Alex Constantine - January 17, 2008
By Staff reporter
HISTORY SEEKERS: Damien Cook and Lewis Farrell-Southin
"The past is a foreign country," the writer LP Hartley famously wrote.
For two Wallasey sixth formers these words had an uncanny truth when they visited Auschwitz in Poland just before Christmas.
They went with over a hundred other students from the north west, some teachers, Globe photographer David Gennard and Wirral South MP Ben Chapman.
As they left John Lennon Airport in the early hours, they prepared for a day that would change their lives, according to Damien Cook and Lewis Farrell-Southin, studying A Levels at The Mosslands School, Wallasey.
Several hours later, in the biting, sub-zero cold of a Polish winter, they stood contemplating the miles of huts of the former concentration camps of Auschwitz.
"It's an area of about 12 football pitches, the size of a small town," Lewis estimated.
"We learnt that 80% of the German and Polish people brought here were killed straight away. One survivor of the camp, Kitty, told us how they had asked each other, "Why the smell of cooking?" Gradually, they began to understand. When the leaves fell in autumn, the constant smoke from the crematorium became visible and confirmed their worst fears."
That Auschwitz was a death factory was brought home sharply to the young visitors as they gazed at two tons of human hair in the museum and thousands of personal items such as shoes and spectacles.
"In amongst the mounds of brown and black shoes you'd occasionally catch sight of a small white one, that of a baby, which reminded of you of the systematic cruelty of what the Nazis were doing," said Damien.
For those allowed to survive, life was designed as a constant struggle and stripping of dignity.
"80% of the German and Polish people brought here were killed straight away."
"The Nazis gave the worst job to the intellectuals, the doctors, university students and lecturers, writers, poets. They had the task of carrying away the tons of human excrement from the inmates, many of which died of cholera, if not starvation, or were shot for the smallest of offences."
In the afternoon as darkness fell the north-west sixth formers laid candles along the railway which had transported millions to their deaths. "There were readings, poems, prayers, but mostly we just thought about what had happened here."
Damien and Lewis confirmed what many say about Auschwitz: "Nothing lives. The silence is total. No birds or animals, nothing growing, no break in the endless grey."
Following their visit they made a commitment to study Auschwitz as part of A Level History coursework and having had time to reflect and study further, they recognise the importance of remembering the past in Holocaust Memorial Day. on January 27.
These young people at the threshold of adulthood took on the responsibility of bearing witness. Adults may be prompted to also remember that for evil to exist in the world all it takes is for good people to do nothing.
Damien Cook and Lewis Farrell-Southin were speaking to Julie Lamin, of the online news-into-schools website Copycatcher, at www.copycatcher.co.uk.
Julie is a former Head of English at The Mosslands School.
To see David Gennard's videos, go to our website at www.wirralglobe.co.uk.
The official Auschwitz-Birkenau website has also posted his videos and a Polish translation of his feature, published in the Globe in November.