This is an article I wrote after my visit to Auschwitz which was sent into a local paper.

In May I got a once in a lifetime opportunity; it was a very different opportunity that only a few people will experience in their lives. Through the Holocaust Educational Trust I got the chance to visit the Polish town of Oswiecim; known around the world for its Germanized name- Auschwitz. It was here I visited the largest Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The visit itself was indescribable. I could write about what it looked like, what was there and even quote statistics; however words cannot do justice to this incomprehendable experience. But I can tell you what a textbook often overlooks and can’t be taught from films or learned in classes. The Holocaust is not the story of the destruction of Jewish culture but the loss of individuals no different from you and I.

This realisation came to me at the first meeting from hearing the memories of Leslie Kleinman, an Auschwitz survivor, who even to this day cannot bring himself to look at the children’s shoes in Auschwitz. Here he knows that in that pile lays the shoes of his siblings who perished and which I later came to gaze upon. Even so Leslie does not preach anger about the loss of: his Father, his Mother, his siblings, his home, his way of life at the hands of the Nazi’s but preaches love and not to hate anybody no matter what they have done to you. Through this message Leslie hopes to stop hate being inflicted upon the world again- a message promoted by the Holocaust Educational Trust who aims to widen genocide awareness and ‘motivate future generations to speak out against intolerance’.

As part of my follow up project after the visit I came to realise how remarkable this experience was that lasted just short of 24 hours and how even now, there are people who are unaware of what the Holocaust is or may only vaguely recall the word. For this reason, while it is hard to pass on what I have learned as I cannot say ‘imagine if you were…’, because you cannot imagine; but even if only one person reads this article and takes just a few seconds out of their lives to think about the Holocaust and dwell on Leslie’s message of not to hate anybody or anything as that is an evil, yet very powerful thing then hopefully we can promote tolerance in our lifetime.  If not, in the chilling words of Pastor Martin Niemӧller:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pavlo – Chapter One

The deep caramel brown of the cappuccino glistened in the window of ‘Mel’s cafe’ in the early morning December sunshine. Steam was rising from the coffee, still too hot to drink. Pavlo had his fingers wrapped around the spotty mug for warmth. He thought back to times much, much bleaker than this. The winters he had experienced in the Ukraine were nothing compared to the December months in Wiltshire. Pavlo was thankful for the warmth his navy duffel coat gave him. Deciding to chance it Pavlo took a sip of the frothy cappuccino still steaming. The aroma of fresh coffee and warm milk hit him instantly. Looking over his shoulder briefly, something caught his eye. Out of the window, across from ‘Mel’s’ a homeless man sat in the doorway of a bordered up shop. That shop was once a thriving haberdashery but times had changed. Now the faded white sign with blue lettering only read ‘aberdashery’. Pavlo approached the counter and ordered a full English breakfast and a mug of sugary tea. Then rushing out of Mel’s he ran over to the homeless man who was shivering. The homeless man looked up at him helplessly. Beckoning the man into Mel’s, Pavlo helped him to his feet which were soaked from the snow. He ushered the man to the same table he was sat just a mere 3 minutes ago. ‘This, my friend, is for you’, Pavlo said ushering the man to sit down. His strong Ukrainian accent complemented the kindness in his voice. Instantly the man felt at ease. Little did Pavlo know that this was his first warm meal of the month.

The man was dressed in clothes Pavlo only knew too well. He took the tea in his fingerless gloves but before he could thank this kind stranger Pavlo spoke. ‘You know I was in the same situation as you not so long ago’ he paused as if he was in a long lost world which belonged to the past, ‘I know how you feel but please do have hope my friend because what else do we have left?’ The man nodded in agreement then began to speak, ‘It is hard to have hope at a time like this. I do not know the whereabouts of my family, what has become of my hometown; I only have the clothes on my back, but God was good to me today, he brought me to you’. Pavlo smiled.