Megan Rooney (5M) and Ross Grant (6L) joined 200 young people from central Scotland in a History lesson they will never forget. The senior pupils have returned from an emotional pilgrimage to the infamous Nazi death camps in Auschwitz, Poland as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz project led by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Prior to their visit, Megan and Ross took part in an Orientation Seminar for the once in a lifetime opportunity to hear the incredible story of a Holocaust survivor first hand. Eva Clarke shared the story of her mother, an inmate and survivor of the Nazi death camps and of her own story of fate and good fortune to have been one of only a few babies to survive being born in a concentration camp. The heart-touching story evoked an emotional response from the audience and added a personal perspective to the events and atrocities of the Holocaust the pupils had previously studied from textbooks, films and photographs.
On arriving in Poland, Megan and Ross explored the camps and prison cells at Auschwitz I which have now been dedicated to a museum housing the evidence of the atrocities. This includes a display of human hair, spectacles, luggage and prosthetic limbs to name but a few. The visit inside the gas chamber and the nearby crematorium, offered a chance to reflect on the terror felt by the inmates who met their untimely and inhumane end in the “showers of death”. The scale of the exhibits merely touches upon the scale of the mass murder experienced by the inmates in Auschwitz alone, not to mention the other Nazi death camps elsewhere in Poland.
The tour continued in the afternoon to Auschwitz- Birkenau. The sight alone of the railway tracks leading into “the gates of hell” sparked an emotional response from many students. Megan and Ross walked along the infamous railway tracks which brought many innocent men, women and children to their fate. During World War Two over one million people were killed in Auschwitz- Birkenau including Jews, political prisoners, and Soviet prisoners of war. The calm but vivid imagery of the tour guide brought the fear and terror of the inmates to life in a haunting thought of the millions who had passed through the gates of Auschwitz- Birkenau under the chilling and much feared presence of the Nazi guards. The day ended with a moment of reflection with a short service of memorial and a candle lighting ceremony led by Rabbi Barry Marcus. Megan and Ross agreed that this was an appropriate and touching end to their visit.
All of the young people who took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz programme arrived with a textbook understanding of the Holocaust and what happened in the camps. They have now witnessed first-hand the extremes that humanity can sink to under the hands of a powerful and evil regime. Megan and Ross will now work in school as Ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust and will complete a Next Steps Project in which they pass on the lessons they have learned from their involvement in the programme. This will include a focus on a presentation and lesson delivered to lower school pupils focussing on the theme of prejudice, racism and tolerance. The experience is sure to be one lesson from history that Megan and Ross will never forget.