World Affairs Day

On the thirteenth of March year twelve were given a day to learn more about the Holocaust- we had three different sessions each exploring a different aspect of the Holocaust before John Dobai, a Holocaust survivor, gave a talk about his experiences. It was a very valuable day and enabled us to look in more detail at the horrors of the Holocaust.

We spent the first hour of the day learning about the history of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jewish people by the Nazis. Looking at the timeline of Jewish persecution it was scary to see how quickly things progressed from Hitler’s rise to power and the start of religious discrimination the first death camp eight years later. I find it terrifying to think that it can take less than a decade to start the mass execution of a group of people; this could have taken place twice within my lifetime already. We also discussed how Hitler managed to implement this system of extreme antisemitism with the support of much of the German population, discovering that economic troubles and propaganda caused millions of Germans to vote for Hitler in 1933 and programs like Strength through Joy which gave holidays to German citizens gave Hitler continued support throughout the Holocaust. It was easy to see resemblances between what happened in Germany in the 1930’s and what is happening in the world at the moment: frustration with the current system causes people to vote for a leader who promises to improve their country at the cost of a specific minority- in Germany it was the Jews, in America it is Muslims and Mexicans.

We then looked at the religious aspect of the Holocaust, in particular how the persecuted Jews kept their faith in G-d despite what was happening to them. If they believed that G-d was their protector and in complete control of the world, then how could He allow this kind of evil to exist? Some Jews, of course, could not reconcile their belief in G-d with the atrocities they were faced with, but others were able to continue to believe in an all-loving, all-powerful G-d. We discussed reasons for this, deciding that one reason might that that they felt it was a test of their faith, and that they would be rewarded by G-d is they did not lose faith. I think these Jews being able to have such trust and confidence in their belief and in G-d despite what was happening to them is very admirable, and not something I think I would be able to do.

The next session was a talk from Mr Marris about his recent trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Something I didn’t know was that there were actually three Auschwitz concentration camps- Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz. It was learning about the last of these camps that I found the most harrowing; it was here that much of the Zyklon B used in gas chambers was produced, by the same people it was being used on. I never knew that there were factories attached to concentration camps, yet alone factories producing deadly gases, and the thought of these people working in horrible conditions to produce the gas that would end up killing them, and likely their families too, is a very distressing one.

The final talk of the day, and the one we had all been waiting for, was by John Dobai, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor. He spoke about his childhood and living under the Nazi regime in Budapest with his mother, his father having been sent to a forced labour camp. For a while he lived in a ‘yellow star house’, a house designated for Jewish citizens, with 15 other families. Then, for a brief time, he lived in the countryside, before coming back to Budapest after catching chicken pox. The next part of his story is what surprised me most; after his father returned from the labour camp he managed to get passes from a Swedish diplomat that protected them from deportation, as well as a house protected by the Swedish government. I don’t often think about people from other countries intervening in the Holocaust in this way- what is most often shown is the war and fighting, rather than peaceful actions like this. Mr Dobai’s talk was incredibly interesting and I think it has made me much more aware of the freedoms I have which I don’t often notice- like being able to go wherever I want and live wherever I want within my own country- and without them I would have a much poorer standard of living. I feel very lucky that I was able to listen to Mr Dobai’s story, and I would like to thank him for coming to talk to us.

I learnt a lot more about the Holocaust during this day, and was able to think more about just how awful it was that this atrocity was able to happen. I think more than ever it is important for us to remember what has already happened in history, and to realise that what we are seeing happening in many countries at the moment, whether it is banning Muslims from entering a country or confiscating valuable assets from asylum seekers, is much too similar to Germany in the 1930’s to be ignored. Although the details of the Holocaust are not nice to hear, learning about them is very important and I am grateful that we were given the opportunity to spend a day learning and thinking about this awful period of history.

By Merle, year 12