‘The lessons we must take from the Holocaust: A student’s perspective’

Middlesex University hosted the London Borough of Barnet Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration and this year we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Hundreds in attendance came together to remember the atrocities that occurred. The theme of the event was ‘Keep the Memory Alive’ – which has never been more pertinent than it is today. I was honoured to be given a platform to speak and share my experience and perspective on this emotional occasion. Below is a transcript of my speech:

 Memorial pic

This year we mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau, and it has never been more imperative that we keep the memory alive.

As a student, studying for a degree, a great opportunity has been placed unto me, in which I can acquire new knowledge and skills to use throughout my life. However, university must not be about pure knowledge, as knowledge without ethics can lead to atrocity. Student and teacher have a higher responsibility.

I wish to bring to your attention a letter that I had read in my module handbook on the very first day I attended Middlesex University. It was written by a student, who had survived the Holocaust, having been separated from her mother and twin sister in a Nazi concentration camp – she wrote the same letter to all her new teachers throughout her education. It reads as follows:

“Dear teacher,

I am the survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers; Children poisoned by educated physicians; Infants killed by trained nurses; Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is: Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmann’s. Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only as they serve to make our children more human.

Please reflect on the wider importance of what you learn.”

This letter reflects truer now as we grow further away from the evils of what had occurred. We must remember, “the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers — it began with words.”

I am fortunate to be able to speak to my Great Grandmother, who tells me of a time when she had escaped persecution, and when the world was engulfed in the evil and tyranny of man and man’s creation. Yet time will not stand still, and these great survivors will not be here to tell their stories. The statistics read 6 million Jewish men, women and children murdered. This statistic does not talk to us about the individual stories of defiance. The greater struggle of liberation and success many achieved after the holocaust. Most importantly, this statistic does not speak of the importance of remembrance.

These stories were told by those who had witnessed these horrors, and the responsibility is placed on our shoulders to keep their memory alive. The generations who were not there. We are the generation who must pass the baton to our children. So as to remember that society is capable of the greatest evil.

Joseph Stoll speaking at the London Borough of Barnet Holocaust Memorial Day Service
Joseph Stoll speaking at the London Borough of Barnet Holocaust Memorial Day Service

As a Jewish student, I have been no stranger to encountering anti-Semitism. We only need to look back as far as last week to see the evil of anti-Semitism emerge in Europe in a bloody and barbaric fashion once more.  Footage of Jewish primary schools being guarded by armed security guards. Men and women being told to shut shop early as their lives are in danger.

In Britain, Jewish schools and Jewish community centres are constantly on guard from the threat of anti-Semitism. My role as Campus Director for the organisation StandWithUs, enables me to work with students who encounter anti-Semtisim on their campus; they face fierce and aggressive protests against Israel’s very existence, spurring hate-filled attacks on Jewish and non-Jewish students who share a voice for the Jewish homeland.

The protests denying the very existence of the state of Israel are acts of anti-Semitism. This should emphasise that hate and ignorance does not stand still; they too develop new forms of hate. This is why, now, more than ever, we have needed to emphasise the importance of Holocaust studies, to remember where blind ignorance and hate can lead a society. One must take the responsibility to speak up against all atrocity, and pursue to live under a free democracy, where rights and liberties are treasured.

I am proud to announce, the work that I hope to pursue from this day forth. Professor Blitz and I, along with StandWithUs and UJS want to build relationships between survivors and students. Teach students to learn from the past, to help pursue a better future; and to further Keep the memory alive.

About the Author
Joseph Stoll is a third year undergraduate at Middlesex University, studying Law. Joseph is the UK Campus Director for the international organisation StandWithUS, a pro-Israel organisation that combats misinformation, promotes positive dialogue and peace between Israel and the Middle East.
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