Last November Eden Lunghy – a student at La Sainte Union Convent School - visited the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
She spoke about the trip at the William Ellis commemoration and has kindly agreed to share what it meant to her.
“In November last year, I took part on the Lessons from Auschwitz Project. I heard Steven Frank, a Holocaust survivor, share his story.
I also visited the former concentration and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, where over 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered. I’m here today to reflect on the experience, to tell you why I think it’s so important that we, you and I, are able to hear from survivors like Freda. And I want to tell you why we must ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.
A lot of the time, when we’re studying the Holocaust in a textbook, we get a mere glimpse of the real story, because we only read about the facts and figures. However, hearing the individual stories of people who lived through such horrors really brings it to life, and all of a sudden those facts and figures are transformed into recognisable, unique experiences, each belonging to individuals with their own beginnings and end.
As part of the project, I was humbled to hear Steven Frank’s story. Steven is a Holocaust survivor. He was born in the Netherlands. During the Holocaust, he, his mum and his brothers were sent to the Terezin Ghetto. Conditions were awful. Over 15,000 children were sent to the camp – Steven and his brothers are three of the 97 children that survived. What really struck me was how, even after his experience in the camps, he was able to find joy in life again.
The survivors we hear from – like Steven and like Freda who we’ll listen to today – show such incredible resolve. Sharing their testimony with young people like us isn’t easy, but they do it because they know how important it is that we know what happened to them, and people like them.
I know that you’ll agree when you hear from Freda that it is a real privilege to be here, and I know you’ll all realise the responsibility that we all leave with today. A responsibility to share Freda’s story, and tell the world what happened as the Nazis and their collaborators tried to murder all the Jews of Europe.
After visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau, I felt emotionless and confused as it wasn’t what I expected. It’s so hard to describe the emotions you feel.
Within Birkenau, I remember seeing the barracks, where people were forced to sleep in cramped conditions, with no heating, and where there were often more than 5 people to a bed.
Seeing the toilet block I suddenly felt overwhelmed. The millions of people forced through the doors of Auschwitz weren’t even granted the most basic sanitation. The toilets were filthy. As people suffered from dysentery, toilet paper was considered a privilege – no one received it. It’s hard to fathom such inhumanity.
The Holocaust had an impact on friends, families and whole communities. It broke up relationships and destroyed cultures. The visit made be question how we respond to discrimination today. Racism, prejudice and intolerance didn’t end with the liberation of the camps, and as I walked around Auschwitz I felt disheartened.
The sad truth is that you don’t have to look that far to read about subsequent genocides in the paper, and hear about current situations where people are forced to flee their homes because of violence and hatred. One thing that has really stayed with me is the quote “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Today we are here to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. This year’s theme is ‘Don’t Stand By’. As young people, and the last generation that will be able to hear the first-hand testimony of Holocaust survivors, it is our responsibility to ensure stories like Freda’s live on.
Let’s not stand by and let the Holocaust be forgotten.
Everyone is entailed to a free and happy life. Perhaps if we remember the past we will recognise rising antisemitism and hatred should we be faced with it again.
Let’s try and protect everyone’s human rights moving forward, and stand up when those rights are threatened. The Holocaust is still relevant today. I will not forget the millions murdered and I will always tell people why it’s still so relevant. I hope you will join me in this effort.