PAGE 4 …. Finding Humanity in the Holocaust PAGE 6 ….The Gurkhas PAGE 8 … WWI trenches PAGE 10 ….The Last Word 2
Editor of this issue: Georgie, assistant design editor
EDITORâ€™S NOTE After recently marking the 101st anniversary of the armistice of the First World War, in this issue we reflect on Remembrance Day and the role of the Armed Forces. Itâ€™s so easy to get caught up in our own world and agonise over seemingly huge problems, but when we reach the 11th November, reality can come crashing back down on us, putting everything back into perspective. We owe insurmountable amounts of gratitude to the Armed Forces and those willing to put their lives on the line for us, and this is so easy to forget. We hope this issue brings with it a thought for the lives that were lost in the many conflicts that have affected people all over the world, and a moment of reflection for us all. With love, Georgia xx
Finding Humanity in the Holocaust The Holocaust: (according to the Holocaust Educational Trust). The murder of approximately six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War.
Auschwitz: A system of over 40 concentration and extermination camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. These include Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau, where over one million Jews were murdered.
On October 3rd, whilst most of you were probably nestled in a cocoon of blankets, Saff (U6) and I were enjoying a 4:30 a.m. start. We would soon be boarding a flight to Krakow along with 200 other pupils on a daytrip to learn about the Holocaust. As my slightly disgruntled and sleep-deprived father (bless him) sped down the bypass to drop me at Edinburgh Airport, my stomach seemed a queasy blur of emotions. Granted, it’s not the opportunity to attend two seminars. We heard testimony from a Holocaust survivor and discussed common misconceptions of the Holocaust. But despite all the preparation we were given, there is nothing that can quite prepare you for the horrors of Auschwitz. It’s hard to truly comprehend what it’s like to feel so much death beneath your feet, the sheer scale of life that was extinguished. I was so lucky (in the least morbid way possible) to hear the testimony from the lovely Eva Clarke, but it’s been over 70 years since the Final Solution was set into motion; one day we won’t be able to look into the eyes of a survivor as they tell their story. Soon it will become the responsibility of our generation to uphold the Holocaust’s legacy.
Blue and white striped pyjamas, walking skeletons, gas chambers, a lunatic with a funny moustache; these are all images stereotypically associated with the Holocaust. You would probably see them in your mind’s eye, should somebody mention Auschwitz. I certainly did only a few months ago, but now it’s considerably harder to condense my emotions into a sentence or two. The Holocaust was not just the death of six million Jewish men, women and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War. Yes, the definition is historically correct, but the Holocaust was also so much more: it was the death of so much culture; so many beautiful minds; the systematic dehumanisation of a group of people just like you or me. Ironically, visiting Auschwitz made me think about life far more than death. We saw photographs of Jewish families before the war, each a glittering window into the past. People often forget about Jewish life before the rise of Nazism, it becomes overshadowed by genocide.
In Auschwitz I, glass walls are all that separate you from what little is left of those who perished. There is human hair in one exhibit- dead protein cells were of more value to the Nazis than Jewish life. Never 4 have I clutched to my curls so tightly, felt so much guilt for having hair.
Then there are the mountains of shoes: plum-coloured leather kitten heels; tiny slip-ons that make me think of the Wizard of Oz; scuffed oxfords; soft brown brogues. There is so much humanity in a shoe. So, when you hear statistics like ‘over one million Jews died in Auschwitz’, try to imagine an individual pair of shoes. I used to have a friend who permanently sported a pair of bright pink patent leather Dr. Martens, their defiant vibrancy an extension of her personality. The same is true of every shoe ripped from every man, woman and child who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. It is important to acknowledge the scale of murder during the Holocaust, but when we use impersonal statistics it’s easy to forget the victims’ humanity. Surely, it is our duty to restore identity to those whose names were erased, replaced with a yellow star, then a tattooed number?
I’m sure you’ve been told on countless occasions that there are two sides to every story. I don’t think so; there are millions. But broadly speaking, we tend to polarise victims from perpetrators when we talk about the Holocaust. So, what about the Nazis and their collaborators? After visiting the museum of shoes and hair in Auschwitz I, we headed to Auschwitz II Birkenau- the largest death camp. For those unfamiliar with death camps, in 1941 as WWII escalated, they were introduced to implement The Final Solution (the plan to murder all Jews within Nazi reach). These camps were built to stamp out the life of every Jew in the most efficient way possible; as if they were animals lining up to be slaughtered. So, as we stood by the rubble that was once Gas chamber III, I found it hard to accept that I was being told to humanise the Nazis. The air seemed to hang with the vast, heavy silence of countless stifled screams; how could any person let this happen? It has taken me a good two months of thinking to come to a conclusion. When we strip the Nazis and their collaborators of humanity, we often do so to avoid thinking about our own capacity to commit atrocities. If monsters carried out the Holocaust, it could not be the human race’s fault, and so it won’t happen again- we are not monsters. I am by no means implying that we should view the perpetrators through rose coloured glass, but dehumanising the Nazis is a dangerous thing to do. We can’t ignore that they were people usual response to a free trip to Poland, but we were headed to Auschwitz, the world’s most infamous site of genocide. Thanks to the Lessons from Auschwitz programme, Saff and I were also given th too. They had families, went swimming at the weekend, ate doughnuts, kissed and laughed just like their victims. In essence, many were, in the words of Anne Frank: “really good at heart.” Nevertheless, they played a role in genocide. What is to say you wouldn’t, given the circumstances?
Today, we live in a world where trivialities hold so much importance. Why do you care if someone’s skin is a different colour, you worship differently, eat different things? It’s stupid. I think this is where the Holocaust gains its contemporary relevance. We need to remember that each of us is human and has the capacity to speak up for others. Be kind. Stop thinking of yourself as only human and start thinking of yourself as extraordinarily human. It pains me to write such clichés, but dehumanisation prevents empathy, it distances us from victims and perpetrators, drowns out the guilt. We must remember the Holocaust; we must remember the humanity, the lost people, the survivors and the Nazis because they are all just like you or me. As George Santayana says: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
By Isobel , L6
The Gurkhas April (U6), discusses her meeting with Gurkha veterans during the recent school trip to Nepal, and how their immense sacrifice and bravery during the Second World War touched her.
The Gurkhas are a group of soldiers who fought for the British Army with such bravery that they have received more Victoria Cross awards than the Brits themselves. After a 4,500-mile journey, I received the privilege of a meeting with Gurkha veterans and widows. Our heroes of the past; the heroes of today: the Nepali Gurkhas, who, to even qualify for this honour had to run 5 kilometres uphill with 25 kilograms on their backs, run 800 metres in 2 minutes 45 seconds, and do 12 pull ups and 70 sit ups. All to potentially sacrifice their lives for Britain: for us.
I had the privilege of being welcomed to sit beside an incredible man of 92 years, who I later discovered had fought with Britain against Japan in 1942. He allowed me to sift through the magazine spread out on the table in front of him, where I found his photograph stuck in the middle of a noteworthy article. None of this was in English. The translation at the other end of the table revealed his sacrifice for Britain in the war. I felt incredibly inspired to have be able to meet such a man. Despite this intimidating language barrier, the age gap of 75 years, and the cultural wall, there was a real connection. 6
WWI trenches It was another cold night in the trenches. Not a night went past where I wasn’t lying awake thinking of what I had seen, flashback after flashback. Lying there knowing what I know; it was a mine field in my own head. Lying there with a cold sweat, paranoid of what’s going on around me. The smell of smoke and blood was hovering in the air. I couldn’t escape the clutches of my own thoughts. Everyone hated lying in the dirt with no way of warming ourselves up or anyway to get out of my head. Sounds of rats scurrying around looking for anything to eat, the aura of pain all around, in myself and in others, not just physical but mentally too. The rotting stench of corpses was deathly. I thought about what happened in their life, and what they would be doing if the war wasn’t happening. Then I just spent time wishing the war would end. Who knows how many lives need to be taken before they understand it needs to stop? The only thing I and everyone else wanted to do, was go home.
I longed to be with my family: my beautiful daughter and pregnant wife. I knew what would have to happen to get myself home, obviously it would be wrong but it’s getting too much to carry on grinning and baring. I want my life back and if I stay here, I'll never get it back. I know it’s the act of a coward, but I have too much to live for, I can’t let my children grow up without a dad. I took a deep breath and told myself it would be worth it in the end. Living with uncertainty was like a death in itself.
I got a white piece of cloth and wrapped it around my hand, the cloth was usually used for cleaning blood so it wasn’t exactly white anymore, but it would do. Me being me, I started shaking, feeling really sick. I covered my eyes with my right hand and forced myself to raise my left hand very slowly and steadily. Once it was fully extended, I was close to bringing it back down, but before I could do anything BANG! It burned more than fire itself. I screamed: I had never felt such pain like that before... although... it was worth it to feel the security that I was going 8 home...finally. By Sophie L5
The Last Word ‘Those Who Do Not Weep, Do Not See’ (Les Misérables)
It was a warm autumn day in the middle of October and I was standing at the top of the Passchendaele ridge. I was there on a school trip to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War and our tour guide had told us we were going to walk the ridge. No, not walk it; we were going to march it.
We were told to form ranks of four, turn right and march.
Left, right, left right, left to the tune of
the old war tunes that we had been singing all week. I remember it being a little muddy underfoot, a poor man’s imitation of the mud bath that the soldiers slogged through from July to November 1917. I can’t quite remember what we sang ,but I remember the vigour with which we did. I remember the laughing, I remember the incessant left-right-left-right-left of our marching, and I remember the cows we saw in fields as we passed them. I remember the fresh country air that stung the inside of my nose as I breathed and the sea of green fields spread out before us. These were the fields where the soldiers died. I remember arriving at Tyne Cot, halting and looking at the rows of white marble headstones, perpetually standing to attention. It looked like a company of men before us, staring us down-unblinkingly. And in amidst the graves were four concrete pillboxes, a relic of the German resistance to British forces. A resistance that eventually failed at the cost of thousands of human lives.
And I remember trying desperately not to cry. I have always been empathetic: for as long as I can remember I’ve been too emotionally invested in fictional characters. I remember reading ‘War and Peace’ and pitying Andrei Bolkonsky in his final hours, wishing just for a moment that Natasha had not broken his heart and detesting her for it, before berating myself about hating her too.
But it wasn’t until I visited the fields of Flanders that I empathised with total strangers. Suddenly the lives of those I knew nothing about pervaded my every thought. Walking between the ranks of the dead, looking at their names, looking at where they came from and imagining the towns, cities, families, experiences that shaped them; I felt an emotion I had only felt once before, at my grandfather’s funeral. It was grief. I was grieving for these men. It seems absurd, but this cemetery stirred and still stirs emotions in me that very few things have ever been able to rouse.
It was a strange experience mourning these men. It isn’t exactly like mourning a life, but more like mourning for what could have been. Mourning a life not lived. These soldiers died so young, had so little life lived. They died in a fruitless effort that only led to more war, instead of ending all wars as they hoped it would. But, I’ve never met these people, I don’t know them. They’re faceless. I have 10 no attachment to them and so it is less heart wrenching to see them dead. 8
It is a momentary experience, hard to cope at the time but becoming easier as time goes on. Of course, it’s still hard to cope with now but far less so than familial deaths are. I tried desperately not to cry but I was barely holding it together. I felt helpless.
Helplessness. That was the hardest thing to deal with. I could force myself to cope with the grief but not with the helplessness it brought along. The two emotions seem to go hand in hand. Helplessness seems to be an integral part of grief, the feeling that you can’t control your emotions, your thoughts, anything really. You just stand there, not quite aware of the outside world. It’s surreal. It’s being aware of everything and nothing. You’re trapped inside your mind whilst everything around you goes on as normal. In that moment, time feels like it has stopped just for you. You can’t do anything about it .
Sure, I felt helpless but I didn’t cry. I nearly did, but it seems that I’m excellent at internalising emotion. I try to supress what I’m feeling , never let my guard down, and never—no, never— cry. I think that has to be why I’m defensive. I don’t like people to pry, to look into my life and see that I’m not okay. It can be incredibly hard to truly let people in and to truly show emotion. That’s something I realised out in Flanders field.
Whilst I still hate showing emotion, from Flanders Field I learnt that it’s necessary to show it, to let people in and see what you truly feel. I remember looking around me and seeing others letting their own emotions out; I remember realising that that was okay and it was only when we let others in that we can truly ever grow close with people. Those you don’t let in completely will always on some level be a more disposable relationship for you and for them; there is nothing tying you together. And I’ve always had those relationships because I’m afraid of letting others in. But in Flanders, seeing all these people around me showing their emotion, being emotionally vulnerable, I realised that if I am to ever trust people fully and have people support me unconditionally, I must let them in; fully, not just partially as I tend to do.
So, whilst I held my resolve looking at those graves, I did cry at Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world. Looking at the seemingly endless wall of names. Names upon names, listed as if it’s a roll call of the dead. A marble roll call that will never erode. And standing in one of the alcoves, staring at just a fraction of the dead, I was overwhelmed and couldn’t keep my sorrow and anguish in. The tears poured out of my eyes and I wept.
By Helena , Senior Correspondent (U6)
Independent Women Magazine - Remembrance: December 2019. Produced by pupils at St George's School.