Teenagers visited Poland with the Holocaust Education Trust to see first hand the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Hundreds of pupils from the North East came face to face with the horrors of war as they travelled to Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The whirlwind one day visit as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz project saw around 200 teenagers from across the region head to the city of Oświęcim and the two largest Nazi-built camps on its outskirts - the sites of some of the Third Reich’s greatest atrocities.
More than a million Jews, Poles, Gypsies and Soviet prisoners died in the Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers.
“Seeing first-hand how families were ripped apart, I just wanted to go home and hug my mum,” said 17-year-old St Thomas More Catholic School pupil Beth Rutledge, from Low Fell.
“You stand there, experiencing the sheer scale of it, and think ‘this horrific thing really did happen’ and it happened right there.”
During the day, which saw pouring rain and dark clouds overhead, the history students were guided around the camps by local guides and confronted with the remains of the Hitler regime’s “final solution.”
“I thought I had learned a lot about it, but to see it felt really different,” said Erin Bell, 17, from Washington. “And standing in one of the gas chambers, it was deeply uncomfortable to be there.”
Rachel Grant, 18, from Whickham, agreed.
“I feel more appreciative of what I have and how well off we are,” she said. “Nobody is persecuting us for our religion or belief.”
“You see pictures and hear descriptions, but you can never prepare yourself,” said Ben Fraser, 17, a Park View Community School pupil, from Pelton.
“I felt a bit sick walking round, but also at the same time very sad.
“One million people is an impossibly large figure to contemplate, but to see the holiday snaps, and hear about people’s ambitions and aims, and see the sheer volume of things, it really put it into context – and it’s so important that the individuals aren’t forgotten in all of it.
“I know I can’t imagine what they went through, and it was a difficult, emotional experience, but it is important for people like us to visit Auschwitz and bring back our experiences to share with others, so we can educate and act as role models.”
Teacher Stuart Ireland, who accompanied four Year 13 A level pupils from Lord Lawson of Beamish School, said he felt it is important for pupils to visit and see for themselves the horrors of war.
“It was my third time visiting Auschwitz and the second with school pupils,” he said. “And it never really fails to amaze.
“From a teaching point of view, watching the impact it has on students, that’s the reason we do it.
“It’s one of those places you should try to visit at least once as it gives more humanity to the subject.”
Echoing the sentiments of many on the trip, Ben said the message he would most take away from the trip were the words of Rabbi Barry Marcus, who spoke to the teenagers in a service of remembrance at the end.
“I think the thing that struck me the most was what Rabbi Marcus said about it being the distance between people that we need to cross,” said Ben.