NUS president joins 130 student leaders on landmark Auschwitz educational visit
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NUS president joins 130 student leaders on landmark Auschwitz educational visit

Shakira Martin joins first-of-its-kind visit to former death camp as part of HET's Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project with UJS

  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)-UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)-UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students learn about the former Nazi death camp from a guide.  Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students learn about the former Nazi death camp from a guide. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
  • Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur
    Students on the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET)/UJS Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project, visiting Auschwitz. Photo credit: Yakir Zur

Senior leaders and student union sabbatical officers from UK universities learnt not to be bystanders this week as they visited the former Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The intense visit was part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s (HET) Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project in partnership with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS).

Monday’s visit, where the 132 participants landed in Krakow early in the morning and returned to London late that night, was the first of its kind and came after a seminar where they heard first-hand evidence from a survivor, Susan Pollack.

During the visit, participants learned that there is no evidence that any German soldier was shot for refusing to kill Jews – some were sent to the Eastern Front, but others were even later promoted.

“People did have a choice,” one of the HET educators told one group. “They could choose, like Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz, to live a completely ‘normal’ life, going home to his wife and children who lived next door to the camp while overseeing the murder of 1.1 million Jews.

“Or they could choose not to be perpetrators and not be punished for refusing to kill Jews.”

National Union of Students (NUS) president Shakira Martin told Jewish News that she had “learnt so much from the visit”.

Shakira Martin, NUS president, with the infamous Auchwitz death gate in the background

Ms Martin, for whom it was the second visit to the site of the camps, added: “The visit has made me see my part in not being a bystander when evil occurs and to ensure that the stories of survivors live on through all the generations.

“This has been an important visit for student leaders and gives us a better understanding of what happened during the Holocaust, and to ensure than when we return to the UK, we will know how best to support our Jewish students on campus.”

Mohammed Omar Hijazi, the president of the student union of St George’s, University of London, told the JN that what left the most impression on him were the “positive talks by the Holocaust survivors, with their emphasis on learning and tolerance”.

Students learn about the former Nazi death camp from a guide

Mr Hijazi, who has a degree in biomedics, echoed the thoughts of many of the participants when he said it was incumbent on the student participants – “the leaders of the future” – to reflect on what happened and “not to promote discrimination on the back of others”.

Karen Pollock, HET Chief Executive, said: “This new Lessons from Auschwitz Universities Project will extend our vitally important work to even more people, empowering these individuals and institutions to use this experience to speak out and consider ways that they can address incidents of racism and prejudice.”

HET’s Karen Pollock speaking to students in Auschwitz

UJS campaigns organiser Daniel Kosky added: “Young people in positions of leadership have a unique responsibility to educate others about the Holocaust, and ensure they do all they can to tackle antisemitism and all forms of hate on campus.”

The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education, which was announced earlier this year by the then Communities Secretary – and now Home Secretary – Sajid Javid.

 

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