Government to back hands-on Holocaust education among young

By staff writers
4 Feb 2008

The UK government will sponsor student trips to Auschwitz concentration camp in an effort to keep the message of the Nazi Holocaust alive and relevant to younger generations, say reports in Deutsche Welle, The Times and the BBC.

The scheme is based on a 2006 pilot programme that begun to fund day trips to the death camp for two students from every secondary school in England.

Auschwitz is located in present-day Poland. The growth of the far right and Holocaust denial via the internet has aroused concerns about young people's awareness. Campaigners say that education and argument, not censorship, is the way to get the message across.

Schools Minister Jim Knight says the scheme will now be made permanent with £1.5 million pounds of government money each year until 2011, and the possibility of more funding after that. The idea behind the visit is for teenagers to educate their classmates upon return.

Historians estimate 1.1 million people died at the hands of Poland's German occupiers at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945, either from asphyxiation with Zyklon B gas in the notorious gas chambers or from starvation, disease or exhaustion. They included Jews, Roma, Sinti, gays, disabled and black people.

"The Holocaust was one of the most significant events in world history," Knight told The Times. "What strikes me is the sheer scale of it and how industrialized and mechanized the process of killing people became at Auschwitz."

"It was not hot-blooded brutality, it happened in a very planned way, with some people designing the process of death and others carrying it out," Knight said. "Every young person should have an understanding of this."

The sixth-form students, who are typically between 16 and 18 years old, will meet with an Auschwitz survivor, be shown around the camp's barracks and gas chambers, see the piles of hair, shoes, clothes and other items seized by the Nazis and hear first-hand accounts of life and death in the concentration camp. They are to fly to Poland and back in a day.

The government will shoulder the main financial cost of each student's trip. This amounts to £200 pounds per trip over the next three years while their schools must raise the remaining £100.

The Holocaust Education Trust, which was responsible for making the Holocaust an integral part of the UK's National Curriculum for History in 1991, is to administer the programme.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, told The Times that the project aimed to turn the educated into educators: "We are very aware that there's going to be a time where there aren't any survivors left to go into schools."

She added: "The young people on these visits themselves become eye witnesses. For a lot of them, it's life-changing. They suddenly realize what they value and they see it as important to challenge prejudice today."

Pollock added that some students who had visited Auschwitz within the framework of the programme had been inspired to distribute leaflets protesting against far-right British National Party candidates standing in their local council elections.

The scheme is also inspiring Holocaust education in modern day Germany and other parts of Europe. Churches and faith communities are being urged to commit themselves to such projects.

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