PEMBROKESHIRE pupils, who recently visited the bleak horrific Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, have spoken of their experiences and hopes to learn from its lessons.

The Western Telegraph joined some 150 students from schools and colleges across Wales, including pupils from Tasker Milward, Greenhill, and Ysgol y Preseli on February 7, as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz project, as reported last week.

The horrors of the camps that make up Auschwitz-Birkenau and its many sibling monuments to the murderous Nazi regime, are well known, the memories forever etched on our consciousness, the loss of 1.1million in this one dark place alone.

The sheer scale of horror and death in numbers almost incomprehensible taints the soul, but many of the pupils making the visit found their own personal experiences in what is shown, where a every corner seems to have a fresh affront to humanity.

Tasker Milward pupils Sophie Busch and Amy Lewis were part of the group visiting the site on the bitter February day.

Western Telegraph:

Tasker Milward pupils Sophie Busch and Amy Lewis. PICTURE: Western Telegraph.

Sophie, from Haverfordwest, said: “You learn about it in history, and the statistics, but not the scale of the genocide and murder; a humbling experience. I’ve learned about it for three years but you can’t really comprehend it.

“The sheer size of Auschwitz-Birkenau was one thing I couldn’t comprehend; a difficulty, because of the snow, you couldn’t see where it ended.

“I sort of prepared myself for the hair and the shoes, but the plaits that had just been cut from hair, the hair, that was so personal; I think that shook me.”

She added: “It was not the first case of genocide and it won’t be the last, people can deny it and say it didn’t happen; the fact that these places still stand, it goes forward to be a memory; these people are remembered and won’t be forgotten.”

Amy, from Burton, said: “I feel it’s something, not a pleasant experience; but something you have to force yourself to do. If you get the opportunity to go, definitely do; it’s almost a responsibility to to go and witness that. It’s quite easy to separate yourself from it, saying: ‘These are evil people,’ and they were, but you can’t imagine that happening in the western world, it shows if you let the wrong things develop what can happen, it’s horrific.

“For me it was the prosthetic limbs, I hadn’t heard of that before. It was almost part of them, each of them with such a limb had a disability, it was shocking because you knew each of these people had the prosthetic limb taken away from them.

“It’s one of those things you can see pieces, it’s only when you’re there you can see the scale, it makes it real, you need it there for people to witness it.”

In one of the halls in Auschwitz there is a book, a work of four million names that may never be finished, that tries to give a name and a history to the six million lost in the Holocaust.

Amy said: “It’s about the individuals, it’s the normal people that are not remembered; the book of names, that got me, there are four million names but there are still two million people’s names that are not in that book.”

Sophie and Amy will now use their experiences to educate fellow pupils, Amy saying: “We felt this experience, we couldn’t keep to ourselves; we don’t want to let the experience just affect the two of us.”

Ysgol y Preseli student Mari Jones, who also made the trip, said: “Forming my thoughts and feelings from visiting Auschwitz into words is difficult as the effects of the sights and stories had were so profound and deep. Doing so takes them away from their purist forms; experience and memory.

“The lessons from Auschwitz project’s premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ correctly captures the notion that the extensive scale of the event cannot be comprehended until the statistics are given names and those names are given stories to shape lives; lives as ordinary as our own until prejudice and hate tore them apart, as I learnt.

“By participating, I listened to a Holocaust survivor provide valuable and scarily relevant lessons that a classroom could never convey. Feeling numb whilst stood on the tracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and not due to the heavy snow, truly highlighted the atrocity that took place and the importance of education and awareness to avoid history repeating itself.”

Greenhill students Lowri Longhurst and Ffion Danielle Ellaway also made the trip.

Western Telegraph:

Greenhill pupils Ffion and Lowri are pictured with teacher Sarah Miles. PICTURE: Western Telegraph.

For Ffion, images of a mother, and her daughter, who were consumed by Auschwitz perhaps not having seen each other since they entered, were particularly harrowing.

“In Auschwitz, there were piece more individual, in one hallway there was a picture of the mother and in the next a picture of the daughter; it hit you quite hard seeing that, everything just comes together. That’s what the trip is based on, don’t just think of the numbers, think of the story.”

She added: “It makes it hard to comprehend because they were just ordinary people, just Jewish, not something to discriminate against.”

Lowri said: “When you are out and about you are more aware of looking out for news regarding the issue, more than if you just read about it.”

Greenhill history teacher Sarah Miles, who made the journey to Auschwitz five years ago, said: “It completely inspired me to make sure I did my part in educating about the Holocaust, making sure we had pupils going every year.”

“We have had survivors come and speak, in our garden we have a tree from Auschwitz survivor Mr Henry Schachter; Carys [a pupil who made the visit previously] is in the process of organising for him to come back soon.”

Auschwitz is not a museum, it is a mirror to us all and a warning to learn the lessons of its history.

The bleak gates of Auschwitz and the foreboding watchtower at Auschwitz-Birkenau still offend the spirit and rend the soul, but in a little corner of Pembrokeshire, a tree will grow and prosper, a symbol to remember, and a symbol of hope for the future.