“The one who does not remember History is bound to live through it again” – George Santayana
I am a History enthusiast and have been for as long as I can remember! As the quote above states, we must learn from History in order to prevent mistakes from being repeated in the future; this is one of the reasons I love History so much and why I believe it is so important to educate young people (and sometimes adults) on past events.
One period of History that I am particularly interested, and almost an expert in, is World War Two and the Holocaust. It fascinates me how Hitler and his Nazi Empire were able to persecute, dehumanize and murder so many innocent people, all in aid of creating a ‘superior race’. It amazes me that the world ‘stood back’ not knowing what exactly was unfolding right under their noses. Having studied the Holocaust in great depth at Nottingham Trent University when completing my BA (Hons) History degree, I have learnt so much about this topic and read so many fascinating/horrific/unbelievable things.
I have been lucky enough to visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. This was a killing factory where the Nazi’s murdered around one and a half million people, mostly Jews, from various countries across Europe. Although for many people who visit Auschwitz it is a once in a lifetime experience, I have actually visited twice. Each time I have been it astonishes me how humans can do such unspeakable, unjustifiable things to another human being. Whilst visiting Auschwitz there is a strange atmosphere. No birds fly over it and it is eerily quiet. When people ask me what it feels like, I always say that if you were taken there blindfolded you would instantly feel unsettled. It is very eerie and very emotional. The emotion hit me the most when I was standing at the bottom of the train tracks at Auschwitz Birkenau, looking up the famous train tracks towards the building in the background. Knowing that men were separated from their women and children just meters in front of me, many of whom were sent straight to the gas chambers to be exterminated, is really striking. It made me reflect on how luck I am to live a life free from persecution, when many who stood just metres in front of me perished before they could even make something of themselves. The people who died at Auschwitz, and other concentration camps, had their whole lives ahead of them and could have been whoever they wanted to be. They had their future taken from them, not ever knowing what they could have been and the only reason that thishappened was because of something out of their control. This is why the George Santayana quote, “the one who does not remember History is bound to live through it again”, resides with me so much. It highlights to me the importance of telling the stories of those who are unable to tell them themselves, and how we must prevent these things from happening in the future.
When I visited Auschwitz, it was pure coincidence that there was a survivor their. He was giving a talk to a Hebrew group and was showing them the tattoo of his prisoner number on his arm. I admired this man so much, as it must take extreme courage to return to a place so evil to tell others your story, in order to ensure that it is passed on to educate the future generations. Many survivors of the Holocaust are now dead, and there are only a few still with us telling their stories. It is so important for us to continue telling their stories, through film, books and in schools to ensure that they are never forgotten.
I always teach my students about the Holocaust, and to date I have never had a student who has not been fascinated and shocked by it. I find it is very thought provoking for students, as had they been born in a different place at a different time, it could have been them and their families.
We are lucky to live in an age where sensitive topics are communicated in such a factual manner: This is one reason why I use film when teaching as they accurately portray historical events and are relatable. Many people have seen ‘The Boy in the Stiped Pajamas’ and ‘Schindlers’ List’, however one of my personal favorites is ‘Sarah’s Key’. This film shows the role of the French Bureaucracy in the ’round up’ of French Jews at the Velodrome D’Hiver in Paris. If you have not seen it, it is well worth a watch.
I could talk on all day about my love of History and how important I think it is for young people to learn about it. I genuinely believe that we all learn from History in one way or another. So I leave you with this thought… What have you learned from History?
Associate Teacher & Exams Coordinator
BA (Hons) History