A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Auschwitz. It was the day before New Year's Eve and the weather was surprisingly good. The temperature should have been about fifteen degrees colder for the time of year, or at least that it what we were told. You half expected the air to numb your face and for the snow to crunch underfoot in the way you get after snowfall that's been compacted following a freezing night. Instead, the air was fresh but pleasant, the bright colour of the grass could be instantly made out beneath the bright cobalt sky. It was in every way, the antithesis of what it should have been.
Predictably, a visit to Auschwitz was harder than you could have ever imagined, something which just cannot be forgotten. The experience wraps itself around you, changing forever your perspective of the world and the people that reside in it. Emotions are robbed from you leaving you numb, unable to comprehend the magnitude of the systematic terror brought upon so many people. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, an hour passes but still nothing. You're almost thankful for the numbness it brings for if emotion was to get the better of you, the suffocating pressure of history would leave you unable to breath.
As a historical site, Auschwitz is the most important in Europe. Some schools and colleges do offer dark tourism opportunities, such as trips to Auschwitz/Birkenau as part of their History syllabus but, with history's lesson firmly in mind, it should be a compulsory trip. Young people need these lessons from history help shape perspective, to learn lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom.
Auschwitz teaches you, amongst others, the fragility of life. That no matter how unimaginable the terrors, what took place there is far worse than anything you could ever research in books or the internet. Something so difficult to comprehend that it questions the very nature of our existence as human beings. What are we if we can ignore that feeling of desperate fear in anothers eyes to condemn them to death due, for no other reason, than their religion, nationality or belief.
We must send our children to Auschwitz not only out of respect but of necessity, for these were lives that were relinquished for no reason, much like the soldiers mowed down on French and Belgian soil in the First World War. Senseless, incalculable deaths decided by powerful figures sat in warm coats on comfortable chairs. Men and women treated merely as statistics to dismantle and destroy.
As our world gets more crowded, economic disparity continues it's unrelenting growth and resources become even more scarce, our ability to pin blame will only increase. Schoolchildren need to see for their own eyes how easy intolerance, if left unchecked, can manifest itself into not only hate and marginalisation but violence and murder.
How the current hysteria which has circulated over possible new migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, is just another example of pinning the blame and insecurity of a nation onto a new set of pantomime villain. The language, reporting and hysteria that has been built up around both Bulgaria and Romania has been nothing short of ludicrous. These are not countries that have recently been invented to criminalise, scrounge and populate Western Europe. These are people that have been singled out by the press and parts of the British establishment as potential problems, fuelling this arrogance and sense of worth which penetrates itself through the very top of British society. A society that has been made up of immigrants; Romans, Scandinavian Vikings, Angles, Saxons, Normans, Celts, Jews fleeing Nazi occupation, Poles fying for the RAF, Italians, Afro-Caribbeans, Asians from the Subcontinent, the list is endless. The Right-Wing press and UKIP may have you believe that our national identity is being eroded, one Polish plumber at a time, but much like UKIP's blind admiration of Australia, we too are a nation that has been defined by immigration.
Making a direct link between Auschwitz and UKIP is not the intention here. However, intolerance and blame cannot be left to fester if it breeds a nation of people who live their lives misguided by hate. Auschwitz, as well the other death camps dotted around Poland and Germany, are there as a constantly flickering beacon of history. They must never disappear.