Byline: RUTH LOGNONNE
THERE is a pile of children's shoes in Auschwitz. Among them is a red leather pair, with flowers embroidered on them, which look no different to a pair I bought my two-year-old niece.
Walk a little further and the pile gets bigger. Tens of thousands of pairs of grown-up shoes - some with heels and some with elaborate patterns - stacked high along a corridor that seems to run forever.
"They're the sort of shoes I'd wear for a night out," said 17-yearold Lucy Stephenson from Prior Pursglove College, in Guisborough.
"I love shoes and I know whoever that woman was packed her best shoes to come here. I feel sick to the stomach because they thought they were coming somewhere to live a normal life.
"Instead they were exposed to a life of brutality and death. Their belongings were stripped from them and they never saw their loved-ones again."
Photos of just a few of the inconceivable number of men, women and children who were incarcerated hang on the walls of one of the austere red brick blocks that make up the concentration camp known as Auschwitz One.
They had already been exposed to the savage hacking of their hair, evident from the cuts and uneven shave, and the robbing of their clothes to make way for the insectinfested striped pyjamas that tried to take from them their identities.
One man, with a black eye and cut to his forehead, was staring right down the lens into the eyes of his perpetrator.
He looked composed, he looked defiant; he only lasted in Auschwitz 16 days.
The 200 students who I joined on this trip had been selected by their respective schools following interview or a written competition.
They are the region's bright young things, full of confidence and vigour.
But upon seeing the hair belonging to Jewish prisoners - brutally hacked offand now exhibited to thousands of visitors behind glass - their lively discussions promptly turned to stony silence.
Nothing was wasted by the Nazis. Hair was woven into textiles that were sold overseas and the ash from their incarcerated bodies was spread across the occupied land as fertilizer. One student from Gateshead struggled to talk to me following what she had just seen. "I don't know how to feel," said 17-year-old Lottie Ledger from Cardinal Hume, in Gateshead. "I never knew any of these people but when I saw the hair my eyes began to sting. "I was looking forward to this trip, because I'm fascinated by the history of the Holocaust. But this just humanised everything for me. "I think it's important for young people to witness this, because it sparks an important message, but I don't want to ever come back." Emily Hodgson, also from Cardinal Hume, wanted to come on the trip not just for the history but in memory of her Jewish relations. "The moment people stop talking about it is the moment people stop knowing about it," said the 17-yearold.
"I've always wanted to come to Auschwitz because my granddad was Jewish. "Seeing the camp has brought about mixed reactions. I'm certainly not enjoying it, but I still believe that being here today is important." The Holocaust Educational Trust sends around 2,000 post-16 students to Auschwitz-Birkenau every year thanks to Government funding. This month, two students each from schools and colleges, including Charles Thorp, Emmanuel College, Heworth Grange and St Thomas More School, all had the opportunity to go on the excursion which makes up the four-part, Lessons From Auschwitz course. Of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, around 1.2 million died at Auschwitz-Birkenau; 90% of whom were Jewish. Others were intellectuals and resistance prisoners, gypsies, criminals and homosexuals. They had been rounded up from all corners of Europe and evacuated to camps in Germany, usually on cattle trucks or in brutal 'death marches'.
Most of these evacuations took place in winter. …