A day in Auschwitz

Students faced with the true horrors of Nazi death camp.

AUSCHWITZ Birkenau is a hard place to comprehend, even when you have seen it with your own eyes, and remains a stark reminder of the atrocities of the Second World War.

Students from Honiton Community College, Axe Valley Community College and The Woodroffe School joined the Holocaust Educational Trust last week for a one-day visit to the concentration camps as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz Project.

On arriving in Auschwitz, the first thing you notice is the rows of barbed wire and guard lookout towers surrounding the compound of redbrick buildings used to house prisoners.

No longer filled with the persecuted victims of a twisted, fascist regime, the site has now become a museum - as vast as the war crimes that were committed there.

Each of the prisoner barracks reveals a different aspect of life in Auschwitz with haunting collections of the prisoners’ personal belongings, including children’s clothing, around 80,000 shoes as well as a mountain of spectacles and suitcases inscribed with their owners’ names.

On arriving at the camps, the prisoners would have been stripped of all their possessions.

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Many of the Jews transported to Auschwitz were killed in the gas chambers immediately.

Auschwitz was the main site connecting to satellite camps which include Auschwitz II, Birkenau.

Birkenau is three kilometres from the main camp and covers approximately 425 acres with more than 300 buildings, some of which still remain intact.

The Nazis’ mass extermination process was transferred to Birkenau where up to 2,000 prisoners could be killed at one time. It only took 20 minutes to kill everyone inside the gas chambers using cans of Cyclone B.

Prisoners in Birkenau would have been housed in wooden or stone barracks, where they would have endured cramped living quarters, terrible sanitation and limited food and water. They would work for 11 hours a day, enjoying only 30 minutes respite to devour a meal of soup.

It is important to remember that Catholics, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, trade unionists, Polish and Soviet prisoners of war, the disabled and mentally ill were also persecuted by the Nazis.