This morning, two of our Year 13 students, Bud Hedges and Jack Phillips, spoke to their peer group about a visit they made last year to Auschwitz.
Today marks the seventy first anniversary of its liberation by Russian soldiers. Between the spring of 1942 and the beginning of 1945, over one million people were killed there. At its peak, some 10,000 men, women and children were murdered each day. The Nazis calculated that approximately 11 million Jewish people lived in Europe during the 1940s and planned to murder them all. These men, women and children might have been Jewish but they were also Poles, Germans, Italians, French, Dutch and other Europeans. 5 million of them survived.
UK schools teach about the Holocaust through History and Religious Education. Our RE lessons today will include moments of reflection on this terrible chapter in our story.
It is always difficult for pupils to comprehend the enormity of this crime or the depth of the evil which caused it to happen.
The lessons of the Holocaust, however, demand to be revisited and understood. On one hand, racism can evolve into a most sinister form if it is encouraged by those who are ignorant and left unchecked by those who possess understanding. On the other, the power of a modern, liberal and democratic state may become corrupted if the majority chooses to accept laws which it knows are wrong.
The Germans call this the ‘Sonderweg’, which refers to Germany’s special path and one which resulted in the law of the land being venerated above all else – and never challenged by an educated and civilised people once it had become corrupted.
Although there were many Germans who opposed the regime and its tyranny, the number of fellow travellers from that country and its allies must have us accept that there was far more which was ‘wrong’ with Europe in the 1930s and 1940s than the behaviour of one dictator and his party.
But today at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, the act of remembrance will include those ‘righteous among the nations’ from Germany and other countries who defied Nazism by attempting to help and save those who were persecuted and hunted by it.
One of them was Major Francis ‘Frank’ Edward Foley, passport control officer and MI6 agent at the British embassy in Berlin, who helped thousands of Jewish families escape from Germany before the outbreak of war. He is known around here as the ‘Stourbridge Schindler’. Our pupils will go to Mary Stevens Park on Saturday for the planting of a tree in his name.
Therefore, we also teach pupils that despite the most oppressive and determined malice of the past 100 years, there were always those who were prepared to stand up to it so we would not be overcome by evil.