Understanding Auschwitz

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Students from our college take part, along with 200 students nationally, in the Holocaust Educational Trust's course for sixth formers called "Lessons from Auschwitz". The centrepiece is a one-day visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland.

While this clearly has a deep impact on the two students each school can send, we have also seen how the message can be spread more widely, to fellow students and teachers, families and the wider community.

The Auschwitz visit helps the students to prepare a presentation to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day (January 27). Our students tackled the problem of communicating with 1,600 students in this sixth-form college with a central display of pictures, a poem and other personal impressions.

The writers of the best reports on how they marked Holocaust Memorial Day are invited to the House of Commons in May to answer questions on their impressions from a panel of judges (mainly MPs), and an audience that includes Holocaust survivors. The students with the best presentation become student ambassadors for the trust in the coming year.

Our students Eva Robertson and Jane Pothecary won this year with their imaginative personal response. The Auschwitz Museum contains piles of human artefacts, such as shoes. Jane explained how focusing on one pair of small red shoes in the mound had enabled her to visualise a real child. This spurred her to look for shoes of different sorts, building up a sense of people old and young, of families of real people that can be hard to identify in a memorial that emphasises numbers.

The warm response from the audience and individual survivors who spoke to Jane and Eva afterwards will surely remain with them and it made them celebrities in our college, the local media and council, and with our very supportive local MP.

John Death

Teacher, Palmer's College, Grays, Essex.

Details of the Lessons from Auschwitz course from the Holocaust Educational Trust at www.het.org.uk

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