British faith leaders visit former Nazi death camps in Poland

By agency reporter
16 Nov 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams with the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, joined representatives from different religious communities at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz Project’ this week.

The UK faith leaders gathered on Friday 14 November 2008 for a one day visit to the former Nazi camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

The visit was aimed at demonstrateing their solidarity in standing against the extremes of hostility and genocide which Auschwitz - Birkenau represents and which are represented in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda in modern times.

The Holocaust Educational Trust is taking 200 students on the visit and over the past twelve months alone has taken over 2000 students on the Project which explores the universal lessons of the Holocaust.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: “Auschwitz, as many have said, reduces us to silence. But to say this and no more is to shy away from the challenge it poses. If we are truly committed to hearing and learning, we have no choice but to seek to grow in our ability to identify where these are present today. Our hope is that in making this journey together we also travel towards the God who binds us together in protest and grief at this profanation.”

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, commented: “The Holocaust did not happen far away, in some distant time and in another kind of civilization. It happened in the heart of enlightened Europe in a country that prided itself on its art, its culture, its philosophy and ethics. However painful it is, we must learn what happened, that it may never happen again to anyone, whatever their colour, culture or creed. We cannot change the past, but by remembering the past, we can change the future.”

Now in its tenth year, the Lessons from Auschwitz Project is based on the premise that “hearing is not like seeing”. The participants visited Osweicim, the town where the Auschwitz death and concentration camps were located and where before the war, 58% of the population was Jewish. They went onto visit Auschwitz I seeing the former camp’s barracks and crematoria, and witnessing the piles of belongings that were seized by the Nazis. Finally they spent time at the main killing centre of Birkenau where the day concluded with a candle lighting ceremony and reflective readings by the students, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, to remember all who died as a result of the Holocaust.

Following the visit, the students are using the experience to commemorate and educate others about the Holocaust in their schools and local communities.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, commented: “The Lessons from Auschwitz Project is an integral part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s work as it gives participants the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of the dangers and potential effects of prejudice and racism today.”

She added: “ We are pleased that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, together with representatives from the UK’s major faiths, joined us on this visit to demonstrate the importance of Holocaust remembrance and of joining together to stand up against discrimination in whatever form it may materialise.”

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