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Why a visit to Auschwitz left an indelible mark on Stourbridge students
Updated 2:06pm Monday 17th March 2014 in News
Stourbridge students Harry Jenkins and Blake Lewis at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Blake Ezra Photography.
The Holocaust Educational Trust took a group of local students to Auschwitz this month and News reporter Adam Smith joined them.
THE Auschwitz concentration and death camp complex dwarfs the size of Stourbridge.
And the death camp the Nazis built killed the equivalent of the town's population on a weekly basis.
So even if you imagine everyone you have ever known being killed it still does not come close to the amount the Nazi's murdered every day in one corner of Poland when they were implementing their evil Final Solution.
Seeing a giant glass cabinet filled with the hair of 140,000 victims at the Auschwitz museum is jolting.
And peering at the jewellery, suitcases, shoes and other belongings of victims which are just yards away from a pile of poison gas canisters used to kill over a million Jews is an overwhelming experience.
An emotional and harrowing experience which will stay with Stourbridge sixth-formers who visited the death camp for the rest of their lives.
Earlier this month the Holocaust Educational Trust flew 200 students to Auschwitz to see for themselves the worst crime scene in human history.
Now the sixteen and seventeen year-olds who stood in the gas chambers where men, women and children were killed will be ambassadors of the trust in a bid to ensure the Holocaust is never forgotten.
Old Swinford Hospital School student Harry Jenkins, aged 17, stood solemnly on the train tracks which transported Jews, Gypsies, political prisoners and other enemies of the twisted Nazi ideology to their death and reflected on the mass slaughter.
He said: "The astonishing part of this trip is that as you approach Auschwitz on modern day transport the camp stands out like a football stadium in any major city.
"Once inside, the true extent of just how the Nazis regarded Auschwitz as its crown jewel of the Final Solution is there to see. With its row upon row of neat brick blocks, I realised it was inescapable."
He added: "With watch towers every 100 metres, three rows of barbed wire fences and a forest surrounding it, hundreds of thousands of prisoners were trapped. In three years, only 140 people escaped."
Harry, who hopes to become a journalist, added: "I came home with one detail of that day; a memory which left me more moved than anything else. In Block 5, behind a glass wall, holds thousands of front door keys.
"The people who perished had done what we all do before leaving home except for them they had no idea they were never going back."
Fellow Old Swinfonian Blake Lewis, aged 17, was also deeply affected by the trip.
He said: "The most upsetting experience was seeing the possessions the Nazis had confiscated from victims. Shoes, each pair taken from a prisoner of the Nazis and suitcases, each taken from someone who had packed under false hope.
"Even human hair, from the shaving upon arrival, the beginning of their dehumanisation.
"Each individual was upsetting, but it was the fact that there were enormous piles of these items that really affected me."
He added: "The thought of all of these ordinary people being robbed of the right to a normal life was sickening."
The Auschwitz complex sprawls across 40 square kilometres comprising of three main camps and 45 sub-camps. The students first visited the town of Oswiecim which started WW2 which 7,000 jews and now has none. The group then toured the original Auschwitz concentration camp which the Nazis used to house then kill Polish political prisoners before heading to Auschwitz-Birkenau where the extermination of over a million people was carried out with military precision.
The day ended with a candle-light service at the end of the train tracks where so many people met their own end to remember those who perished. The visit helped the students realise their generation will have to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive after everyone who survived World War Two dies.
Blake said: "Ending the day with a memorial service, the lighting of candles was a symbol for hope in a establishment filled with such darkness.
"This experience has made me determined to pass on my education to others, so that future generations are not subject to the same atrocities those who came before have suffered and we can preserve tolerance in our multi-cultural society."
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