By Andrea Manoli – Phd student
Humanity refers to the quality of being humane; benevolence. Yet, human beings collectively have committed the most appalling crimes against humanity. One of such was committed within the 191 hectares of Auschwitz Birkenau whereby 1.1 out of 1.3 million people died because of antisemitism, racial hygiene, and eugenic beliefs combined with nationalism and territorial expansionism.
Sites of atrocities are of great importance as they constitute living history. They are a harsh reminder that we shall remember the horrors of the past to prevent them from happening in the future. The vast historical meaning of holocaust memorials, what they represent, the emotional and historical messages that atrocity sites contemplate to a visitor have been extensively discussed. Yet, their importance never lessens, no matter how many times you do visit them the reality of what happened hits you in the face in a way that no history book, TV documentary or historian had managed to do so. Hence, irrespective of how many times you do visit such a site there’s no way to prepare emotionally, as it enumerates the unearthed horrifying details of World War II.
Furthermore, on an International Relations level, the end of World War II marked a significant change in the international security environment, especially with regards to the nature of threats. Changes in the international security environment have had an impact on the security of sovereign states and existing collective security arrangements are sufficient for facing new security challenges. Henceforth, even on a level of security and diplomacy a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau provides an in-depth understanding of the inhumane details which urged the world to rearrange oneself.
Living in a world were religious extremism and the rise of extreme wing political parties and organisations post a real threat to the world, Auschwitz-Birkenau verifies the responsibility of each and every one of us towards Human Rights protection. Freedom of religion and tackling religious intolerance is a priority especially considering the numerous judicial decisions of international courts. Human rights violations are an issue of huge concern as minorities and vulnerable groups are being targeted, attacked, abused and discriminated against simply because they are ‘different’. Thus, it is upon the young generation to build strong foundations aiming at protecting and preserving human rights. Consequently, it is through the visiting of living history that one can realise the true horrors of the Holocaust, to challenge prejudice, discrimination and hatred.
The more young people learn about past atrocities, about the threats posed by the escalation of hatred, about the threat of lacking human rights culture our world would be better guarded against human rights violations and the mistakes of the past. Thus, as a youth living in a rather troubling region, beleaguered by human rights violations, I could never oversee the lessons offered by a holocaust memorial.
Finally, the entrance rights “Work Sets You Free”, and indeed on that moment in history the million prisoners in the concentration camps across the world were ‘set free’. The ruthless atrocities committed by the Nazis set them free, placed them in a pantheon, a reminder and a lesson that there are two sides of human kind and it is upon us to choose where we stand. Every young person visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau is holding a promise to those whom were set free in eternity.
Late November of last year, the Law school of UCLan Cyprus in cooperation with AEQUITAS organised an essay competition which would provide five lucky winners with a 300 euro stipend for the field trip to Auschwitz- Birkenau.
Candidates had to prepare a 500 word essay on ‘why they think it is important for a young person to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau’.
Well done for winning a place Andrea!