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Last Updated: Wednesday January 26 2005 18:22 GMT

My visit to Auschwitz

Jack in Auschwitz
Holocaust Memorial Day takes place on 27 January and marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz - a concentration camp in Poland.

Sixteen-year-old Jack from Derbyshire visited the camp as part of the Holocaust Memorial Educational Trust's Lessons from Auschwitz course.

In his report Jack describes what he saw at Auschwitz and what he felt about visiting a place where so many people had suffered.

"Most people had told me that visiting the camp could affect people quite badly, leaving them quite upset but I didn't think this would be me.

When we got to Auschwitz, it looked different to how I expected, it appeared well organised and an efficient place of work, almost like an old factory.

We went into one of the buildings, which was set out like a museum. Possessions taken from the people were stacked up in big glass cases.

This included seven tons of human hair shaved from prisoners' heads, 460 artificial limbs, hundreds of prayer shawls, combs and even baby clothes were on display.

Prisoner barracks in Birkenau

However, the one that really changed my day was the display of suitcases.

Every suitcase had a name, date of birth and address on them and as I walked down it really made me realise that the statistics were people.

Each number represented a person - including 6-year-old Inga, from Berlin, whose suitcase was in front of me.

Standing there was quite a harrowing experience.

We then moved on to the cells. Standing cells were used, where as many people as possible would be crammed into a metre square cell, causing mass discomfort, exhaustion and sometimes even suffocation.

Visiting Birkenau

After looking around Auschwitz I we moved on to Birkenau (Auschwitz II), which was about 2km away.

The feeling of Birkenau was very different; the buildings that were there before no longer stood like the ones at Auschwitz I, only the chimneys were left still standing.

They looked like hundreds of gravestones standing there prominent over everything else.

Our guide took us into the prisoner barracks - the living conditions here must have been awful - people sleeping on three-tiered bunks, many dying of diseases that spread rapidly in the overcrowded and unhygienic conditions.

Holocaust memorial in Birkenau
Holocaust memorial in Birkenau

We were then taken to the where the gas chambers and crematoriums were.

It really was a disturbing thought that I was standing on one of the biggest sites of mass genocide the world has seen.

Some 2.2 million people had died there in total, 1.5 million being Jews.

We then had a final ceremony of remembrance. A number of poems were read out, many of them written by those who had survived the camp.

Never again

We then laid candles down on the remains of the now destroyed gas chamber.

As a result of my experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I now realise that it isn't just about statistics.

It's an important event that we must learn from.

We need to make sure that nothing like this happens again - it is our job as the next generation to pass on the information so that it doesn't."

Jack, 16, Derbyshire

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