A Holocaust lesson pupils will not forget

21st October 2005 at 01:00
When Labour MP Jim Murphy visited Auschwitz three years ago, he was so moved by the experience that he began encouraging everyone he knew and met to make the journey to the largest and most notorious of the Nazi death camps.

In conjunction with the Holocaust Education Trust, the MP for Eastwood, East Renfrewshire, is now organising a visit for pupils, teachers and parents from across Scotland, and he hopes it will become an annual event.

Following a visit by Edinburgh pupils in 2002, this will be the first organised trip drawing pupils from different local authorities.

"I visited Auschwitz on a trip organised by our local Jewish community three years ago and, ever since, I've been encouraging people to go. It can't fail to have a massive influence on you, and I want to give young Scots, their parents and teachers, the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust first-hand," he says.

Despite publicity surrounding the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz earlier this year, recent BBC research suggests that 60 per cent of people under 35 have not heard of the death camp built a few miles from Krakow and knew little of the Holocaust.

One aim of the visit is to provide pupils with an eyewitness account in the build-up to national Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27. "The idea is that, on their return, the pupils and their teachers will share their experience with classmates and at school assemblies," says Mr Murphy.

"It's about achieving and sharing a historical understanding but it is also about looking forward, about learning from history so that we do not make the same mistakes."

Pupils aged 16 and older will fly out early on November 23, on a special charter flight from Glasgow. They will visit the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps and Oscar Schindler's factory, made famous through the film Schindler's List, before returning that evening.

All pupils will receive an education pack in advance of the visit, which is self-financing. The organisers are hoping it will become an annual event and are looking for sponsors to help them.

"The importance of such visits cannot be overestimated," says Kay Andrews, the head of education at the Holocaust Education Trust. "Seeing the camps for themselves has a profound effect on young people and encourages them to learn more about the Holocaust, as well as understanding the dangers of prejudice and racism."

James Bellshaw, the senior education manager in Fife, says the local authority has booked 12 pupils on the trip but the uptake could have been greater, had finances allowed it.

"A number will be disappointed not to have gone, but they will benefit from the peer education of those taking part. It is difficult not to be grabbed by this important opportunity on the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation."

Mr Murphy recalls: "I was stunned that there were sites in Europe where this mass murder had taken place within living memory.

"I went on a cold winter's day, well clothed, well fed and well rested, but I was numb with emotion, thinking about the victims who had no protective clothing, were starving and had little rest. How did anyone survive? And yet I was with some people who had.

"It is a place of utter depression and yet of remarkable inspiration. There is a tribute to the human spirit there as well."

Places on the trip, costing pound;294, still available: call East Renfrewshire Parliamentary Office, tel 0141 577 0100

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