Auschwitz: Understanding where intolerance and prejudice can lead

"Come here you free citizen of the world, whose life is safeguarded by human morality and whose existence is guaranteed through law. I want to tell you how modern criminals and despicable murderers have trampled the morality of life and nullified the postulates of existence." - Zalman Gradowski, murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, October 7, 1944.

Access to HE Diploma students travelled to Poland, in February, to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi concentration and death camp.  The aim was to increase understanding of the Holocaust and shows what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable and part of social policy and law.

Access Diplomas offers 19 plus learners, the opportunity to return to education and gain the qualifications they need to move on to higher education or employment. There are a variety of subjects on offer from the social sciences and the humanities to the natural sciences as well as vocational courses like nursing and social work. All students are offered the opportunity to visit Auschwitz as all subjects have links to the physical, moral and historical context in which this atrocity occurred. Understanding that it wasn’t simply a blip in history that allowed a man and a handful of other hate-filled people to take power; that it has happened before and is essential therefore for everyone, from all specialisms and walks of life, to challenge the growing tide of intolerance running through many societies today.  

The Nazis had overt racist views and particularly targeted Jews, although they were not the only target, they were a focal point for the Nazi’s hatred. From 1933, the Nazis aimed to make Germany Judenrein (cleansed of Jews). They aimed to achieve this through persecution and discrimination, which would make life unbearable for anyone classed as a Jew. It was hoped that Jews would have no choice but to leave their home in Germany.  Many Jews, however, could not find anywhere to resettle as other countries, including the UK, were unwilling to take them in. In 1938, thirty-two countries sent delegates to a conference held at Evian, in France. The aim was to decide what to do about the Jewish refugee crisis. Although delegates expressed sympathy for the refugees, very few were willing to help. Neither the USA nor the UK offered help only excuses for not accepting more refugees. This left huge numbers of German Jews and later, Jews across western and Eastern Europe, vulnerable to the extreme policies introduced by the Nazis as well as sending a message to Hitler and the Nazis that no one was concerned about what happened to the Jews. This action served as a green light to the Nazis, emboldening their agenda.

This has many parallels with today’s world with the same excuses and responses to the major refuge crises. Seeing the consequences of lack of action and support and the danger of encouraging prejudices against whole groups of people was something that our tour guide, Pawal, was determined to point out.

Every person has a name

The six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust have no graves and no tombstones. The physical extermination was accompanied by the deliberate, sweeping erasure of the memory of each individual. With the assistance of partners around the world, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national authority for the remembrance of the Holocaust and its victims, has undertaken the vast and complex task of collecting and documenting the names of the murdered. These names are collected through Pages of Testimony submitted by family members and by researching lists from archival sources. As of 2013, more than four million names have been collected and our collective effort continues. Given that entire communities were wiped out, it will never be possible to compile a full list. The names of the countries in which Jews were murdered have been cited according to the European borders of 1938. Lists of Holocaust victims have been collected from different sources over the course of the last 60 years. In certain cases, these sources did not state the name of the country in which the murder site was situated.