In our latest blog to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, NUS National Executive Committee member, co-convener of the NUS Anti-Racism/Anti-Fascism Campaign and HET Ambassador Charlotte Agran talks about why Holocaust education must remain a focus of the National Union of Students’ anti-racism and anti-fascism work.
It has been six years since I first participated in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, as a sixth-form student from Kent. A Project that made it possible for me to hear a Holocaust survivor speak about their experiences, but also allowed me to step outside of the classroom and physically see the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. An opportunity to see the place that a mere 70 years ago was being liberated after having been the site where the murder of over a million individuals took place. it was uncomfortable knowledge that the site through which you are being guided contained buildings purposefully designed to torture and kill, and where such evil was allowed to thrive for so long.
In the autumn of 2014, I had the opportunity to participate in the Project again, but this time with student leaders from Further and higher education. The difference in my experience from when i was a sixth-form student, to my more recent visit is vast. When I participated before, I was naive about the extent to which antisemitism is able to still thrive today. As an adult, I walked around the site with sadness in my heart for the past, and also a deep concern for the future. What will happen when our children can no longer hear a survivor of the Holocaust speak?
With this in mind, when I stood for election to be a member of the Block of 15 for the National Union of Students, a central pledge was to ensure that Holocaust education remains a focus of the National Union of Students' anti-racism and anti-fascism work. I have therefore been very pleased and grateful to see that a partnership between the Union of Jewish Students and the Holocaust Educational Trust has made it possible for student leaders, both from further and higher education institutions to have the opportunity to participate in the Lessons from Auschwitz Project.
As we see the number of antisemitic incidents rising across Europe, we also see a rise in the popularity of Far Right parties. It is therefore ever more important that the next generation understands the Holocaust. It is vital that when elected student officers working within unions promise to ensure that campus life will be safe for students, that this includes Jewish students. Just last year the Neo-Nazi group National Action declared a "reign of terror" on UK campuses and claimed "there is no legitimate reason to not be a racist or an antisemite in 2014". They did so led by a man who said "as a teenager, Mein Kampf changed my life. I'm not ashamed to say I love Hitler". The group is a physical threat to students on campuses across the country and have been present and active on campuses in Newscastle, Leeds, Warwick, Cambridge, and UCL to name but a few. In order to fight prejudice on campus and properly protect Jewish students from antisemitism, elected officers must have an understanding of the Holocaust and the significance it has to the Jewish people. The responsibility to never forget the Holocaust, and to continue to fight antisemitism in all its forms must be a collective one.