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Darkesthour inhistory Darkesthour inhistory; Kirklees students visit the Nazi death camp where 1.2m were murdered Reporter Dave Himelfield makes an emotional visit to Poland and the haunting site known as Auschwitz.

" ALL that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

at's what the 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke is reputed to have said.

And a paraphrased version of those words bounced around my mind as we wandered through site after site of unimaginable atrocity.

I was brought up Jewish and from an early age I had heard plenty about the Holocaust.

But in the words of the Holocaust Education Trust's missive: "Hearing is not like seeing."

Touring Auschwitz with the trust - and 200 A-level students from across Yorkshire - the horror sank deeper in.

For 16 years, the Holocaust Education Trust (HET) has been running trips to Auschwitz, the extermination camp where 1.2m innocent people were murdered simply because they didn't t narrow Nazi ideals.

Auschwitz played a leading role in the Holocaust where six million Jews and ve million Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and political enemies were massacred by Hitler's genocidal regime.

After a one-hour drive from Krakow Airport we arrive in the Polish town of Oswiecim.

e name (pronounced 'osheeentsim') was once a regular town with 8,000 Jews comprising the majority of its population.

In 1939, it was occupied by the Nazis and renamed Auschwitz as part of the party's 'Lebensraum' (living space) policy.

A snapshot of what happened to the 3.5m Jews living in Polish towns and cities before the war, Oswiecim was purged of its Jewish population.

In a cemetery a short distance from the Oswiecim's attractive main square our HET guide Martin Winstone discloses that Jewish gravestones were removed and used as paving stones. Hitler was determined to erase the Jewish race from the past as well as the present.

One Jewish man, Szymon Kluger, returned to Oswiecim after the war. He died in 2000, ending hundreds of years' Jewish settlement in the town.

A memorial to Szymon takes pride of place among the headstones which were returned to the cemetery after the war.

After a short coach ride we arrive at Auschwitz I where the genocide began in 1940.

Auschwitz is split into three camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II: Birkenau and Auschwitz III: Monowitz, a forced labour camp for the IG Farben chemical factory.

In 1940, Auschwitz I was functioning as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners.

We pass under the infamous sign with the slogan 'Arbeit Macht Frei.'.

It means 'work makes you free' and was presumably intended as a sick joke; no prisoner was supposed to leave Auschwitz alive.

Today the camp looks like a small business complex, a school even.

It's orderly and quiet but you can quite easily imagine the atmosphere of fear and despair together with the stench of death, disease and burning PSesh that once pervaded the camp.

In one of the cell blocks there's a gallery of the camp's rst prisoners.

Below each mugshot is the inmate's date of entry and the date he or she died. You swiftly realise that most prisoners died with months of entering Auschwitz.

Fed on a starvation diet, prisoners were roused from their squalid cells for protracted, arbitrary roll-calls in the biting cold of winter or scorching heat of summer.

After that they'd be marched o$ for endless hours of backbreaking work before they returned, carrying the inmates who'd died during the day's toil.

Many of the cell blocks now house stacks of possessions which were con-scated from prisoners as they entered the camp.

ere are piles of suitcases, glasses, clothes, shoes and most disturbingly, children's toys, prosthetic limbs and a mountain of hair shaved from female prisoners.

If you didn't succumb to starvation or disease you'd be killed in another ghastly way.

Penalties for perceived violations of camp rules were brutal.

Martin leads us to the jail and punishment block where inmates were tortured and given a kangaroo hearing before being taken out and shot at the 'death wall.'.

Others were hanged in front of other inmates during roll calls.

Finally we stand outside the house where Auschwitz commander Rudolf Hoess lived.

Shockingly it's directly opposite the camp's gas chamber and crematorium where anybody who wasn't t to work met their death.

Martin tells us that Hoess' children happily played in the house while across the lane prisoners were killed on a never before seen scale.

By 1941 the Nazi genocide machine had stepped up a gear and Birkenau was built to ease 'congestion' at Auschwitz.

We take a two-mile coach trip to Birkenau which soon became the primary death camp.

e size of Birkenau is overwhelming; it covers the area of approximately 250 football pitches.

Pass through the 'Death Gate' - the image of which is synonymous with Auschwitz - and you can see Birkenau sweep across a bleak, windswept plain as far as the eye can see.

Jews from across Europe would be brought in on cattle trains.

If they survived the journey - it could take as many as 18 days without food or water - inmates would be split into queues of men and women.

e healthier prisoners would then be directed to the right for work. ose deemed unt, including elderly people and children, would be sent left to the gas chambers.

We visit one of 300 'barracks' which each housed up to 700 prisoners.

Around 25 inmates were crammed into triple bunk beds which would struggle to accommodate eight people.

At night, those on the lower bunks would be covered with the urine, excrement, vomit and blood from their dying fellow prisoners on the bunks above.

And as prisoners lost weight even more would be stued onto the beds, Martin tells us.

We walk 400m to where two of the camp's four gas chambers and crematoria lie.

e Nazis demolished both crematoria in a bid to hide the evidence before the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945 by the Soviet Red Army.

We nish with a candle lighting ceremony led by Rabbi Barry Marcus, of London Central Synagogue. When the ceremony has nished it's dark but there's still light from the memorial candles that students have left on the train tracks and on the Y=anks of a monument between the two crematoria.

With the sun far below the horizon we walk back to our coaches through the cold, mud and dark-dark ness.

Auschwitz was mankind's darkest hour.

But it's events like these that keep the light of humanity and compassion shining and teach us that no good person should sit idle in the face of evil.


A student leaves a candle on the tracks into Birkenau |

Memorial ceremony led by Rabbi Barry Marcus (right) |

Suitcases confiscated from prisoners

The infamous entrance to Auschwitz I
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 7, 2015
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