One Week to Go: Why the Holocaust?

Learning about the Holocaust in detail and visiting places like Auschwitz is not for everybody. Some find it too upsetting, too unbelievable - some, sadly, go so far as to question its very happening.

I have often been asked where my interest in Holocaust education stems from and why I am so passionate about it, so here I will outline the main reasons behind this.

One conversation I have had on a number of occasions has gone a little something like this:
"Are you Jewish?"
"Oh. Are your family Jewish?"
"So you didn't know anyone killed in any of the camps?"
"Not personally, no."
"...So how come you're so interested in it all then?"

A girl on my course at university, who is herself Jewish, initially asked me this. When I replied I had no Jewish connections, she seemed almost astounded. "Even from a young age, we were taught about the Holocaust and what had happened to our ancestors, yet you seem to know more on the subject than I do!"

The fact my knowledge on the subject seems to exceed hers is not of real surprise at all; I have actively sought and researched information myself for years, whilst she has largely relied on her family to pass on testimonies and events of the Shoah. What amazes me is this apparent need to be Jewish to be so thoroughly dedicated to Holocaust education. There is no escaping the fact that Hitler's plans of persecution and extermination in the 'Final Solution' were mostly concentrated on the Jews, and it was this group that suffered the biggest losses. But what about the gypsies, at one time given their own sub-camp at Auschwitz? What of the homosexuals, prisoners of war, political opponents, those of religions other than Christianity? Or the physically and mentally disabled? Should there be any need to belong to any of these groups to feel an attachment and dedication to educating others about the Holocaust and its lessons? Of course not.
Having said that, I can make some rather disturbing predictions as to what would have happened to my family had I been alive at the time and our circumstances been different. My openly gay relatives would have been given their striped uniforms with pink triangles attached; the SS would have treated them as another subhuman category and perhaps even other prisoners would have jeered at them or scorned at their 'fault' from a religious perspective. My elderly grandmother and beautiful little brother would most likely have been sent straight to the gas chambers; the rest of my family would have been selected to work until they could work no more. It is putting it in this context that chills me to the bone, and the thought of so many families that actually experienced such situations brings me a great deal of sadness. It may not have happened to my family, but many others' mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives etc. were killed, so I wish to educate people on the subject to keep their memory alive and give them the respect they deserve, even in death.
Generally speaking, however, I believe the only group you need to belong to for the tragedies of the Holocaust to resonate with you is 'human'. It is almost inconceivable that humans have shown themselves capable of murder on an industrial scale, and we have witnessed the horrors of genocide before and even after the Holocaust, thought we shook our heads and claimed 'Never again'. But the evidence is there, and so, for the sake of humanity, questions need to be asked as to how and why it was allowed to happen, and what can actually be done to challenge prejudice and the threat of 'ethnic cleansing' or genocide from now on.

Another source of inspiration for pursuing a career in Holocaust education is the Internet. The Internet has long been a platform for people to anonymously spew hatred and discrimination, and insult others that remain faceless. Places like YouTube are the worst; the comments are often obscene, with people telling each other to "go f**k themselves" and much worse. Arguments are rife, and answers between people are barely intellectual; just one string of curses after the other. It is no different on YouTube videos that commemorate Auschwitz or the Holocaust. I have read plenty of comments such as, "F**k the Jews", "Kill the Jews!" and, perhaps worst of all, "They all deserved it".
What misplaced hatred! Do we really live in a world where such anti-Semitism and intolerance still exist, even after all we have been through as a race? How does a person sit behind a computer screen, having almost certainly been exposed to the facts of the Holocaust, and say that the innocent people who died, "deserved it"? What the millions of people in concentration camps suffered, I wouldn't wish on my worst enemies, let alone say anyone would 'deserve' such a miserable and fragile existence. It is true that the anonymity of the Internet stirs up a certain level of bravado in people, because they feel they can say whatever they like so long as their identity is kept hidden. But it is clear that there are still people who think along the lines of hatred and discrimination, and that I find truly worrying. Something needs to be done to educate these people, to reason with them. I will not take part in petty debates in comments underneath YouTube videos - I can't imagine getting very far other than being called all the names under the Sun - but I can only hope that blogs such as this will help increase awareness and such people will, in time, allow themselves to open their eyes to reality and not remain so narrow-minded.

Following in the same vein is the biggest problem Holocaust educators face: denial. Denial is, to some extent, to be expected; no one wants to believe that such atrocities could actually happen and be carried out by otherwise 'normal' people. Most people turn away from the subject, not wishing to think about the horrors involved; the young children led to their deaths, the lack of sanitation and food, the widespread diseases. Unfortunately, however, there are those who seek not to ignore the facts, but to challenge them. 'Six million' is a number that has been largely thrown around in regard to how many people were actually killed - nowadays, that number is estimated to be closer to 4.8 million. Those in support of the 'Holohoax' make calculations that attempt to prove the figures wrong. They claim there is no evidence for the gas chambers, that prisoners were actually treated relatively well if they were put into camps, or even that the whole 'story' is little more than Jewish propaganda. Once again, on YouTube I have seen comments that state, "The Holohoax is a LIE!" and that survivors are just, "well-paid actors that come out time and time again". Without delving into the debate too much here, the overwhelming amount of evidence in terms of photographs, documents, personal possessions of victims and eyewitness testimony are more than enough to prove the Holocaust really did happen. The exact figure may be a little out, but when people were driven straight into the gas chambers without being recorded or given a number, who's to say how many were murdered? Finally, the one thing I'm sure most deniers have not done is meet with a Holocaust survivor. As a fellow Student Ambassador once said to me, "People at university questioned the existence of the Holocaust numerous times. I would always simply reply, 'Look a survivor in the eye and tell them their past did not happen'." Again, the anonymity of the Internet allows people to publish their thoughts on the 'Holohoax', but if it came to just how many of them could challenge an actual survivor on the facts, face to face, I would be interested to see just how many of them could actually manage it. I will drive the evidence home as much as I need to, for we cannot go on living in a world where there are people actively trying to disprove that the Holocaust ever took place. It is totally disrespectful to the thousands who unnecessarily met an early grave, and such ignorance can only spread more anger and, in turn, possibly more prejudice.

This is an area which many would rather stay out of, and if it greatly distresses people, then that is fair enough. But someone has to be around to do it. And if I am one of the people to help pass on the lessons and challenge the deniers, so be it. I will do so to the best of my abilities. If I am ever able to change the mind of just one individual, then I will know I have made a difference in the world, and I will be thoroughly satisfied with that.