Holocaust Memorial Day: Keeping the Memory Alive
I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau five years ago. I’m not sure that fortunate is a word that is usually applied when talking about going to Auschwitz, especially not for those who didn’t choose to go there. But to stand where they stood was an experience that I do think I was fortunate to have, and it’s a moment I remember very often.
My visit to Auschwitz was part of a British program, Lessons from Auschwitz, run by the Holocaust Educational Trust that sends school children from all over the country to the camp in order to understand, learn and ultimately share their experiences with their friends, family and most importantly, their communities. The essence of this incredible project is ultimately simple: to keep the memory alive.
The memory of what happened, the memories of those who were killed, and the memory of the devastation that was caused. All this in fulfilment of an objective: so that prejudice is challenged, tolerance is promoted and hatred is never allowed to take hold of a society or a nation again.
It’s a mistake to think that the atrocities of World War Two are in the past: we can still see their effects today. And perhaps, even more strikingly, it’s the causes of the Holocaust that we can also see. All the evidence we need is the current exodus of the French Jewish population to realise that bigotry and anti-Semitism is still a part of our lives. I don’t for a second mean that this problem is just French, or European, or even Western: hatred is a global phenomenon, and one we would do well to stop before it becomes any more serious.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp; and so is particularly poignant moment to reflect on what happened. I won’t retell the story of the Holocaust as, I hope, you all know it, and it has been written and researched by historians far more informed than I. But I will say this, don’t ever forget; that’s the message I learnt when I stood on the infamous tracks at Birkenau.
At first, I couldn’t understand how it had even happened. 6 million is a huge number, how can you even begin to comprehend that number of people, or an atrocity on that scale? It isn’t just about the numbers, it’s about the families, the memories, and the individuals, it’s about remembering them and the horror that they experienced individually. These people were given numbers when they entered the camps, remembering them is about giving them their personalities, and their lives back, and not keeping them as a number.
Whether you remember by organising an event, attending a service or even something as simple as researching the area a little more, just make sure that you remember. For as long as we all understand the horrors that were committed, and why they were committed, we have the knowledge to stop hatred from ruining another generation. Knowledge will always triumph over stereotypes, the unknown and over fear.
I will remember, will you?
Lauren is a soon-to-be London lawyer and a current Masters student studying in Rennes, France for a Masters in French law (specializing in European Union Law). She’s a blogger (www.thelifestylediaries.com) and has worked for Her Campus Media as President of the University of Exeter chapter and the Manager of UK Expansion in the past. When she’s not working she loves reading, watching old films, walking with her dog in the English countryside and enjoying all that London has to offer. An avid traveler, and someone who wants to experience as many cultures as she can, Lauren visited Sri Lanka last year and is looking to visit Bali, Italy and Canada this year.
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