YOU can talk to people who have visited Auschwitz before, but nothing really prepares you for how you feel, think and react to walking through the former Nazi concentration camp.

Since 1999, the Holocaust Educational Trust has run the Lessons from Auschwitz project, giving thousands of students the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum.

The project aims to increase knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust based on the premise that ‘hearing is not like seeing’ and to show what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable.

Students from the Woodroffe School in Lyme Regis joined 200 students on the trip last week, and I was invited to go along too.

We started our day at Oswiecim, the town where the Nazi concentration and death camp was located and the site of a Synagogue closed by the Germans during occupation to give students the time to reflect on life before the Holocaust, who these people were and what the town was like before the tragedy.

The trip was just as much about looking at life before the Holocaust as it was reflecting on the events that took place in Auschwitz.

We arrived at Auschwitz and I walked through the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ - ‘Work makes you free’ - gates to see the former camp’s barracks and crematoria.

It was startling how hard the camp would hit you.

Our tour guide explained the history of the camp, the many atrocities that happened there and took us round the barracks, with each visit inside hitting harder than the last.

One of the most moving rooms was where the piles of belongings were kept.

Thousands of glasses and shoes were piled high, with hundreds of suitcases with names and addresses on, thousands of pots and pans families brought with them thinking they would need them, hairbrushes and combs, shaving cream and brushes and even prosthetic limbs and crutches.

Films showing life for the families before the Holocaust were projected onto the walls - visits to the beach with the sounds of waves crashing, riding bikes, celebrating, dancing and smiling, hearing them laugh and sing – all unaware of the absolutely heart-breaking tragedy that awaited them.

This was the realisation that those subject to this torturous event were just like them.

We were taken inside a gas chamber. The vents in the ceiling where the poisonous gas was leaked in could still be seen and you could only imagine the sheer panic and urgency to get out of those told they were only taking a shower.

It is easy when such a tragedy as this happens in another country, before you were born and to people of a different faith to emotionally remove yourself from the situation.

But seeing all these belongings they brought with them, thinking they would need them and once again use them, hearing of the big collection of house keys as it would have been the last thing families would have done before leaving their old life behind and the films of them enjoying life before the Holocaust, really hits home how they were no different, they were human and we have things in common.

It was explained that some of the Jews who were put on the train to Auschwitz actually paid for their ticket to get there.

We spent two hours here, but could have spent much longer, looking at every face that was photographed when they arrived at the camp before each prisoner was instead tattooed with just a number, reading all the four million names recorded – but with a massive two million lost and unknown – and taking the time to let the enormity of the events set in.

We were then taken to Auschwitz – Birkenau, where the iconic picture of the train tracks coming straight in to the camp through the gates comes from.

This felt a lot more desolate than Auschwitz I, with many of the buildings destroyed to heaps of rubble with so many terrible memories remaining.

We walked alongside the train tracks which housed an old railroad cart that would have been used to bring the Jews in the camp.

We were told the story of a man who arrived in Birkenau with religious ritual objects, who was killed after refusing to give it to the Nazi officers and the memorial was made possible by the son of that man, Frank Lowy.

At the end of the train tracks into the camp, a memorial has been erected, between the ruins of Krema II and Krema III, the crematoria buildings where two gas chambers at Birkenau were located.

Within the building of the main disinfection building there were photos of family and loved ones that the prisoners had brought with them, sentimental pictures that were taken away.

It was in this building we had a closing ceremony with poems, prayers and talks, with time to reflect on the day’s events and remember the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.

By the time the ceremony had finished, it was dark and the long walk back to the coach was particularly eerie, with the silhouettes of the watchtowers, barbedwire fences, ruins and chimneys being faintly seen either side of the train tracks and the effects of the day started to seep in.

But we could leave through those gates, something millions of people could not do and would never do.