A record number of visitors walked through the gates of Auschwitz this year to learn about the history of the former Nazi concentration camp.

Nearly two million people from hundreds of countries visited the site of the extermination camp in occupied Poland where more than one million men, women and children died, the Auschwitz museum said.

Numbers surpassed the previous record – 1.7 million visitors last year – in October, the museum revealed, adding it will release full visitor figures in the new year.

Britain has long been one of the countries providing the highest number of visitors. Last year 220,000 went to the site, and English is the most popular language for its 283 guides.

Pawel Sawicki, spokesman for the Auschwitz memorial, said: “When you look at the attendance, the number of British visitors is always somewhere in the top three countries.

“It’s usually Poland first, which can be reasonably explained because the memorial’s in Poland. And then it’s usually the US and UK.”

Mr Sawicki praised the UK’s Holocaust Educational Trust (HET), which takes thousands of school children on trips to Auschwitz each year, as a “role model of responsible education” for other countries to follow.

HET chief executive Karen Pollock said: “Government funding to ensure young people visit Auschwitz is a strong endorsement of not only HET’s work but why the cause is important and why it’s important to see the site.

“It’s incredible that we may be one of the highest number of visitors. I think it is something to do with the fact we take 3,000 young people a year who otherwise would never be visiting, certainly not at that age – many of whom have never been on an aeroplane before.

“For them it’s a massive, eye-opening experience … then they come back and pass on the impact of that visit, that probably makes other people curious, as they talk to their parents, wider family and local communities.”

Ms Pollock added: “There are lots of incredible films and documentaries you often will hear or watch, lots of books constantly coming out, there’s a clear interest in that period.

“You’ve got a Holocaust gallery in the Imperial War Museum, you’ve got the Holocaust on the national curriculum, you’ve got the fact there were British people who helped save Jews during the Holocaust like (British Secret Intelligence Service officer) Frank Foley … all these things make it part of the fabric of who we are.

“And now we’ve got a Government that’s going to be ensuring we have a national Holocaust memorial right by Parliament. It couldn’t be more clear the subject plays an important role for us as a society, and I don’t think just historically.”

She added that the influence of visits from high-profile figures could have helped raise awareness about the importance of the memorial site.

Pope Francis visited earlier this year, and the England football squad went in 2012.

“You have people like Wayne Rooney,” she said. “It was on the front and back pages … I do wonder if, when you hear them say ‘This is important’, that plays a part in reaching wider audiences.”