Report by Rachel Williamson, Manchester Student Stand Up to Racism
Last weekend, myself and a delegation of over 40 anti-fascist activists of all ages and backgrounds travelled to Poland for the Unite Against Fascism educational trip to Auschwitz. The delegation included the family of Holocaust survivors, trade unionists, students and more.
The horrors we witnessed were profoundly moving and will stay with each of us forever.
On Friday, we were taken on a guided tour of Krakow. We visited a cemetery destroyed by the Nazis and rebuilt by survivors; broken parts of raided headstones were combined to make up haunting but beautiful walls which surrounded each section of the site. We explored the old Jewish quarter, and heard of the long history of the Jewish people in Poland. We saw the site of the old ghetto, and listened to some truly heart-breaking stories, such as that of the orphanage workers who chose to go and die along with the orphans they had cared for. Our tour of the infamous Schindler’s Factory, now a museum, finished the day – a moving, informative and enriching experience.
The next day saw us visit the concentration camp itself, which was a truly harrowing day for us all. Nothing can express how genuinely terrible a place Auschwitz really is – no matter how much you prepare, it will always be so much worse than could ever have been imagined. We toured the premises of both Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau, witnessing the dismal living conditions and hearing of the disgusting, dehumanising treatment the prisoners faced daily. Beyond hard-hitting, the day left us all exhausted and tear-stained but with a renewed fighting spirit; the spontaneous meeting held upon our return was both poignant and inspiring.
One thing that really stood out to myself and others was learning of the ideological run-up to the Holocaust. The media campaign against the Jewish people, the acts of violence against them. We heard stories of Jewish men having their beards cut off in the street, of them being forced to remove their headdresses when in front of a German. These events sound chillingly similar to some of the racist attacks happening in Europe and across the world today – the “othering” of Muslims, the scapegoating of refugees and other migrants. When we allow these things to happen we allow ourselves to move closer to “the final solution”.
This has been the most distressing of experiences. The words to truly convey the brutality of what I have seen do not exist, so instead I borrow some from George Santayana – “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Racism and fascism did not die with the liberation of Auschwitz. Every time even the smallest display of hatred goes unchallenged, we get one step closer to the situation I have learnt so much about in Poland. Every acid attack, every firebombing of refugees. Even every time a person is made to feel like an outsider because of their identity. We get one step closer. The Holocaust did not happen overnight – a long process of hatred and fear-mongering led up to it.
History is happening now – we must stand up against racism and fascism every single time it rears its ugly head. Never again can we let the horrors of the Holocaust be repeated.