Known in all history books, pictures in archives, photos, in movies, in testimonials of survivors such as Simone Veil or Primo Levi, the Auschwitz-Birkenau site has been open to the public since the 1950s. Immediately after the war ended, the Polish government decided to transform it into a museum in memory of its victims.
Marie, Charles and Enguerrand, three MBA students, went there are the beginning of December with a few classmates and Vatel staff members. Before leaving, they all apprehended seeing this camp for themselves, beyond the images seen in documentaries or in fiction, such as that on the entrance gate, with its infamous three words Arbeit macht frei (“Work makes you free”).
“When I was in high school, I visited the Izieu House, and I was devastated. Since then, I had been wanting to go to Auschwitz, to see what these children had to do back in 1944,” Marie told us. Enguerrand wanted to see the historical reality for himself: a personal way of responding to a provocation of someone who doubted the reality of these concentration camps. Through various objects stolen from deportees, photos, facilities that remained after the Nazis tried to destroy the camp right before the liberation, the group followed the itinerary of a deportee, accompanied by a interesting guide who answered their questions.
The duty of remembrance is at the heart of this proposal to students to discover Auschwitz-Birkenau: raising awareness of the younger generations through history, transmitting the collective and individual memory of these terrible events. This duty of remembrance is also a duty for humanity, allowing it to transpose into the present these lessons learned in the past to think of the future wisely: an absolute necessity that Marie, Charles and Enguerrand will always remember.
“Just a few days later, I noted that this tour allowed me to stand back and think about my own life and become more mature. I want to talk about this with others, to make them aware and prevent, at all costs, this type of thing happening again”, Charles explained. “You always have to look behind, remain vigilant and above all, never forget”, added Enguerrand.
Understanding history and making sense of it both contribute to shaping tomorrow’s citizens: informed citizens, sharing values of openness, tolerance and respect. And, beyond the transmission of knowledge and skills, the role played by education and higher education is to accompany students in this way.
In spite of their sadness, anger and incomprehension, they all recommend visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau site, which has been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1979. They all feel they have returned as changed and more mature persons, with a fuller comprehension of this collective history and today’s world. “There’s a before and after,” Marie concluded.
Photo © Marie Rebreyend
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