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Learning lessons from the past at Auschwitz

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Auschwitz - described as "he biggest murder scene on the planet".
Auschwitz - described as "he biggest murder scene on the planet".

Sixth-formers from across the county learned about the horrors of war during a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camps, a place described as "the biggest murder scene on the planet".

The visits to Poland run by the Holocaust Educational Trust are about leaving a lasting impression on young minds and it certainly did that for pupils from 29 Kent schools.

• Watch our slideshow of Auschwitz images and listen to pupils describe their feelings in the window at the top of this page.

At its deadliest, 12,000 people, mainly Jews, died there every day in the gas chambers.

Trip leader Tom Jackson said: "The main aim is to encourage children to learn the contemporary lessons which are relevant to them every day - of tolerance, understanding, and fighting prejudice."

The pupils visited two camps: Auschwitz I, built in 1940 to house Polish criminal and political prisoners, and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp where it is estimated 1.2 million people died.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was described by the tour guide as "the biggest murder scene on the planet".

Auschwitz I has been largely been turned into a museum, displaying items such as prisoners’ suitcases, children’s shoes and clothes, and a mass of hair weighing two tonnes.

The landscape is barren, and the snow was falling horizontally in the wind, but no one complained about the weather, as the sheer scale of the site sunk in.

Pupils walked along the famous rail track, leading to the back of the camp. It’s an iconic image – the route to selection – life as a prisoner, or immediate death.

The visit also took in the gas chamber and crematorium. It now stands in ruins after the Nazis blew it up in an attempt to hide the atrocities.

The Kent schools involved:

The Skinners' School, St. George's CE Foundation School, Sutton Valence School, The Norton Knatchbull School, Homewood School, Mascalls School, Minster College, Marsh Academy, Castle Community College, The Canterbury High School, Tunbridge Wells Girls' Grammar School, Cleeve Park School, Rainham Mar Grammar School, Kent College, Tonbridge Grammar School, Astor College for the Arts, Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, The Archbishop's School, Queen Elizabeth's Gramma School, The Folkestone Academy, Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, The Judd School, Maidstone Grammar School for Girls, Fort Pitt Grammar School, Chapter School, Benenden School, Bishop Challoner School, Walmer Science College, Dover College.

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