STUDENTS were rendered silent as they took a sombre tour of a concentration camp where 1.2million people were killed.
The Dorset students journeyed to Auschwitz as part of an educational programme designed to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.
Sixth formers from Beaminster School, Sir John Colfox School in Bridport, The Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis, Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester and the Purbeck School in Wareham, took the one-day trip to Poland with the Holocaust Educational Trust.
They were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial after flying from Exeter Airport to Krakow.
Nearly 200 youngsters from schools across the south west were shown around the concentration camp, where 1.2million people, mainly Jews, were killed during the Second World War.
The students walked alongside the train tracks at Birkenau where thousands of ill-fated prisoners arrived.
They passed through displays at Auschwitz containing floor to ceiling piles of shorn hair, spectacles and shoes belonging to those who were killed.
Two students from each school took part in the Lessons from Auschwitz project, which is sponsored by a government grant and heavily subsidised by the trust.
Students are asked to complete a ‘Next Steps’ project on their return from Poland.
Thomas Bachrach and David James from Beaminster School joined the trip.
Thomas said: “Nothing could have prepared me for coming here.”
His classmate David said: “For the project I’m going to work on once I return I want to involve the whole school. I’ve got plans to create some sort of sculpture related to Auschwitz. I want as many people in the school to get involved in it and to be aware of this as possible.”
Sixth formers Rueben Higgins and Sophie Cole represented Sir John Colfox School.
Rueben said: “The trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau was an absolutely unforgettable experience that gave me much more of an insight about the Holocaust.
“Part of the trip was learning about the lives and experiences of the victims of the Holocaust in an attempt to rehumanise them and to learn about the individual stories of those who ended up at the camp.
“After coming back I am looking at bringing this message to as many as I can within my school to try to improve people understanding of the Holocaust.”
The day ended with a memorial service at the ruins of Crematoria II, Birkenau, led by Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London.
Students lit candles in memory of victims of genocide after taking part in and hearing readings from Holocaust survivors along with ceremony prayers.