Gallery: Fenland students visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau as trust proves that ‘hearing is not like seeing’

FENLAND students were among more than 200 who visited the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau last week on an educational trip. Also among the party was our editorial content manager TOM JACKSON.

FOR more than one million people Auschwitz was the end of the line, as Nazi Germany pursued its “final solution of the Jewish question in Europe” during the Holocaust.

Many, however, live in denial of the holocaust, claiming it is a hoax arising out of a Jewish conspiracy to advance the interest of Jews at the expense of others.

That’s where the Holocaust Educational Trust steps in. It believes that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ – and it takes hundreds of Post-16 students to Poland each year to teach the Lessons from Auschwitz.

Last Thursday, it was the turn of students from across East Anglia to visit Poland on the Government-funded project.

Among the 200 students were six from Fenland – two each from Wisbech Grammar School, Cromwell Community College in Chatteris and Sir Harry Smith Community College in Whittlesey. I was lucky enough to also join them.

Our trip started with a visit to Oswiecim, which was renamed Auschwitz when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939.

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Before the war, 58 per cent of Oswiecim’s 12,000 population was Jewish but today there are none. The last Jew, Shimshon Klueger, died in 2000.

The Jewish cemetery is the only evidence of pre-war life in Oswiecim – but today it’s hidden behind a 10ft tall brick wall. Inside, hundreds of headstones sit almost forgotten by today’s population.

On the outskirts of Oswiecim is Auschwitz I, a labour camp. During the war thousands of Jews passed underneath the chilling sign which reads Arbeit Macht Frei – work means freedom. We passed under the same sign.

Today, however, Auschwitz I is a museum. We were shown around by educator Jeremy Quartermain and a local guide.

Among the items on display are glasses, about 80,000 shoes, toys and suitcases which were seized from prisoners as they entered the camp. The remains are testament to the lies that Jews were told of beginning a new life in eastern Europe.

Most chilling was a pile of two tonnes of hair, which was chopped off murdered women as they arrived at the camp.

The museum also demonstrates the squalid conditions prisoners were forced to live in, photographs of the camp during the war and a scale model of the gas chambers.

From there we made the short trip to Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, the extermination camp. This is the site people most associate with Auschwitz – the end of the train track inside the remains of the camp.

We were shown around what’s left of the wooden barracks and the two gas chambers which are now collapsed piles of rubble. We also stood on the platform where the ‘selection process’ took place. This is where families were separated – the strong to work, the weak, women and children to die. From this point, thousands of people never saw their loved ones again.

Our trip ended with a look at a photographic display in what was the induction block for arrivals. Many of the photographs were recovered from Auschwitz following the liberation of the camp.

It was followed by a short ceremony next to the memorial which now stands at Birkenau. It included readings, a moment of reflection and a moving speech from Rabbi Barry Marcus. Students placed a candle near the memorial as a mark of respect.

Rabbi Marcus told students: “I believe that especially today, when even as you read this note, printing presses all over the globe are churning out another Holocaust denial publication, we have an additional responsibility to those who perished.

“As our Rabbis point out succinctly ‘hearing is not seeing’ – we need to see for ourselves however painful, if only to strengthen our resolve not to forget the memory of the millions who were so mercilessly butchered.

“I believe that we cannot face the challenges of the future without identifying with our past.”

What we saw is, quite simply, beyond words. But throughout the trip students listened to our guide with an admirable respect as they learned the Lessons from Auschwitz. They are lessons that will remain with them for years to come.

The trip was the second part of the project. A week before the trip they were introduced to Jewish life in Europe before the war and heard testimony from Kitty Hart-Moxon, a survivor of Auschwitz.

On Sunday, students will attend a seminar to reflect on their visit. The project will conclude with students passing on their lessons to classmates and the community.

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