Why we must never forget - reporter matt gooding visits Auschwitz Birkenau
COLD and imposing, the Auschwitz Birkenau labour camp stands as a stark reminder of the atrocities that have been committed there. From the top of the gate tower, looking down at the 425-acre labour camp, with rows of sheds stretching as far as the eye ca
COLD and imposing, the Auschwitz Birkenau labour camp stands as a stark reminder of the atrocities that have been committed there.
From the top of the gate tower, looking down at the 425-acre labour camp, with rows of sheds stretching as far as the eye can see, it is difficult to comprehend the mass extermination of Jews, Poles, and other groups of people which was carried out there by the Nazis during World War Two.
But the harsh reality of the Holocaust and the death camps was brought home to a group of students from Comet country who visited the Auschwitz site in Poland as part of a trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Sophia Brennan, 18, of St Francis College in Letchworth GC, said the visit had made her appreciate her freedom.
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She said: "I have more of an appreciation for things that I have now, such as my freedom, and a deeper understanding even though I was only there for 24 hours."
The students' first port of call was Osweicim, the town near which the camps are located. Here they stopped off at a Jewish cemetery and heard that, prior to the war, the town's population had been 58 per cent Jewish. Now none remain.
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Then they moved on to the Auschwitz I barracks, where prisoners were routinely tortured, experimented on, and killed. On show are piles of the items collected from inmates, including suitcases, glasses, and two tonnes of hair, which was due to be used to make blankets and clothes for the German army.
Sophia added: "The physical conditions were awful and the room full of hair and clothes was awful.
"I found the numbers of people very shocking and visiting the camps at Auschwitz has been so different to just reading about it."
Beth Warmer-Davies, 17, another pupil from St Francis, described the room full of hair "very upsetting".
She said: "My sister loves her hair so much and she would not been allowed to keep it. That has made me appreciate my family a lot more.
The group's final destination was the largest camp, Auschwitz II Birkenau. After touring the site the day concluded with a ceremony of reflection near the destroyed crematoria, which were used to burn the bodies of people sent to their deaths in the gas chambers.
"We stood on the platform where families were separated and it brought home the fact that I would not have been able to see my family again," said Beth. "The visit has inspired me to spend much more time with my family and appreciate them."
Graham Cole, an educator from the Holocaust Educational Trust, guided the group from Comet Country throughout the day.
Mr Cole said: "I think it's a trip everyone should make at least once in their life. The students always find it challenging, but seeing Auschwitz first hand allows them to reflect on the impact of the holocaust, not only on the victims but also on the guards and other people who worked at the camps."
The visit is part of the Holocaust Educational Trust's Lessons from Auschwitz project. Every year thousands of students from across the country take part, meeting a survivor prior to the trip and then taking part in a seminar when they return.
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: " Lessons from Auschwitz Project is such a vital part of our work because it gives students the chance to understand the dangers and potential effects of prejudice and racism today.
"The Project encourages them to act on what they see and learn, and the inspiring work they go on to do in their local areas demonstrates the importance of the visit. With the support of Government funding, we are excited to be expanding the programme to enable many more students to experience this life changing Project," she said.
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