Lessons never to be forgotten

I SPENT a day at Auschwitz last week on a visit with 200 6th Formers from the UK, organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.

One and a half million people, mostly Jews, but also Gypsies, gay people, socialists, communists, trade unionists and others were murdered there by the Nazis.

It is a disturbing and uneasy experience to wander around the original concentration camp in the old barracks at Auschwitz.

The buildings seem so familiar from newsreel and feature films, that it is difficult to contemplate the gorror of what took place there.

It becomes more real when you encounter the mountains of shoes, suitcases, spectacles and artificial limbs belonging to victims in the rooms of the museums.

But it is at the second camp at Birkenau a mile away that reality hits home harder. This was a purpose-built massive factory of death, created to carry out murder on an industrial scale.

Here with ruthless efficiency trains from all over Europe rolled directly into the camp which covers an area the size of a large industrial estate.

As bewildered families staggered out of cattle trucks after days of transport, they were separated into those fit for work and the rest.

Those who looked strong and health went one way.

Those who did note, children, the elderly and disabled, went straight to the gas chambers.

Their possessions were removed and sent to a vast warehouse known by the prisoners as “Canada”, because of the “wealth” it contained.

The best possessions were sent back to Germany, some of what was left can be seen in the museum.

It was a sombre experience, and an education for the young students, including some from South Wales, for the ultimate consequence of prejudice and intolerance.

Gordon Brown has pledge funds to enable every school in the UK to send two 6th Formers on one of these visits, to learn the lesson of history, and make sure it is never repeated.