The writing on the walls

1st December 2006 at 00:00
An emotional visit to Auschwitz prompted a group of Fife pupils to highlight the Holocaust by organising a three-week festival with money they raised

the cold walls that once closed in on individuals deemed unfit to live are scarred with messages and names, scratched in desperation by those whose final moments were spent slumped on the unforgiving stone floor. Young and old, rich and poor died here, but the walls are silent and cold now.

For the group of 150 Scottish school pupils standing inside, one detail screamed out at them - the first gas chamber the Nazis built to deal with the "Jewish problem" and other "undesirables" at Auschwitz is so large that the group could stand in it comfortably with room to spare. Yet it was deemed too small, and larger ones were built.

As Mhairi Liddell, an S6 pupil at Balwearie High in Kirkcaldy, Fife, stood in the room where thousands died, she felt physically sick. "The walls were black and the smell - I can only describe it as the same as when the biology department burn chicken bones. But worse," she says. "I felt like I did when I was a child and the adults were talking and I couldn't understand anything that was said. It was incomprehensible that people could carry out these acts."

The next stop was an incinerator in Auschwitz Two.

When Mhairi and nine other students from Balwearie, Inverkei-thing and Lochgelly high schools returned from their visit in November 2005, they were determined to do more than talk about it. Since January this year, they have raised more than pound;200,000 and have used this to create a three-week festival that will culminate in a candlelit procession and other activities on January 28 next year, the day after Holocaust Memorial Day.

"Many of my generation don't know about the Holocaust. I was asked by a friend 'Who was Anne Frank?' People don't know," says Mhairi, who has since left school and plans to join the police force. "We have to change that."

The group, which now consists of other pupils from the three schools, has been working on the festival with Fife Creative Links, an organisation charged with bridging the gap between education and the arts. What they have created will make the town a major destination for schools and other visitors for most of January.

Central to it are two exhibitions. Anne Frank + You will be a contemporary, large-scale, multi-media and interactive exhibition featuring the voices of young people in Britain, juxtaposed against the voices, hopes and experience of Anne Frank and her companions hiding out in Amsterdam during Nazi occupation. It will cover contemporary issues, including racism in football, the right to wear religious symbols, bullying and the plight of child soldiers. The highpoint will be the opportunity for visitors to enter a virtually life-size replica of Anne's room in the secret annexe of the Amsterdam house where she wrote her famous diary.

The second exhibition is a coup for the student organisers. Anne Frank + Family Photographic Exhibition features photographs taken by Anne's father, Otto. It has left the Frank House in Amsterdam only twice, and this will be its first visit to Scotland.

The aim is to ensure all visitors know about the writing on the walls of Auschwitz and of a girl who was sent to Bergen-Belsen, where she died of typhus aged 15, after two years in hiding.

January 8-28, 2007; free.


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