John Swinney joined Scottish schoolchildren at Auschwitz

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John Swinney joined almost 200 Scottish schoolchildren yesterday at Auschwitz on the eve of Armistice Day.

The Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary and the children gathered in the dark at the end of Birkenau’s infamous railway tracks – the line which took trainloads of Jews to their deaths.

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney visited Auschwitz alongside almost 200 Scottish school pupils. Picture: LFA Lloyd Smith/PA Wire

Scotland's Education Secretary John Swinney visited Auschwitz alongside almost 200 Scottish school pupils. Picture: LFA Lloyd Smith/PA Wire

The ruins of Crematoria II lie close by.

It was here that the Nazis deployed hope as weapon - people herded into the gas chambers were encouraged to believe they were simply showering before being admitted to a concentration camp, clutching on to dreams of one day seeing family members again.

It was only in their final moments that they realised they faced their death.

Rabbi Garson, on behalf of the Holocaust Educational Trust, addressed the group as part of a memorial service for the six million Jewish men, women and children who were killed in the Holocaust.

It culminated in the lighting of dozens of candles along the tracks. “Today should not only be an act of remembrance, but more importantly, a remembrance to act,” he said. “It’s flippant to say never again. Never again is happening in our world today.

“It can only occur if it’s never forgotten and we learn the lesson from the past.”

Later, a design competition was launched yesterday to create a memorial to conscientious objectors.

If approved the memorial will stand in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh.

The competition has been organised by the CO Memorial Committee, a consortium of organisations based in Edinburgh and across the UK which includes the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Brian Larkin from the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre, which is leading the effort, said: “The aim of this project is to honour the courage and conviction and raise awareness of conscientious objectors to war with a permanent memorial in Scotland’s capital city.

“The memorial will be international in scope, and will recognise opponents of all wars - past, present and future. Situated in the midst of eight war memorials and beneath Edinburgh Castle and the National War Memorial, the CO Memorial will invite visitors to reflect on better ways to resolve conflicts than through war.”

The design competition is open until December 15. Artists can apply to be selected to create a design proposal for the sculpture. The consortium currently holds donations totalling £16,000 and is seeking additional contributions.