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After Auschwitz

Reva Klein reports on a course which deepens sixth-formers' understanding of the Holocaust

It's one thing to learn about an historical event in a classroom.

It's another thing to see where it took place, to breathe in the air and feel the ground beneath your feet.

When the event is the Nazi Holocaust and the place is Auschwitz, experiential learning takes on new, different dimensions. It can numb visitors or fill them with bewilderment or anger at how the world allowed such a thing to happen. Often, it does all three things sequentially. But what it doesn't do is allow you to walk out of the place feeling the same as when you walked in.

Lessons from Auschwitz, a Holocaust Educational Trust course run for post-16 students and teachers, is predicated on the understanding that "hearing is not like seeing". Now in its fifth year, the short course centres on a one-day visit to Auschwitz, framed on either side by sessions that attempt to prepare participants, provide a context and then allow them to debrief on their perceptions and feelings.

Students and teachers, around 200 on each trip, go separately. Students are mainly sixth-formers studying history, religious studies, English and citizenship. Their backgrounds are mixed (this year, students from Tower Hamlets and Eton are going). Last year, there were 10 or so Muslim students. The HET heavily subsidises the trip, and participants pay around pound;100.

But the course is more than the trip plus two Sunday seminars. Students are expected to disseminate what they have learned to their schools and to the wider community on Holocaust Memorial Day, which takes place annually on January 27, the date of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Those who are judged to have devised the most innovative presentations are invited to the House of Commons to take part in a panel discussion, where two "ambassadors" are chosen to attend and speak at HET events.

Kirsty Young and James Bister, both former students from The Ferrers School in Northampton, who were on the panel last year, have decided to take the matter further. This year they are organising a conference to be held at University College Northampton entitled Understanding Genocide, which will include talks on Rwanda and the Holocaust and will feature a Holocaust survivor.

"As soon as I came away from Auschwitz," says Kirsty, now a student at Keele University, "I realised how important it was for people to know about it. I wanted to do something to stop racism and discrimination and I wanted to help inspire other young people to do something too."

Paul Salver, a sixth-form history teacher at Leon School and Sports College in Bletchley, Milton Keynes, was among the first group of teachers to do the course in 1999. That visit has resulted in the whole school being involved ever since. "We've built Holocaust education into the curriculum in the week before and after Holocaust Memorial Day every year. Each subject area has lessons relating to the Holocaust, human rights, racism and prejudice."

The school has sent two students to the course every year since 1999; they do presentations at the school and also go to talk to the feeder primaries and local groups, including the Jewish community. There's no doubt in Paul Salver's mind that this work is as relevant as it is important: "If I had the time and money, I'd ensure that every single student went on this trip."

To find out more about the Lessons from Auschwitz course, contact the Holocaust Educational Trust Tel: 020 7222 6822 Email: more details about the Northamptonshire conference Understanding Genocide Email:

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