UK Government pledges to fund student trips to Auschwitz to combat anti-Semitism

In the lead up to Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, the UK government has announced that it will partner with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the Holocaust Education Trust (HET) in sending 200 university students from across the UK to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former Nazi extermination camp in Poland.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Education have pledged to devote £144,000 to the project. They aim to train participants so that they can educate fellow students about anti-Semitism when they return to UK campuses.

Current UJS President Josh Holt claimed that “these resources will enable a substantial expansion of student and university leaders receiving the training needed to combat anti-Semitism on campus”.

This has come against a background of rising campus anti-Semitism. Holt said: “Sadly we have seen a distressing increase in swastika graffiti, Holocaust denial literature and politicisation of the Holocaust on some UK campuses”.

Holt added: “We are determined to combat this and welcome this significant contribution to our longstanding work bringing students of all faiths and backgrounds together to create cohesive campus communities”.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said that preserving the memory of the Holocaust was “one of the most powerful tools we have to fight bigotry,” and claimed that these trips would help “tackle anti-Semitism, intolerance and prejudice on university campuses”.

Karen Pollock, CEO of the HET, agreed that “anti-Semitism remains a real challenge on campus” and that it remained a ‘crucial’ task to take students to Auschwitz “so that they can see with their own eyes where anti-Semitism has led in the past”.

The HET’s ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project has taken over 34,000 teachers and students to former Nazi camps since 1994. Most of these students have been aged 16-18. It is hoped that the 200 or so students who will annually participate in this new project will be able to deliver presentations and seminars that may reach an audience as high as 7,500.

Student Rights is extremely supportive of the government’s decision to support students in this way. The necessity of remembering history’s darkest lessons remains more vital than ever. And while the Holocaust continues to have universal resonance, a unique and lethal obsession with Jews remains a worrying feature of today’s extremist ideologies on campus.

Student Rights has previously written a briefing entitled “Anti-Semitism on Campus” (2016) about the effects of anti-Semitism on UK campuses, whether in its Islamist, far-right or far-left guise.

Jo Johnson, the former Universities minister, recently said that levels of anti-Semitism among students were “unacceptable”. In February 2016, a carved swastika and a sign reading “rights for whites” were found at the University of Exeter. Since that time, Holocaust denial pamphlets have been discovered at several universities including Cambridge, Glasgow and UCL, whilst numerous anti-Semitic speakers have targeted students, such as Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi. The National Union of Students (NUS) has itself been hit by numerous anti-Semitism scandals.

Each year there are fewer living witnesses to the horrors of the Nazi regime; this determined effort by the government will equip participants with the vital tools to educate other students about the dangers of anti-Semitism. We hope it has a tangible impact at all levels of student life across the UK.

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