OPINION – Lucy Powell: Nothing can compare to seeing Auschwitz with your own eyes

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OPINION – Lucy Powell: Nothing can compare to seeing Auschwitz with your own eyes

Lucy Powell, Labour Co-op MP for Manchester Central, reflects on a visit to Auschwitz for Holocaust Memorial Day

Lucy Powell MP visiting Auschwitz
Lucy Powell MP visiting Auschwitz

‘DON’T STAND BY’ is a powerful theme and a harrowing reminder for Holocaust Memorial Day 2016. Nazi persecution, the Holocaust and subsequent genocides were all facilitated by those who stood on the side-lines, cowed by hate, and allowed their fear or indifference to seal the fate of innocents.

That’s why, for me, the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is so vitally important. Late last year, I was honoured to join students from across Greater Manchester on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The visit was part of the Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, which is now in its 16th year. 

The project allows post-16 students and their teachers to visit the camp to increase their knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust, and I joined students from Chetham’s School of Music and Connell Sixth Form College in my Manchester Central constituency, along with others from across the north-west, as they took part in what was an emotional and moving visit.

The visit included learning about the pre-war Jewish population of the nearby town of Oświęcim, looking at the community that was lost because of the Holocaust. 

A short coach journey took us to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where we were able to appreciate the sheer scale of the camp from the main watchtower. 

We then spent time inside the barracks and crematoria of Auschwitz, witnessing the piles of belongings seized from the victims.

Finally, I joined the students for a candlelit vigil and moment of reflection to remember the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust and the other victims of Nazi persecution.

All of the students who took part in the visit will now become Ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust, sharing their experiences with their peers and younger students as part of a wider aim to raise awareness and challenge prejudice and racism in today’s society. 

Speaking to the students who took part, it’s clear that the visit had a huge impact on all of them and has motivated them to share what they’ve learnt when they return to their schools and families.

On their visit, these students also learnt the dangers of standing by and will be empowered to share their stories of the day and spread the word that we should challenge persecution, fear and hate wherever we see it.

Vimla Appadoo, one of the Trust’s regional ambassadors and a constituent of mine, was incredibly moved by her participation in the project. 

She wanted to take what she had learnt back into her school and community and has just recently launched a project with Manchester Creative Studio. 

Here, sixthform students will be working on a six-week project to reimagine how to remember the Holocaust as part of their graphic design curriculum. 

It is an interesting and innovative initiative aiming to engage people who wouldn’t usually feel like the Holocaust would be part of their education. I can’t wait to see the results.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of visiting Auschwitz and recognising the full extent of the industrialised nature of the Holocaust. Hearing is not like seeing and although familiar with images of Auschwitz from the news and documentaries, nothing compares to visiting it yourself. 

It’s definitely an experience I will not forget and I hope projects like this will ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are remembered by future generations.

The Holocaust Educational Trust lives daily the message of ‘don’t stand by’. Its work allows very many young people to learn the perils of prejudice and hate and the consequences of standing by. 

I was incredibly moved to spend a day with students and the Trust seeing the results of the Holocaust first-hand. 

On Holocaust Memorial Day this year, I reflected on my visit and spread the message that we should not stand by again in the face of hate, fear and indifference.

  • Article published on Jan 27, 2016
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