The Holocaust is taught in schools everywhere, but do we understand it? In an age where, says a survey in the Evening Standard newspaper, 1 in 20 adults believe the Holocaust is exaggerated, it is more important than ever that we understand what happened and why. This is what the Holocaust Education Trust aims to promote. Recently, along with fellow Young Reporter Anna Crosland, I was selected to visit Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as part of their Lessons From Auschwitz project to learn about not only the role of the notorious death camps during the war but also about how what we now perceive as the Holocaust is much wider and less easy to define. I am now an ambassador for the Holocaust Education Trust, and it is my duty to share what I have learnt.

Before our visit to Poland on 7th February, we attended a seminar to learn about how the Holocaust happened and what Jewish life was like before the war. We analysed statistics on Europe’s Jewish populations, some of which existed for over two thousand years, and studied how ordinary Jews lived in the early twentieth century. One exercise which stays with me was looking at the importance of the Jewish contribution to European life. Thousands of Jews in Hungary, for example, fought and died for their country in the First World War; their descendants were shot into the River Danube by fascist soldiers. A Jewish football team won the league in Poland in 1927; Poland’s Jews, who made up 10% of the population, were ostracised and massacred. The enormity of not just the human but the cultural loss after the Holocaust is chilling to comprehend. Afterwards, we heard the testimony of survivor Eve Kugler, who was born in Germany but escaped with her sister to New York during the war and was eventually reunited with her parents, who had been interned in Nazi camps. We are the last generation of people able to meet Holocaust survivors, and it is crucial that we keep their testimonies alive.

We spent a day in Poland visiting Auschwitz, which is preserved as a museum. It consists of two camps — Auschwitz I, where Polish prisoners were interned, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, where 1.1 million Jews, including children, were worked to death or murdered in the gas chambers. A third camp, Auschwitz III-Monowitz, existed but was destroyed before the end of the war. Auschwitz I contains exhibits of the prisoners’ possessions, including suitcases and shoes, as well as several tonnes of human hair. It cannot be exaggerated how unsettling it is to see the belongings of people — individuals — who were murdered by such an evil regime. However, despite this, I found Auschwitz II-Birkenau to be more painful, because it was where one-sixth of all Jews killed in the Holocaust lost their lives and are buried. There are no museum exhibits here; instead, what remains are the ruins of the gas chambers, the barracks, and the brick gatehouse, shown in so many films. We walked up the train tracks to enter the camp: the same route was taken by millions of prisoners. At the end of the day we held a candlelit memorial service, where we listened to a deeply moving speech given by a Rabbi who works with the project. He reminded us of the complicity of millions of ordinary people in the Holocaust, and how although it takes ordinary people to allow atrocities to be committed, it also takes ordinary people to prevent them.

The next week we attended a follow-up seminar to discuss our thoughts and reactions to the trip, and how we planned to share our knowledge as ambassadors for the project. We also looked at the nature of modern anti-Semitism and other more recent genocides such as those in Rwanda and Cambodia, and how the sentiment of “never again” is worthless unless we continue to speak out against hate.

The importance of remembering the Holocaust falls to us, as the final generation to hear the stories of survivors. It is our duty to share them and prevent hate from destroying our world again; in light of the rise of the far right in Europe and the statistic published by the Evening Standard this is more important than ever. The Lessons From Auschwitz project has allowed me to learn about the Holocaust, as well as its causes and legacy, and I am proud to share my experience as an ambassador for an organisation promoting education and understanding.