This year I was fortunate enough to be part of the UK delegation on March Of The Living, a 5-day educational trip to Poland that culminates in a march, between Aushwitz and Birkenau, to commemorate the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. With the expertise of two highly knowledgeable educators, we began the journey in Poland by exploring Jewish life prior to the Holocaust. The first visit was to the Polin Museum which explores 1000 years of Jewish heritage in Poland, including the contribution of the Jewish community to journalism, the arts, trade and all aspects of society. Through it we saw some of the important inputs Jews made to society and learnt more about the millenary culture and tradition of the Jews of Poland. This was particularly important to me as my knowledge and understanding of pre-WWII Polish society was limited, and I believe it is only possible to understand the full extent of what was lost, when knowing what was there to begin with.
In the second part of the trip we examined the polarisation of society and the isolation of the Jewish people in the Ghettos, at the hands of the Nazis. Millions of Jews were segregated from society and were placed in Ghettos with high walls, separating them from others; conditions were appalling and many perished from malnutrition and lack of sanitation, even before ‘Liquidation’ when all the inhabitants of the Ghettos were sent to concentration camps. During this time, I learnt about a group of young Jewish women and men who formed a resistance group against the Nazis; even though they were outnumbered and had less access to resources, through sheer will power and hope, they managed to put up a short-lived fight in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Rappaport Memorial was built in 1948 as memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, on one side it depicts a group of Jewish people being transported to concentration camps looking fearful and hopeless; the other shows the legacy of heroism of those who fought back and were courageous in their fight against the Nazis. (See below for photo.) As I stood under the monument I felt overwhelmed with a feeling of inspiration by their resistance to such brutal injustices.
Throughout the trip we visited a number of concentration camps and death camps. On our final day we marched from Auschwitz concentration camp to Auschwitz II - Birkenau along with 12,000 people, who were also on March of The Living trips from countries worldwide. We marched together, all of us from different countries, with various ages, backgrounds and political ideologies united to pay tribute to the six million Jews and five million others who lost their lives during the Holocaust. Being one of the few non-Jewish, Muslim participants on the trip I was anxious, as I assumed that the educational aspect of the trip was relevant to all but the march was only meaningful to Jews. I soon realised that the march and the trip as a whole is relevant to all people regardless of their background as the Holocaust is an atrocity that affected millions of people and fragmented society and the world as a whole. By learning about Jewish life in Poland, you begin to realise that the community faced Antisemitism since the beginning and this escalated gradually over the years, eventually resulting in mass scale crimes against the community. This shows how important it is to tackle all types of discrimination and racism, no matter how small or low level these acts may seem. If we allow discrimination to grow and thrive in our communities, even as bystanders we contribute to the rise of injustice. We should never respond to oppression with silence.
There are many valuable lessons that I learnt from this trip. Personally, I vow to never be a bystander and do everything in my power to help those who face oppression and prejudice. This trip has also empowered me to continue influencing young people and educating them on how to act against discrimination. Young people are the leaders of the future and they need to feel confident in standing up for each other and building inclusive spaces where all are welcome.
This is a call for everyone to continue to Stand Up for themselves as well as others. We should continue proactively creating communities that respect all people. If we take the time to learn about each other, and engage in conversation, we will start breaking down the invisible barriers between us and this will benefit us all.
-Zaynab Albadry, Project Coordinator at Stand Up!