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Monday, 20 November, 2000, 23:15 GMT
Pupils learn from death camp visit
Auschwitz
More than a million people were killed at Auschwitz
As Britain's first Holocaust Memorial Day draws nearer, the BBC's home affairs correspondent Jon Silverman reports on a visit made by a group of schoolchildren to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.

Schoolchildren all over Britain will be having special lessons in the lead-up to the first Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, 2001 - but only a select few will have seen first-hand the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.

Two hundred sixth-formers from schools in England and Wales have just returned from the most notorious death camp, Auschwitz, and are absorbing the lessons they have learned.


When you see what happened here, you understand the nature of evil.

Victoria Westwood
The trip was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, a London-based private organisation which, for over a decade, has been promoting greater awareness of the Holocaust.

The group leader for the Auschwitz visit, Rabbi Barry Marcus, said: "Trips of this nature are important because these children are the next generation and their teachers will be shaping the way Holocaust Memorial Day is dealt with in schools.

"What's really important is that the issue of genocide should not be relegated to one day but thought about all the time."

For the students themselves, the impact of the one-day visit was visible.

Victoria Westwood, 17, who attends school in Uxbridge, Middlesex, looked shaken as she emerged from the block housing thousands of shoes, suitcases and spectacles confiscated from those bound for the gas chambers.

Victims
Pupils are taught about the victims' suffering
She said: "My life will never be the same again. It puts into perspective all the petty concerns which often preoccupy you.

"When you see what happened here, you understand the nature of evil."

Her 17-year-old schoolmate, Ammit Jassi, emphasised the connection between what took place in Auschwitz - where more than a million people were put to death - and his own experience.

He said: "I've suffered racism in England and it's always downplayed as an individual experience. But the anti-semitism in Germany started as individual prejudice and look how it ended."

Survivors' stories

The trip ended with a moving ceremony conducted in the gathering gloom, amidst the shattered ruins of the crematoria.

As candles flickered, some of the children read poems and fragments of accounts from survivors.

Rabbi Marcus blew the shofar, the ram's horn which is traditionally sounded in synagogues to mark the end of the Jewish Day of Atonement.

But perhaps the most powerful and moving words were expressed by a survivor, Kitty Hart, who accompanied the group.

She was a teenager when she was imprisoned with her mother in Auschwitz.

She said: "I was a witness. I saw the victims being led into the gas chambers.

"I saw the SS guards with the canisters of gas. I heard the screams. And I vowed after the war to tell the world what happened. Because if I didn't, who would remember?"

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See also:

09 Nov 00 | Education
Lessons from genocide
23 Oct 00 | UK
Holocaust memorial online
08 Jun 00 | UK
Fresh look at Holocaust
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