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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 11:02 GMT
Pupils hear of Holocaust horrors
Over one million people were killed by the Nazis at the camp
The racism and intolerance highlighted by the massacre of Jews in WW2 is very relevant to modern day Northern Ireland, teachers have said.

Many believe the lessons of the Holocaust are particularly poignant given the increase in racist attacks in the province.

Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp with events planned to remember the one million people who died there.

Altogether some 15 million civilians are thought to have been murdered by the Nazi regime, some six million of whom were Jewish.

Many schools in Northern Ireland have been focussing on the Holocaust.

History teacher Elaine McPeake from St Dominic's High School, in Belfast, said they had put together an exhibition featuring photographs and scenes from concentration camps.

"We are really trying to raise overall awareness throughout the whole school about Holocaust Remembrance Day," she said.

The Nazis' final assault on the Jews from 1933-1945
Estimated 15m civilians killed by regime
6m Jews murdered
1942: Gas chambers built at Birkenau concentration camp, mass transports begin
Majority who arrive gassed immediately
About 900,000 gassed at Birkenau
Over 1.1m died at Auschwitz-Birkenau and its sub-camps
1m of them were Jewish

"Although it's taught in junior school and senior school, we felt we had to mark this very important occasion in some way."

She said pupils were genuinely horrified about what had happened.

"The feeling is how could this have happened, and why did no-one stop it? There are so many questions they want answered. Unfortunately the answers are just not there," she said.

Elaine Sullivan, a senior history teacher at the school, said her subject was very relevant to pupils in today's society.

"We point out to them the dangers of racism and of intolerance and we can see it even here in Northern Ireland today, with the attacks on various racial groups."

We know that people can be absolutely violent in their hatred of other members of the community
Sir John Gorman
War veteran

Former Northern Ireland education minister Martin McGuinness said every school curriculum should include Holocaust studies.

"History is vitally important for all of all, particularly if we want as I hope most people would, not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

"From our perspective, given where we've come from and the experiences that we've had, it's vitally important that all of us recognise the need to ensure that we have in place a society which is tolerant of the diverse views in the community."

Sir John Gorman, 81, who served with the Irish Guards in north west Europe, and witnessed what he described as "barbarism" in a Nazi camp agrees the Holocaust should be studied in schools.

Children behind barbed wire at Auschwitz death camp
Altogether, some six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust

He said: "If this is forgotten about - and, after all, after 60 years it would not be surprising if a number of people think this is all old hat, it's nothing of significance now - but the same spirit of hate can still exist.

"We know of hate in Ireland. We know that people can be absolutely violent in their hatred of other members of the community."

Pupils at Malone Integrated College in Belfast said they had been taught how badly Jews had been treated and it made them think about ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.

One pupil said: "All this neo-Nazi stuff that's going on in the streets, and the Chinese being sent letters. We should act now and stop it now. Nobody is actually willing to put an end to it."

Another pupil said: "The community needs to be much more tolerant and not attack immigrant communities."

Mary Stewart, head of history at the college, said the mentality that led to the holocaust was inherent in everyone.

"Many of the characteristics and many of the themes of the Holocaust are replicated here. I know that when we talk about the Holocaust to the children, they would bring in the situation here with ethnic minorities.

"Quite often I hear the pupils voice similar feelings of bigotry...this idea that there are groups who are almost like scapegoats and are guilty and responsible for a lot of things and it would be better if these outsiders would be removed."

"It is a very relevant theme in today's society."

Watch a BBC News Special: Auschwitz Remembered on BBC NEWS 24/BBC TWO from 1.25pm Thursday.


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