The Holocaust Educational Trust is working with the Government to make sure the horrors of the Holocaust during the Second World War are never forgotten. Reporter ELAINE OKYERE visited Auschwitz with a group of Harrow students.
AS WE all stared at the mound of hair in the glass box, the room fell silent. "It's quite shocking." said
Freddie Law, a student from Harrow School, in High Street. "I thought this would be a hard experience, but it's much worse than I expected."
It was difficult to believe what we were looking at was four tonnes of discoloured hair Nazi soldiers shaved from prisoners at Auschwitz concentration camp in the 1940s.
Throughout the buildings where prisoners used to live, there were boxes containing thousands of glasses, shoes and hairbrushes that were seized on arrival at Auschwitz.
Seventeen-year-old Amy Rice, of Gayton Road, admitted the day had been difficult.
The student from Whitmore High School, in Porlock Avenue, said: "The weirdest thing was all the hairbrushes and artefacts.
"They would be packing that stuff because they thought they were going to need it and have a life - all that was taken away from them."
The students were among 200 young people on a journey to Poland to see a Jewish cemetery, Synagogue and Auschwitz. The 'Lessons from Auschwitz' day trip was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust and partly funded by the government. The Harrow students were chosen by their schools after they wrote about what they thought embarking on this trying journey would mean.
Throughout the journey the tour guides and educators constantly reiterated the day would be a long and emotionally draining one, but little could prepare the group for what they experienced. The day started early for the 16-18-year-olds, with a 7am flight to Krakow followed by a one-hour coach journey to Oswiecim, Poland. The town's name was transformed to Auschwitz by Germans who had difficulty pronouncing its Polish name. Driving through the town, it's hard to believe that a stone's throw away from schools and family homes, millions of Jews, gypsies and others were murdered. The first visit to a Jewish cemetery is a stark reminder that before the war there were 7,000 Jews in a town of 12,000 people - today there are none. During the occupation the cemetery was vandalised and gravestones were ripped from the ground and used as pavement slabs.
As we walked through the cemetery Freddie said: "It was a little weird.
"It's sad there's no family around to see them and take care of the graves."
After the war the community tried to restore as many graves as they could, but unfortunately broken slabs are still strewn across the grounds, meaning that visitors never know whether they are stepping on graves as they stroll through the cemetery.
As we left our tour, educator Louise Heilbron placed a piece of Jerusalem stone on a gravestone. It was a poignant moment, as Jewish tradition dictates stones are placed on graves as a sign of respect.
After leaving the cemetery the coach pulled up to Auschwitz One, which was initially constructed in 1940 to house Polish resistance fighters who were arrested by the Nazis after the German invasion in 1939.
There are three separate camps: Auschwitz, Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, and Auschwitz III.
The first was primarily a concentration camp, which held up to 20,000 resistance members, intellectuals and Russian prisoners of war, as well as German criminals, homosexuals and others branded "anti-social". Walking up the path to the camp, the sign "Arbeit macht frei" ('Work makes you free') welcomes visitors to the camp where people were murdered by a firing squad. The firing wall is covered in flowers and candles to commemorate those who were shot there.
In Block 11 pictures line the wall of people dressed in striped uniform and blank expressions as they arrive at the camp.
The Nazis built gas chambers, as it was deemed easier on the soldiers than having them shoot people.
Neave O'Brien, 18, of Woodlands Road, Harrow, said: "Looking at the pictures of people on the wall who were in Auschwitz, some of them where younger than us. There was a boy who was only 15 years old."
Next door to this courtyard sits Block 10, where Josef Mengele and other doctors spent years performing often lethal experiments on women and children.
Auschwitz One housed one gas chamber, which killed 340 people a day from 1940-3 and has been reconstructed.
The group fell silent as we took the trip through the room where thousands of people undressed, believing they were going to have a shower following a long journey, but instead met their deaths. The room was cramped and small and we shuddered as we looked up to see holes in the wall through which the chemicals were dropped.
Neave said: "I was so close to crying when we walked through the gas chamber.
"I can't describe it - these were people who had lives and families."
Our last stop was Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was built in 1941.
Polish families were evicted from the their homes in order to make space for the 400-acre camp.
This is where the majority of Jews died, were worked to death or killed on arrival.
Mass-killing was moved here after four gas chambers and crematoriums were built, some hidden in the forests. Our group was shown the barracks where hundreds of people slept in an area originally intended to house horses. Holes in the ground were used as toilets.
We walked along the railway track towards the final building, where prisoners who survived the selection process were brought to be shaved and stripped of their clothing, before having numbers burnt into their skin.
Around the room are pictures of the unnamed victims. When the camp was liberated, hundreds of photos were found but no-one could identify them. The fact these people remain anonymous after more than six decades shows how whole families and communities were wiped out, surviving only in grainy photographs of seaside outings and wedding portraits.