Journal reporter SARAH DAVIES took a life-changing trip to Auschwitz with teenage students from across the county as part of a trip organised by the Holocaust Education Trust last week
HOW do you begin a discussion about the systematic slaughter of six million people?
We struggle to find words strong enough to convey the full horror of the Holocaust, the worst atrocity known to modern civilisation.
However difficult it may be for us to talk about what happened during the Second World War, it almost goes without saying that our discomfort is nothing when compared to the pain and suffering inflicted upon the innocent victims of the Nazi regime.
In a bid to ensure what went on during those fateful years is kept at the forefront of our minds, the Holocaust Education Trust runs a series of one-day trips to Poland for 16 to 18-year-olds across the country as part of its Lessons from Auschwitz project.
The charity invited me to join a delegation of students from Worcestershire on their journey to the most notorious sites of the Nazi genocide.
Like most, I had a basic understanding of what went on at the camps, but nothing could prepare us for what we would see.
We began our journey at a Jewish cemetery in the town of Oswiecim – better known by its German name, Auschwitz.
At first glance, it appeared to be like any other place of rest on a beautifully sunny day.
But as our eyes lingered, we realised there was something deeply wrong.
The grey stones that dotted the green land had been disturbed.
They were broken, jostled, perched against walls or piled in fragments at the roots of trees.
We were then informed that Nazi soldiers had desecrated the cemetery, reducing the stones to nothing more than paving slabs.
As we walked under those infamous words, Arbeit Macht Frei (work sets you free), at the gateway to Auschwitz I, our thoughts turned to the thousands of people in whose footsteps we followed.
They had been told they were about to embark on a new life.
In truth, they were about have them taken away.
The majority of victims taken to the camps spent less than two hours there, before they were stripped of their belongings and murdered because they were considered more beneficial dead to the Nazi regime.
Men, women and children were harvested for their hair for the German textile industry and plundered of their valuables, before they were gassed, their ashes dumped in local rivers.
The day concluded with a service and the lighting of memorial candles near the gas chambers where many of the 1.1 million Jews, 140,000 Poles, 23,000 gypsies and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war killed in the camps collectively known as Auschwitz.
Abi Grinnell, aged 18, a sixth form student from Evesham High School, said it was important that what happened during the Holocaust was remembered by future generations.
She said: “It was an opportunity not to be missed – to be able to teach other students about what we found on our journey.
“I had an idea of Auschwitz, but I didn’t realise the scale.
The gas chambers really brought it home for me. I’ve learned a lot more. I think it’s changed my life.”