TWO senior students from Preston Lodge High School will lead its preparations marking Holocaust Memorial Day after visiting infamous Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on an educational trip.

Caroline Dunn and Harry Royall joined the annual Holocaust Education Trust visit to the Second World War camp, in Poland, on behalf of the Prestonpans school and were praised by headteacher Gavin Clark for the maturity they showed in their reflections following the emotionally challenging trip.

The S6 pupils will help plan events to mark the day, which is on January 27, in the school.

Mr Clark shared their feedback from the visit, saying he believed their “moving reflections will give all members of our school community pause for thought”.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the biggest killing centre used by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

It is estimated that more than 1.1 million prisoners from across Nazi-occupied Europe were murdered by the Nazi regime at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945.

Caroline said: “There is no way of explaining the experience of visiting this memorial site other than that it was an overwhelming and unforgettable day.

“I learnt a lot from this day, from the most shocking parts of the Holocaust to own personal realisations.

“The tour of Auschwitz I (the original camp) hit me the hardest, entering rooms full of hair and shoes taken by the Nazis from the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

“Although shocking and unbearable, it brought home the reality of what happened and helped me to fully understand the horrors without it feeling so distant.

“It personally taught me to appreciate just how lucky I am to live in the society that I do; to never take for granted the little things in life.

“A key message given throughout the day was one of tolerance and remembrance. We were taught to remember those who died and those who participated, not as statistics but as human beings.”

And Harry said: “Going on the one-day visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau has had a great impact on me and one that I’m sure will stay with me for a lifetime.

“After being shown around a Polish town which had a large Jewish community pre-World War Two, we were driven to Auschwitz I.

“We were shown mounds of personal belongings stolen from the prisoners on entry, as if reducing them to nothing more than property of the state, or rather sources of property. The mound of hair shaved off of the heads of thousands of mostly female prisoners was particularly unsettling.

“The bus then drove us to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The first thing that struck me as I walked through the infamous gates was the vastness of the place – chimneys of prisoner accommodation (little more than cattle sheds) whose walls had since rotted away rose all across the camp for as far as the eye could see.

“I can honestly say that the air in Birkenau seemed thick with grief and death, and far heavier than in any place I have been to before.

“After visiting the rubble that were the gas chambers, the Rabbi who came with us gave a speech and offered to lead anyone who happened to be religious in a prayer for those who were so mercilessly slaughtered within that place, and we lit candles to commemorate those who passed.

“I think the most important message to get from it was to treat all people with dignity and respect regardless of their origins, and to make sure that we take an active stance to safeguard ourselves from such monstrosities happening again.”