Wednesday, 1 April, 2015

This blog has been written by Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Youth Champion Michaela Crawley, an A-level student at the Hermitage Academy in Chester-le-Street, County Durham.

Every year it is important to mark Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) to ensure people are aware of the atrocities that occurred and to educate people about the past to prevent such atrocities from happening again. It helps people to see the relevance of Holocaust education to modern society as some of the prejudices around in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s are, scarily, starting to reappear. Education can prevent such thoughts taking hold.

This year, being the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, I wanted to involve as many young people and ensure my event at the Hermitage Academy in Chester-le-Street was impactful, with those attending telling others about their experience. This would fulfil the theme for this year; it would help us keep the memory alive.

Our event was jam packed! It consisted of four hour-long sessions for years 7 to 10, starting with an educational play about the life of Anne Frank, perhaps the most well known victim of the Holocaust. It was followed by a talk from two of our sixth form students who had taken part in the Lessons From Auschwitz programme with the Holocaust Educational Trust. They discussed the lessons they had learned and what it was like to visit such a notorious site. The event ended with a talk from our religious education teacher about the importance of remembering genocides that have happened since the Holocaust, proving that humanity has not learned its lesson from history. This was particularly important as this year is also the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia, a fact which scared many students when I pointed out that this occurred during 1995, the year that I was born. 

I was fortunate enough to receive one of the 70 commemorative candles from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for our school, and this was lit in a separate assembly for our sixth form and staff. We invited our leading Durham county councillor Simon Henig to light the candle, as he has a connection to the Holocaust through his grandparents who fled from Germany, eventually ending up in England.

At the end of every session each student was given a luggage tag with the name of a victim or a survivor of the Holocaust written on it. Students were asked to go away and research the name on their tag and share their person’s story with friends and family to ensure the individual was not forgotten. This gave the event an interactive element and ensured there was a legacy to keep the memory alive. It has been a success, with some students producing pieces of work about their person – a small action that has filled me with hope, seeing the important lessons from the Holocaust are being learned.

We were extremely fortunate during our event to have televised news coverage from both BBC Look North and ITV Tyne Tees, which made me incredibly proud of the students I had directed in the play and of the whole team involved in the running of the day. It made sure that our message was being received by more than just the 800 students and staff who attended our event on the 27 January.

I first got involved in Holocaust commemoration because I am interested in this era of history. Through the Lessons from Auschwitz trip I expanded my knowledge and wanted to find a way to pass this learning on to young people. I am honoured to have carried out an HMD activity this year, allowing me to become a HMD Youth Champion, and I intend to pass on my passion and knowledge about the Holocaust to the next generation through holding HMD events each year.

Learning about the Holocaust didn’t stop after the liberation of the camps in 1945, it is relevant to today’s society and to people of all ages. One of the lessons I teach through HMD is tackling prejudice. Prejudice is persecuting someone because of their appearance, religion, race or any factor that makes them different, and it was this ideology that led to the Holocaust. When I teach about the Holocaust I teach people not to persecute because of difference. Difference should be celebrated as it makes the world diverse, it makes us interesting. But are we really that different? No! We are all part of one race in the world, the human race, and it is important we remember that.

I use this poem, written by Pastor Martin Niemoller, to inspire students to stand up against prejudice:

‘First, they came for the communists,
But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist,
Then they came for the trade unionists,
But I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.’   

This holds an important message that we need to not stand by when we believe something is not right, and that is one of the most important lessons we can learn from the Holocaust.

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