College students visit site of humanity’s ‘greatest failure’


January 27 marks Holocaust Day, when the atrocities of the Second World War are remembered across the globe.

In this piece Whitby Community College student Cameron Hill recalls some of the lessons he learnt on a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp.

The 27th of this month marks the discovery of one of mankind’s greatest failures.

The liberation of Auschwitz serves as a high water mark of human cruelty and barbarity, the revelation of what we can inflict upon one another when we surrender our reason to prejudice.

To help us remember and respect, the Lessons From Auschwitz initiative sends thousands of sixth form students from across the country to Auschwitz for the day, visiting both remaining camps and the local Polish town of Oświęcim.

For the past six years the College has been awarded two places for students to take part in the trip, attending seminars and listening to survivor testimonies alongside the Auschwitz visit, in order to better understand the Holocaust and its implications.

Last year myself and Oliver Chilton were the chosen two, while Kim Turford and Giorgia Fandaoutsaki are undertaking the trip in February.

The credit for our being continually awarded places must go to Ian Ferguson, a teacher at the college, who has helped ensure that our human responsibility to think and ensure equality has become part of our college ethos.

Genocide is not a closed chapter of our history. Rwanda and the Kurdish genocide are still recent memories. The Central African Republic, Syria and Sudan - all of these conflicts show us that, while nowhere near the scale of the Holocaust, conflict can still be fuelled by ethnic and religious hatred.

The reasoning behind our visit to Auschwitz was not just to brush up on our history but to learn its lessons.

If you Google images of Auschwitz, among the barbed wire and striped ranks, you’ll find pictures of groups on days out, men and women in uniform laughing and joking. One of the biggest realisations I had was that the Holocaust was not performed by monsters but by these people - men and women twisted by prejudice and unthinking hatred to the point where they could laugh and joke on their days off from murdering thousands.

This is the real lesson from Auschwitz - that events like these begin to take root once we sign up to stereotypes and blind racism. Once we view different groups of people as less than ourselves we set ourselves upon a slippery slope.

If we are to live in a world free of events such as the Holocaust then the de-humanisation and scapegoating of minorities can never be the answer.

Myself, Oliver and the college hope that this piece and our display in the library provoke some thought and reflection as we approach the 69th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.

There will be a display in Whitby Library from today to Monday 27.

Myself, Oliver and Ian Ferguson will be there on the evening of Tuesday 21 and the morning of Saturday 25.