Holocaust Memorial Day article
Four IOPCC PCS union members made an extraordinary educational trip to Krakow and Auschwitz in October 2019 and we wanted to mark International Holocaust Memorial Day with our thoughts on the trip. We joined members from Unite, Unison, FBU, NEU and UCU who brought groups of their students on the trip. There were also anti-fascist activists whose family members had died at Auschwitz or survived to be sent to slave camps. It was a chance for all of us to really live the organisations’ ideals of making a difference and being inclusive, by learning about a dark point in history and sharing our experiences with others.
An introductory solidarity message from Jeremy Corbyn about the importance of opposing the rise of the far-right across Europe today was followed by historian David Rosenberg talking about Polish Jewish life and resistance in the 1930s. He drove home a strong sense of the diverse culture, politics and languages of Jewish people in Poland before World War Two.
The next day was spent on a walking tour from the old Jewish cemetery (now restored after its desecration by the Nazis) to Kazimierz, the heart of the old Jewish quarter. We saw the Old Synagogue, market squares and the alleys where Steven Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List. Whilst we learned about the widespread anti-Semitism we also heard about the courage of Polish Catholics who tried to help their Jewish friends and neighbours, adopting children, giving food and cigarettes or hair dye to help people escape. Our tour ended in the Ghetto from where so many were deported to extermination or slave camps. It was a truly sobering experience.
Teacher and long standing UAF activist Anna Gluckstein gave a talk on why the Holocaust happened and we discussed what we had seen and how the Nazis created a terror state.
We spent Saturday in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camps. Our excellent Polish tour guides explained the brutality and murders there in heart-breaking detail. We saw the gas chambers and crematoria, where the Nazis tried to hide their crimes. Buildings hold murdered people’s possessions piled high to the ceiling. It is difficult to describe the impact of such a place especially when experienced with those who have such a personal connection to the terrible events that occurred there. We were able to join a reflection session after this shocking and gruelling experience, which helped many of us process what we had seen.
From a Polish anti-fascist we learnt how serious the situation currently is in Poland, where the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party is influenced by the far-right and some mayors have declared their towns to be ‘LGBT free’ zones. There was also inspiring news about ordinary people building anti-racist and pro-LGBT events, including a march against racism and fascism on 11 November 2019.
Our final talk was by Lorna Brunstein. She told us about growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust as her grandmother Sarah and her mother Esther were both at Auschwitz. Sarah was murdered at the camp. Esther survived, was sent to Belson camp and later became an anti-fascist campaigner in Britain. It would have been impossible not to be inspired by the lives of these three courageous and impactful women.
The trip left us angry and grieving for all that we lost to Nazi brutality but inspired by resistance and moral courage in terrible circumstances. We were strengthened with ideas to build the anti-fascist movement in our workplaces and want to help ensure the catastrophe of the Holocaust never happens again.
The trip in 2020 had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. But we were still able to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2021 at work today with an online meeting with David Rosenberg who talked about the role of trade unionists in opposing racism and fascism in World War Two and today.
By Nathifa Brewster, Sarah Ensor, Patricia Furphy and Lauren White.