Brechin High School’s head boy and head girl, Cameron Mathieson and Ysabeau Middleton, have recently returned from a day-trip with a difference.
While there was all the tiredness that follows flights in and out of the country in a 24-hour period, their’s was no holiday.
The duo made a trip to Poland in September as part of a regular history trip, which sees schools from all over Scotland visit the killing fields of Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is the German name for Oswiecim, the town in and around which the camps were located.
It was renamed by the Germans after they invaded Poland in September 1939. Birkenau, the German translation of
Brzezinka (birch tree), refers to a small Polish village nearby that was mostly destroyed by the Germans to make way for the camp.
“We visited Auschwitz on Tuesday, September 14,” explains Ysabeau.
“It is our plan to hold an awareness event in the summer which might highlight some things people may not have known about the camp.
“We certainly found out a lot that we didn’t know already.”
“There were many shocking revelations, like making the Jews pay to go to Auschwitz under the pre-tense they were moving them to new Jewish communities. So hundreds of thousands of people were effectively paying their life savings to die.”
Ysabeau added: “There were two pupils from every school in Scotland on the trip. Auschwitz 1 was really pretty. If it wasn’t for the fact you knew part of its history and knew where you were, it could have been considered to be some sort of holiday destination.
“Thinking about some of the trees and shrubs, which are still growing there today being the same ones that thousands of Jews marched past to their death along the cobbles was quite upsetting. “
Cameron said: “I think the scale of Auschwitz 2, which was much bigger than Auschwitz 1 was the abiding memory for myself.
“When you contemplate this was built with a single purpose - to kill - you can only attempt to comprehend how difficult the conditions were and what the state of mind of the people must have been like.
“We tried to take a full photo shot of Auschwitz 2 from the watchtower and we simply couldn’t get it all in.
“Auschwitz 1 was mainly a working camp where political prisoners were worked to death.
“It’s also where the Nazis started experimenting with gas and where they worked out what was needed to kill people.
“We heard from one woman at a seminar. Kitty Hark Moxon her and her mother had been in Auschwitz and her story was fascinating.
“Her family had been split up. Her father had given them fake papers and then gone off to hide, because he couldn’t get papers from himself.
“They never saw him again. The family managed to stay alive in the camp for three to four years, which is an achievement in itself and is just crazy.
“The trip took up the whole day. We were both really tired, as it was quite exhausting.
“However, it was a great way to take everything in. It wouldn’t have had the same effect had we undertaken Auschwitz 1 in one day and then Auschwitz 2 in another.
“It was quite surreal, because the next day we were back at school with people asking us where we were.
“In history we have looked at how many of the Germans were simply products of their own environment.
“We linked it with modern day intolerance, things like Dafur. It’s as relevant today as it has ever been and will continue to be so.
“We hope to have an awareness event/coffee morning in the summer and will hopefully publicise that in The Brechiner.”