On Tuesday, 27th January 2015 it will be Holocaust Memorial Day which marks 70 years since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Despite feeling several life-times away for the majority of the student body at Southampton, we are incredibly lucky as we are the last generation that will have the amazing and humbling experience of hearing testimonies directly from those that survived the Holocaust.
I have been fortunate enough to have heard several awe-inspiring and heart-string-tugging stories of incredible bravery, loss and raw determination to survive, spoken by the handful of survivors who are still prepared to delve into that dark time in their past and re-tell their accounts for future generations, in order to ensure such atrocities are not repeated. Every time the audience’s reactions differ, some sit shell-shocked unable to comprehend, some have tears falling silently down their cheeks whilst they listen attentively, others even laugh afterwards in an attempt to release the sobering atmosphere. I found a similar array of reactions when I actually visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in the mind-numbingly cold November sun: a stunned silence descended over the group of normally incredibly chatty teenagers I was with as we wandered under the famous ironic sign declaring: “Arbeit macht frei” (a German phrase meaning “work makes (you) free”).
Regardless of your immediate emotions and even your long term response, I can guarantee that the experience of visiting a concentration camp or listening to a survivor testimony will be life changing – upon returning to England I instantly appreciated everything so much more, even down to my beautiful flushing toilet. Therefore I strongly encourage you to attend the joint free event both Solent and University of Southampton of have organised to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day as you will become one of the privileged few who will hear a first-hand account from Holocaust survivor Arieh Simonsohn.
Even if you cannot make the event, the 27th January is a day for reflection. The theme for this year’s Memorial Day is ‘Keeping the Memory Alive’, and therefore no matter what you are doing, if you are at work; if you are sitting in lecture after lecture; if you are quietly studying in the library or missing the bowl as you pour you milk into your cereal after a heavy night at the Professor Green concert/Jesters; remember the millions of people who have been murdered or effected during the Holocaust, as well as those who have been slaughtered in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur which have occurred in our life time and that have massively altered the lives of people just like you and me.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Event will take place at 6pm at the Sir James Matthews building, Above Bar Street, Southampton Solent University. This is a free event and there is no need to book a place.