Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution, and in subsequent genocides.
Historian and author of both Emanuel School at War and Biblicarta: The History of Emanuel School Boat Club, Daniel Kirmatzis (OE1994-2001) recalls a school trip to Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and the memories of the Holocaust it stirs.
“I took this photograph [pictured above] on a school visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau over twenty years ago. The memory of that trip is etched into my heart and mind. My great uncle, who was in the Greek Army, was imprisoned in one of the camps that made up the complex. He survived the war because he had contracted Typus and was sent back to Greece to die. He survived, but the memories haunted him until he died in the late 1990s.
My great aunt remembered her best friend – a young Jewish girl from Thessaloniki being rounded up by the Nazis and never returned. For them and for the six million Jewish people who perished in the camps, and through other brutal ways, I will remember every day of my life, your light, and your existence. Never forget.
I implore you to read the late Professor David Cesarani’s book on the Holocaust (Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-1949) and to consider following the @auschwitzmemorial on Twitter.”
Chris Whelan wrote a report on the trip in The Portcullis (2001):
“The afternoon involved a visit to the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp, something nobody was looking forward to. It turned out to be an even more sombre and affecting experience than any of had anticipated. At Auschwitz, we watched a short film of its history and then were taken on a guided tour round the camp which has remained virtually unchanged since the end of the war. Entering a gas chamber personally and viewing tons of now greying hair that had been shorn off in the name of Nazi efficiency, had a far greater impact on us than any television documentary could ever have.
A few members of the party decided not to enter the second part of the Auschwitz concentration camp complex at Birkenau. Those who did found it an even more chilling experience. A single railway line stretches from the camp to the horizon surrounded by vast amounts of barbed wire on either side. We even entered one of the many small wooden huts, built to contain over seven hundred people, and were instantly struck by its rank smell, something that was a mere shadow of what it must have been like when in use. Viewing something built purely for mass extermination inevitably forces you to realise the capability man has to perpetrate extreme evil.”