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Auschwitz survivor tells pupils his story; Teenagers were left with a different perspective on life after hearing a former World War II soldier's harrowing account of the three years he spent as a prisoner of the Nazis. Ron Jones saw a hell that we must never forget...

BRIDGEND teenagers who heard the story of Auschwitz survivor Ron Jones first hand say it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Ron, from Bassaleg, Newport, was held for three years as a prisoner of war in the Nazi death camp in German-occupied Second World War Poland.

The 98-year-old former soldier visited pupils at Bridgend's Bryntyrion Comprehensive to tell them about his experiences in the darkest days of war, as part of their religious studies course.

The Year 10 pupils had learned about the Holocaust and Nazi occupation of Europe - but said nothing came close to the power of meeting someone who survived the POW section of the most notorious camp.

They listened as Ron described the smell of bodies burning in the crematoriums, seeing a soldier friend shot in front of him and being told his Jewish friend Josef had been gassed.

As the last generation who will hear this testimony first hand the teenagers said they plan to pass Ron's story on to their friends, as well as their own children and grandchildren, in the hope it will help counter racism and terror.

"When you come face to face with someone who has been through that it changes everything you have ever known," said Harriet Jones.

Iestyn Thomas was left wondering how he could complain about anything faced with the reality of what Ron and others had been through.

"How can anyone complain about little things when you have heard someone of his calibre and when they have been through things like that?" he wondered.

"You see things on films but when you hear someone who has experienced it talking about it, it has a bigger impact. It's a powerful story. When you're doing something you look back and think, 'that's not as bad as what Ron Jones went through'."

Nathan Ashby felt it was his duty to pass on the POW's story, especially with extremists on the rise again.

"These stories could be forgotten and it will make it more possible for it to be repeated," he said.

"We have the internet and it's easy to pass on stories but hearing Ron speak you can feel his emotion. I will always remember hearing his story.

"It shows us we should be trying to address racism instead of going backwards. Ron's generation lived through persecution of Jews in Europe and we can see that reverting.

"It was on the news about how Muslims and Poles were having racist attacks and this makes you realise we are getting close to this again."

Amber Davies said tears came to her eyes as Ron described thinking of his wife, Gwladys, oback in Wales during years of incarceration.

"When he talked about how close he was to her I started tearing up. It was heart-breaking hearing how she saved him when he came home. He said he would have been dead without her.

"He didn't tell anyone about it until he was 80 and you can see if you go through that you might not want to talk about it. It breaks your heart remembering."

Harriet Jones said meeting Ron was a living history lesson.

"We learned about the Holocaust in history and RS but until you meet someone who was there you don't quite understand.

"Holding the ring Josef gave him, it was scary to think someone who had that ring was put to death.

"When Ron passed Josef's ring around for us to hold, you knew he had that friendship and I don't know how he created such a strong bond with someone in that environment. You could feel his emotion.

"Every child should hear these stories. It's not going to stop it but people might step back and think their actions could lead to this.

"When you come face to face with someone like this it breaks down barriers.

"It changes your view. Jews were exactly like us but were being punished and now that's what's happening today because people have one view and want to eliminate others.

"Ron saw his friend shot in front of him because he refused to do something. It replicates today. Hitler was a terrorist and killed people because of who they were."

Ceris Matthews, head of RS, who organised the talk and has taken pupils to visit Auschwitz, said: "There is no better way to get that education across than going to Auschwitz and listening to survivors. It is far more effective than textbook or film.

"It was an honour for us to hear Ron tell his story."

horror and brutality Ron was a 23-year-old lance corporal in the 1st Battalion Welch Regiment when he was captured in Benghazi in January 1942.

The retired dock worker was shipped to Nazi-occupied Italy and sent on to Auschwitz, a place he'd never heard of.

PoWs were held in E715, near Auschwitz III, Monowitz, which held mainly Polish resistance fighters, political dissidents, homosexuals and captured Soviet troops.

Ron was put to work alongside Jewish slave labourers at IG Farben's infamous chemical factory. He soon understood the industrial scale of killing in Auschwitz II, Birkenau.

Taken by guards to play football on fields beside Birkenau, the PoWs saw "walking skeletons" at work and smoke from crematoria. Ron witnessed Jews being attacked, saw a soldier friend shot in front of him, befriended a Jewish man who was gassed and saw numerous dead bodies.

Bribing guards with cigarettes to let them play football, the PoWs divided themselves into home nation teams. Ron was goalie for Wales.

CAPTION(S):

Ron Jones, now 98

Ron Jones, pictured here in 1941, spent time in a POW camp at Auschwitz
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 5, 2016
Words:940
Previous Article:MORNING SERIAL.
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