How the most vital history lesson of all faces axe

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A HOLOCAUST survivor has led calls for the Scottish Government to find funds to allow schoolchildren to continue to take educational trips to the Auschwitz death camp.

Kitty Hart-Moxon, who has visited Scottish schools to talk about the Holocaust and her experiences in Auschwitz, has joined last-ditch appeals to Alex Salmond, the First Minister, to find the 214,000 needed annually for the pupils' visits.

The project, which has been running in Scotland since 2005, is set to come to an end this month.

It has so far been funded by 1.5 million from the Treasury for the whole of the UK.

But that cash has now run out, and while pupils in England and Wales will still be able to go on government-funded trips, those in Scotland will not be able to, as the Scottish Government has refused to pay.

The SNP has said it is up to local councils to find the money, but, as exclusively revealed in a Scotsman investigation, they all say they cannot afford to do so.

Ms Hart-Moxon, who arrived in Auschwitz as a 16-year-old in 1943, told The Scotsman that the project was vital so that youngsters today could learn the lessons of history and the dangers of prejudice.

"We must learn about the past to protect our future," she said. "To visit Auschwitz and actually see it for yourself is very different from reading about it in a textbook, and it is the only way to really understand what happened."

The Holocaust Education Trust, which arranges the visits, is also urging the Scottish Government to take action, as it does not have the resources to go to 32 councils to negotiate arrangements with them.

And with two trips a year from Scotland, involving about 100 schools from around the country on each, the trust needs guaranteed funding to make arrangements.

Its chief executive, Karen Pollock, said: "We are hoping that funds can be made available to us, to ensure that this coming educational visit will not be the last one from Scotland."

In August, The Scotsman exclusively revealed only two councils were willing to make the long-term commitment.

Donald MacKay, the director of education at Midlothian Council, who went on the penultimate visit with teenagers from four schools in his jurisdiction, said that the Scottish Government had to take responsibility for funding.

"This has to be done centrally," he said. "It's no good trying to get all the councils to agree to it. There are many pressures, and if it comes to a choice between supporting this or saving a job, then they will save the job."

The visit last month involved Peter Wishart, the Nationalist MP for Perth, who went as a go-between for the Scottish Government. He said a meeting had been arranged with the schools minister, Maureen Watt, but a date was yet to be confirmed.

Although he was "extremely impressed" by the educational programme, he offered little hope of central funding.

"We will make it clear to councils that we expect them to continue to fund it," he said.

But Labour's schools spokesman, Ken McIntosh, said: " The SNP need to get a sense of perspective. It would be an absolute disgrace if this programme was no longer available for Scottish Higher students."

The estimated 214,000 a year would take 400 students – up to two from each secondary school – to Auschwitz.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said enough cash had been provided to allow local authorities to fund any trips.

Humbling for adults

IT WAS the shoes that did it for me, writes David Maddox. I had walked into a large room with a group of 17-year-olds from Perth in one of the buildings in Auschwitz 1, the original concentration camp.

Two large glass cabinets were filled with a mountain of footwear – 40,000 pairs of shoes, our guide, Katarzyna Wasita-Wrobel, said. "That was four days' work at Auschwitz, where 10,000 people were gassed daily," she added.

Moments before, we had been in a room where a mass of hair filled another cabinet. I was not the only one to feel physically sick by that. In another cabinet was a rug from a German family's hearth, made of human hair harvested from the Auschwitz dead.

One girl burst into tears, but most people on the trip went around in silence, just trying to take in the enormity of it all.

Somehow the shoes, which had taken their owners to the gas chambers, brought appreciation of the victims' individuality.

Auschwitz - in their own words

Holly Bathgate, Broughton High School, Edinburgh

After hearing the testimony of Kitty Hart-Moxon, a Holocaust survivor, I feel like my experience was enriched – I saw the places that she had described, where she had worked, where she watched her friends be sent to death. I had in my mind a human link which helped make my visit to Auschwitz more insightful than any textbook could have been. I now understand better the necessity for tolerance and tackling prejudice and I feel that the horror and despair can give way to some hope for the future and that just a few generations on, we can learn from the grave mistakes of others. I honestly believe that this experience has been life-changing and that the lessons learnt can help to make the world better.

Joe Coombey, Kirkcudbright Academy

Do you know how long it would take you to observe a minute of silence for each death at Auschwitz-Birkenau? Two years. It was this fact which made me truly realise. The visit helped me understand what life was like for Jews before the war by visiting the Polish town of Oswiecim; understand the huge number of individuals and families killed and affected; understand that we cannot and shall not forget what terrible things happened under this Nazi regime which made mass-murder of innocent people seem acceptable; and understand that we need to spread the message so nothing like it can ever happen again.

Kirsty Gray, St Margaret's School, Edinburgh

Standing at the point where families were separated and selected for work or the gas chambers, you can sense the anguish, trauma and terror that so many must have suffered as they were cruelly and forcibly parted from their loved ones. There were no goodbyes. Seeing the piles of shoes and collections of glasses and human hair there brings a piercing realisation that these once belonged to fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents – families no different from ours – ruthlessly exterminated. We must never forget.

Lara Wauchope, North Berwick High School

A burning question comes to mind: has the world really learnt our lesson from the Holocaust? On the Lessons from Auschwitz Project, we learnt many lessons: not to ignore problems of genocide, violent threats and prejudice in the world. We cannot be oblivious to such problems. Is the government helping the victims of conflicts and genocide in every way possible? Closer to home, prejudice against asylum seekers is a problem. The Nazis were powerful, too powerful, and we need to understand the full effect this had, in order to stop a situation similar to the Holocaust happening again.

Read full testimonials from Scottish pupils who participated in the Lessons From Auschwitz Project.