VIDEO: Shining a light on horrors of the Holocaust

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The South Yorkshire pupils were eerily quiet on the way back to the airport.

They were almost certainly tired, hungry and cold after a full day touring Auschwitz in bitterly cold weather.

Harrowing picture of prisoners at Auschwitz

Harrowing picture of prisoners at Auschwitz

But not one of them complained about it for a simple reason – they were able to leave at the end.

Some one million Jews are thought to have crossed through the forbidding gates at Auschwitz-Birkenau, crammed into wooden train carriages and full of hope for a new life.

But that is where their lives ended.

The story of the Holocaust is repeated in history books in classrooms up and down South Yorkshire.

The Holocaust Educational Trust has brought these black and white text book pages to life by inviting pupil representatives from every school in the region to see the camp for themselves on a day trip.

In the coach on the way to our first stop, Auschwitz 1, I am sitting next to 16-year-old Will Smith, a Tapton School pupil from Crookes.

“I expect it all to be grey,” he says.

“I imagine it’s going to be very moving. I cry at every film I watch, so I’m almost certain to be sobbing my way around.”

As we make our way through the Polish town of Oswiecim – or Auschwitz in German – our guide, Rabbi Barry Marcus, tells us Nazis would round up Jews and other victims in places like this, load them into a truck and run a hose from the exhaust pipe into their container.

“They would drive them through villages like we are going through now, gas them and then burn the bodies,” he says.

The coach crosses a bridge over a wide river.

“They would dump the ash in the river that we have just passed by.

“When the river swelled a little bit, it would move the ash downstream. There were children swimming in the river about 300 yards downstream and they got covered in it.”

The coach pulls into Auschwitz 1, a concentration camp which held about 15,000 prisoners.

The camp is still surrounded by masses of barbed wire which disappears into the distance as it is blurred by fog and snowflakes.

We pull on our layers – a far cry from the ‘striped pyjamas’ offered to the prisoners here – and walk under the notorious ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ gateway.

It is all rather overwhelming.

You imagine the feet which once slipped into the shoes now piled high behind a glass panel.

You imagine a Roma woman gently combing the hair now part of a knotted mountain in a display cabinet.

And you imagine a Jewish gentleman taking pride in his appearance and having a shave with one of the thousands of shaving brushes now on show in yet another exhibit.

It hit me when we entered a long corridor displaying portrait photographs of newly-arrived prisoners – many with heads freshly shorn, some with black eyes but all with pride and dignity etched on their faces.

One of the young men looked like my brother. The caption under his photograph tells me he survived in the camp for just three months.

The next stop is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp where at least 1.1 million people are thought to have been killed. The majority of them died in the gas chambers, which are now in ruins at a far end of the camp.

As the last of the daylight fades we enter one of the wooden shacks and our eyes adjust to reveal a long, narrow trough with dozens of holes cut out of it. This was the toilet which the prisoners – many of whom were suffering from stomach upsets – were allowed to come to for a timed visit twice a day.

Inside another building there are rows of triple-tiered, wooden ‘beds’. The construction – smaller than the changing rooms at Sheffield’s Ponds Forge swimming pool – slept up to 1,000 men.

Will walks alongside me as we head back to the entrance.

“They weren’t treated like humans, they were like battery hens,” he says.

Back on the coach and en route to the airport, the teenagers seem deep in thought.

A young man behind me answers his mobile phone and I overhear him talking to his father.

“I haven’t cried yet, dad,” he says. “But I think when I get home it will hit me like a ton of bricks.”