A visit to Auschwitz
Thursday, 10 November 2016
IN OCTOBER this year I took part in a Challenging Prejudice programme which included a visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps near Kraków, Poland.
The aim of the programme was to provide information, skills and knowledge to enable both elected members and community representatives from both sides of the religious and political divide to respond to emerging issues within local communities, particularly in relation to intimidation and hate crime.
The programme consisted of four training days which were held in our local council offices where we discussed the history and experience of the different groups of people who were put to death at the former Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz.
During our training sessions we often drew comparisons between Nazi Germany and what Northern Ireland was like leading up to and during the troubles, exploring how sectarianism and hatred were nurtured by certain civic leaders in a bid to gain political leverage and influence.
This in turn helped the elected members and community representatives realise how easily hatred and bigotry can quickly and uncontrollably swell into acts of oppression, murder and even war, with propaganda selling the lie that such feelings of hatred towards other human beings are justified and acceptable.
The Holocaust is often perceived by today's generation as a distant atrocity which could never happen again. However we have a duty to remind ourselves and others that the dehumanisation of certain ethnic and religious groups continues on our own doorstep and further afield to this very day and bares a striking resemblance to the behaviour and actions that led to the beginning of the Second World War.
The training was extremely useful and at times thought provoking, however no amount of training or discussion surrounding the causes and consequences of the Holocaust could have prepared me for the final four days of the programme which included site visits to Auschwitz and Birkenau.
On a dull and grey late October morning we made our way via bus from Krakow City centre to the industrial town of Oswiecim which is where Auschwitz is located.
A short time after arriving at our destination we were passing through security, immediately after that I was confronted with the infamous metal banner at the concentration camp entrance which reads, 'ARBEIT MACHT FREI' translating to 'Work sets you free'.
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