‘I cannot get my head around why’

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Northamptonshire pupils have travelled to Poland to visit Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration and death camp. Reporter Huw Silk joined them.

If Petr Eisler hadn’t been murdered by the Nazis, he might have celebrated his 71st birthday next week with his family.

A watchtower at Auschwitz II - Birkenau

A watchtower at Auschwitz II - Birkenau

But Petr was killed when he was a toddler, put to death by Hitler’s men at Auschwitz.

His suitcase, carefully inscribed with his name and the word “kind”, German for child, sits among hundreds of other similar cases as a testament to the worst atrocity in history.

Pupils in the north of the county were this week given the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, near Krakow in Poland, the scene of the deaths of more than one million people, the overwhelming majority of them Jewish.

They were travelling with the Holocaust Educational Trust on a programme giving them the opportunity to witness the worst of human nature in order to learn the lessons of history.

Near the array of suitcases is a vast display of human hair, shaved from the heads of victims of the gas chamber in a final indignity before death.

Pupils said this was most affecting, bringing home the true human cost – as opposed to the total numbers of the dead, a figure incomprehensibly large – of what occurred.

James Fyvie, 18, from Corby Business Academy, said: “Obviously we have learned about the Holocaust, but they are only statistics. Coming here gives you a real feeling for it.”

Pupils also visited the Birkenau extermination camp, walking along railway tracks which run through an imposing guard house and which once delivered prisoners from across Europe to their deaths.

Asa Hughes, 17, a pupil at Manor School, Raunds, said: “I knew Birkenau was big, but until I got there and saw the sheer industrial scale, I couldn’t comprehend it.”

Pupils rounded off the visit with a memorial service conducted by Rabbi Barry Marcus in front of photographs of some of Auschwitz’s victims.

Manor School pupil Samantha Newell said she had been moved by the opportunity to see those who suffered there two generations ago.

She said: “I can’t get my head around why someone would do this to another human. Seeing their faces and knowing what had happened to them was quite emotional.”

Emma Hamilton, from Kingswood School, Corby, said: “When you put yourself into their shoes, you realise you don’t have a hard life. I just want to go home and give my nan a hug.”