it do it justice.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, alongside the talk from the holocaust survivor Mrs Genine Wedder, did something that no amount of reading, research or lessons could do. It showed the scale of the Holocaust, but not in the sense of statistics: 6 million, 21 million, such and such square kilometres…which are so readily thrown around like sand. It showed me the scale of the Holocaust on the individual. The people, the families that lived their day to day life the same as any other person, who came from different economic backgrounds, had different beliefs and different personalities.
To understand the Holocaust is not to be aware that 6 million Jews, millions of Poles, millions of Roma and countless more were murdered at the hand of an ideology fuelled by such inexplicable hate. No. To understand the Holocaust is to understand that it did not occur overnight and anti-Semitism was ever present even before the war. It is to understand one family with thoughts the same as ours, who loved and feared, who had a home, humanity and above all, a normal life that was brutally robbed and torn apart.