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I visited Aushwitz n early November as part of the 'Lessons from Auschwitz' programme run by the Holocaust Education Trust. It intended to humanise the victims and perpetrators of the genocide, and to glean some positivity from this monument to human torment, this is my reflection on this experience.
On returning from horrifying Auschwitz, I have reflected greatly on the whirlwind trip to the infamous site, and I have come to the distinct conclusion that I have not received any sudden flash of enlightenment, or any other similarly seminal realisations. Before departing, I read numerous accounts describing how visiting Auschwitz has given them new perceptions on life, torn up their religious beliefs or has given fresh impetus to act against the prejudiced status quo. Indeed, in my application to take part in this great opportunity, I believed that by 'bearing witness to the remnants of the Holocaust, and by divulging the horror of what happened within the walls of Auschwitz, I can encourage people to perform simple acts of kindness, become mindful in every interaction and subsequently plant the seeds of goodness that will blossom into a better future'. It is with great regret that this optimistic presumption never materialised.
On seeing the barbed wire, the red brick barracks and the perfectly preserved gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz I, I was deeply affected by the surviving abhorrences. I have a vivid imagination, and when visiting a museum exhibit or a historical site, I see more than my eyes can bear witness too; the rusting machine gun nests are suddenly manned by ruthless SS guards, bellowing commands and insults at the hundreds of stripy-uniformed inmates freezing in the raw cold of the empty parade square below.
A spectre of death presides over Auschwitz. Everywhere you look, the most sickening event in the human story comes to life, the walls of Building Four are painted in the blood of children murdered by Mengele, the surrounding fields are sown with bodies of slave labourers and the ashes of Europe's Jews silently drifts from the crematorium. By witnessing such scenes, it was no wonder that I was profoundly disturbed, my tears freezing in the bitter wind and my sobs stifled by a scarf.
On the journey back, the same question plagued my mind; 'What is the lesson from Auschwitz?’ Even after hours of contemplation and discussion, I still lack an answer to this mystery. My conclusion is therefore that there is no lesson, wisdom or positivity that can be imparted by visiting this abomination. There is only the apparition of hatred, suffering and death bearing silent testimony to the derelict walls of the camp, seeing this enhances the curriculum’s strait-jacket education, but my perspective remains largely unchanged. My only viewpoint altered by the visitwas my view that all artefacts should be preserved, regardless of their purpose and symbolism. Seeing the terrible arch of Birkenau instilled my mind with a fervent desire to raze this aversion to the ground and replace it with a glorious memorial and a Synagogue on the scale of the lost Synagogue of Oswiecim to commemorate the lives of individuals, and not the grisly deaths of millions.