An Introduction...

I believe that, in life, every person has one passion that will emerge and that they can wholly dedicate themselves to if they wish to do so. My father, for example, fell in love with all things Russia at the age of seven; more than 40 years later, every job he has ever held has involved the country and its language. Similarly, there are those who played Doctors and Nurses as a child and are now studying for a degree in Medicine, or the children who scribbled plays, short stories and diaries on every scrap of paper they could find that are now successfully selling books in their thousands.

For me, my 'calling' is in Holocaust education.

As with most children in the U.K., my first real contact with the history of the Holocaust came around the age of 14 in secondary school. Within a Second World War module, we covered the rising anti-Semitism in Germany and, later, Europe, the concentration camps that were set up etc. We were given textbooks that contained the usual nauseating photographs of dead bodies designed to shock and keep children from distraction to appreciate the seriousness of the subject matter. In my opinion, however, it is very easy for a person to become desensitised to such material, and the stories of individuals - later emphasised by the Holocaust Educational Trust - is what really hits home. It was also in this year that we had Holocaust survivor Rudi Oppenheimer visit our school and give a presentation. His talk was fascinating, his story truly remarkable, but hearing is not like seeing, as I discovered a year later.

As part of the Year 10 GCSE History course, we took a five-day trip to Berlin and Krakow, including a day's visit to what is now Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. The timing wasn't exactly ideal; we had slept overnight on a coach from Germany to Poland, and, being teenagers, had stayed up until the early hours of the morning for the fun of it. We emerged tired, apprehensive and emotional. By the time we had been shown the horrific exhibits of human hair and shoes in Auschwitz I, there wasn't a dry eye in our entire company, even from the boys who prided themselves on being 'tough'.

The visit to Auschwitz certainly left an impression on me, but it wasn't until Year 12 that I would realise how significant this impression was. In school we were told about the Holocaust Educational Trust's 'Lessons from Auschwitz' project, in which two Sixth Formers from participating schools would attend seminars and a one-day trip to the former extermination camp. A friend, Amrit Kaur Lohia, and I were picked out of a hat to attend, such was the interest in the project - an intervention of fate that may well have changed the direction of my future. The project was a real eye-opener, dealt with in a sensitive and thought-provoking way. In the Orientation seminar, we heard the last ever public testimony of Josef Perl, survivor of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. On our 21-hour round trip to the camp itself - waking up in London at 3:00am and returning home by midnight the same day - we were read poems and took part in discussions. This time, nobody cried, proving that a person never knows just how may they react to such a place, even if they have been there previously.

Our follow-up project consisted of teaching lessons about the Holocaust to Year 10 classes in school and encouraging them to produce artwork, poems or statements about what they felt they had learned. However, we were both itching to take our project to a higher level; thus, Amrit and I gave workshops in a few other local schools, also asking for artwork, which was then exhibited in the local town centre. Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper was present, giving a small talk and examining the works for himself.

Since then, I have been invited to attend Holocaust Memorial Day events, Student Ambassador events for the Trust and occasionally give talks to other students currently on the 'Lessons from Auschwitz' project. It is my job to speak about the work I have done and inspire others to think as big as they like in terms of their projects, because, as I always say, "The sky really is the limit with such things". As well as the three aforementioned survivors, I have met and heard testimonies from numerous others, including Ruth Barnett, Kitty Hart-Moxon and Ben Helfgott. After one talk Amrit and I gave at a Trust event, we had survivors approaching us, tears in their eyes, saying, "Thank you, thank you so much. Now we know that when we die, our lessons will not be forgotten. It means so much to us." This was by far the most humbling experience I have had to date.

On Sunday 24th June 2012, I will be flying out to Poland for a five-day course based in and around Auschwitz Memorial and Museum. It will be challenging, to say the least; I know no Polish and I will know none of the staff nor participants, aside from the fact that I will spend most of my days in a place where millions of people were gassed and murdered. I hope to use this space to record my thoughts and feelings in preparation, during and after the trip.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. More will undoubtedly follow shortly.