Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney joined around two hundred students from across Scotland to visit the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Lessons from Auschwitz Project.

Now in its eighteenth year, the project is based on the premise that “hearing is not like seeing”. On the visit, students first visited Oświęcim, the town where the Nazi concentration and death camp was located and where, before the war, 58 percent of the population was Jewish.

Students then visited Auschwitz I to see the former camp’s barracks and crematoria and witnessed the piles of belongings that were seized by the Nazis.

They concluded the visit by spending time at the main killing centre of Birkenau where the day concluded with candle lighting and a period of reflection to remember the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and the other victims of Nazi persecution.

Since 2009, the programme has been supported by a grant from the Scottish Government, enabling thousands of Scottish young people to take part and see for themselves where hatred, antisemitism and prejudice can ultimately lead.

The visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was preceded by a seminar in the UK where participants were introduced to Jewish life in Europe before the Second World War and heard the testimony of a Holocaust survivor.

The students will now undertake their ‘Next Steps’ to share their experience with their schools and the wider community, before becoming Ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney said: “It was a deep honour and privilege to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau with pupils from across Scotland as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz Project. The experience will always stay with me and I have been strongly affected by my time there.

“It is vital that we learn the lessons of the past, which is why visits like this are so valuable in helping children and young people to develop their knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust.”

Karen Pollock MBE, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said: “We are delighted that the Deputy First Minister was able to join us on the Lessons from Auschwitz Project yesterday with students from across Scotland. To see Auschwitz with your own eyes is a lifechanging experience – the barracks where prisoners were held, the infamous tracks where prisoners were brought in in cattle trucks, the remains of the crematoria – and I have no doubt that, as is the case with the many young people who have taken part, this will have been a day that he will never forget. We are only able to run this programme thanks to a grant from the Scottish Government and we are grateful for this continued support.”