Hayley Carlyle has been an HMD Youth Champion for the past two years. In this blog Hayley shares her thoughts about visiting the camps at Auschwitz.
I have been involved with HMDT and the Youth Champion programme for the past two years. During my time with HMDT I have had the privilege to spend time with Holocaust survivors and hear their testimonies, testimonies that I found incredibly emotional and meaningful. These testimonies have recently become even more important to me after by recent visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
At 6.35am, on 23 November 2015, I took a flight to Poland with my friends as we embarked on our final study trip as students of History at Liverpool Hope University. The part of the trip I was looking forward to the most was visiting Auschwitz. Leading up to the trip I felt scared, anxious and curious – three emotions that never left me while I was paying my respects at the sites.
Auschwitz itself had a strange beauty about it; the way the sun caught the red brick and the small flurries of snow provided a surreal distraction to the atrocities that had been carried out on the ground I was walking on 70 years later. The feeling of beauty I felt was quickly snatched away when I stood, face to face, with an iconic image of Auschwitz – Arbeit macht frei. Walking through the gate placed me instantly into a frame of mind which made me realise exactly where I was and brought back all the testimonies I had stored in my mind however, nothing could have prepared me for facing the iconic images in the Museum. There is something about standing in front of a case containing suitcases, glasses, shoes, prosthetic limbs, baby clothes and, human hair (to name but a few items) that makes Auschwitz and the Holocaust a reality – statistics of brutality and loss of life that I have known all my life suddenly became a lot more real and fathomable. It was at this point that I and my friends became so overcome with emotion that we could no longer hold back tears. We all stood side by side and uttered the same sentiments: How could man want to do this to his fellow man? What did these millions of innocent people do to deserve this? These questions were intensified when we travelled a short distance along the road to Birkenau where it became hard to ignore the scale in which the Nazis carried out their crime of genocide. When reflecting on our visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau we all came to an agreement – we can never let something like this happen again.
I joined the HMDT Youth Champion programme during HMD 2015, when the theme was Keep the memory alive. This campaign took on a whole new meaning in light of my experience of Auschwitz where, I viewed a memorial to Father Maximilian Kolbe who sacrificed himself to save the life of another prisoner; it is people like Father Maximilian who should never be forgotten. This year HMDT is asking us to ensure that we Don’t stand by. After standing where the Holocaust unfolded, where the Nazi regime exercised its severest form of brutality and, after seeing the beautiful attempts to memorialise the memory of the victims, my work as a Youth Champion has taken on a whole new meaning; this is why I pledge to do whatever I can to ensure that I and those I meet do not stand by, ensuring that the world will one day become a safer, better place for anyone and everyone. I encourage you to do the same.
The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.