Fenland students discover the horrors of the Holocaust on day trip to Auschwitz concentration camps

Students from Cromwell Community College and Wisbech Grammar School are shown around Auschwitz I. Ph

Students from Cromwell Community College and Wisbech Grammar School are shown around Auschwitz I. Photos: Yakir Zur - Credit: Archant

Students from schools around Cambridgeshire were given a harrowing glimpse into life before, during and after the biggest loss of life in human history - the Holocaust - during a one-day visit to Auschwitz.

Over 200 sixth-formers, including groups from Cromwell Community College, Chatteris and Wisbech Grammar School, were hand-picked by their schools to fly to Poland on Thursday April 14 as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s four-stage Lessons From Auschwitz programme, which aims to spread awareness of the atrocities that occurred in Nazi-occupied Poland over 70 years ago.

The students were first given a tour around Oswiecim, a once thriving Jewish town about an hour’s drive from Krakow, which was turned into the base for the Nazi’s network of concentration camps in 1940.

Students were guided around the town’s Jewish centre, and Rabbi Shaw, a special guest for the visit, gave them an insight into the ways of Jewish life at the centre’s synagogue.

The 200-strong group of students then took a short coach journey to the site of Auschwitz I – home of the one remaining gas chamber that was used by the Nazis to murder 700 to 800 Jews, gypsies and political prisoners at a time during Hitler’s reign.

Tour guides gave students, teachers and guests a glimpse into life at the work camp – including a tour of block four, which exhibits mountains of hair, shoes and personal belongings that prisoners were stripped of when entering the camps.

The students were then taken on a short journey to Auschwitz Birkenau, which was built in 1941 with the sole purpose of murdering thousands of Jews at a time.

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Students were shown the platform where trains packed with prisoners would stop, and their fates would lie with the camp’s commander, who would send them left – to their deaths – or right – to the work camps where they would be forced to construct roads and buildings.

The groups, guided by educators from the Holocaust Educational Trust, were then shown the remains of the site’s gas chambers and crematoria, which were destroyed by the Nazis before the liberation of the camps in 1945.

The visit was concluded in the camp’s ‘Sauna’ building – an area where prisoners would go to be stripped of their belongings, shaved and given their iconic blue and white striped uniforms before being sent to work.

In the Sauna, a remembrance ceremony was hosted by the trust’s head of education, Alex Maws, and Rabbi Shaw.

Poems and readings were shared with the groups, before Rabbi Shaw delivered an emotive speech encouraging the students to remember the victims of the Holocaust as individuals and use their visit to breed love, rather than hatred.

Tom Clabon, from Wisbech Grammar School, believes the trip is one that will resonate with him for many years to come.

He said: “It really brought to life the statistics – highlighting the individual experience and suffering. It taught me of the defiance of the Jews – how even when they were at their lowest, they remained positive and full of faith.

“The prisoners were stripped bare like animals for economic purposes, and seeing the room full of hair really stirred my emotions.”

For more information on the Holocaust Educational Trust, visit www.het.org.uk.

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