Nick Clegg: Those who know of war argue most forcefully for peace

The Deputy Prime Minister returns from Auschwitz-Birkenau convinced of the moral value of an ambitious educational scheme

Share
Related Topics

Visiting the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, as I did last week, is a devastating reminder of the power of ideas. Ideology can drive people to work tirelessly for the common good. But a warped ideology, the belief that a whole race has to be wiped out by a superior one, can drive people towards unimaginable depravity. How else can you explain the Auschwitz prison blocks where Nazi doctors experimented on starving Jewish women with toxic chemicals? How else can you explain the sight I saw for myself of thousands of Jewish children's shoes piled up, a reminder of industrial-scale child murder?

Throughout, I was horrified by the way that the victims were sorted and processed on the way to slavery and death. Somebody sat down and worked out the quickest way to funnel people into gas chambers; the best lies to tell them to hide the truth from them for as long as possible; how to exploit the hair and gold teeth of corpses for every possible commercial gain.

This is probably not the first time you have read any of this.

Holocaust survivors have bravely told their stories and historians have unearthed the truth over many decades. Many of us have learnt the lessons in school or seen documentaries on television. It is something we assume everybody knows. I personally believe that we cannot remember and re-remember these horrors enough. Because it is forgetfulness that allows prejudice and hatred to rise again, as we can see from the horrors still perpetrated today. Remembering what happens when warped ideologies and prejudice go unchecked is not just a history lesson but the greatest antidote today to anti-Semitism and extremism of all kinds.

My visit to Auschwitz was with the Holocaust Educational Trust, whose Lessons from Auschwitz project arranges for 3,000 students from across the UK to visit each year. Every school and college in the country has the opportunity to send two students aged 16 to 18 to see for themselves what they had only previously read about in books or seen on television.

The trust's work doesn't end with the visit; on their return, the teenagers discuss their reactions and how they will act as ambassadors, teaching others about what they have seen. The idea is that this should create a ripple effect as the young people spread their experience by sharing it with fellow pupils, family and friends, and in their local communities.

As a child, my mother was held in a Japanese internment camp during the war. It was an appalling and terrifying time for her. As I grew up, I vaguely knew what my mother had gone through, but she did not tell my brothers and sister and me any details until we were adults because she wanted to protect us as children. Those wanting to hear what happened in the Second World War will not be able to rely for ever on the direct testimony of survivors. Eventually, there will be a time when there are no eyewitnesses left. So there will be a time when organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust need more, not less, support as the risk increases of memories fading.

The constant threats of racism, Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism still lurk every day. Anti-Semitism has been described as a light sleeper. Cemeteries are still vandalised, discredited conspiracy theories are spread over the internet, Jewish people are still attacked in this country.

To conclude our visit, the 200 students and teachers who had made the trip gathered at the end of the infamous train tracks at Birkenau to hold a memorial ceremony. A number of pupils read out poems and first-hand accounts by Holocaust survivors. In the fading autumn light, walking back to our coaches across the vast expanse of this factory of death, I asked some students how they felt. The intensity and intelligence of their reactions to what they had seen was a wonderful tribute to the compassion of young British people today. Only a handful were Jewish and most of them had never imagined they would ever come on a visit such as this. The fact that each and every one of them is now more aware of the horrors of the past is our greatest guarantee that they will not be repeated in the future.

For more details of the Lessons from Auschwitz project go to: het.org.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?