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28 October 2014

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You are in: Devon > People > Your stories > Visiting Auschwitz

The gates at Auschwitz

The gate so many were trapped by

Visiting Auschwitz

Devon teenager Cait Lisle has been on an emotional visit to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where her great uncle was detained during World War II.

In April 2008, I visited the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland with the Holocaust Education Trust.

The experience prompted me to ask three questions. Why did I go? Why did I feel it was important to go? And how did I feel when I was there?

I've always been interested in the events of The Holocaust – the only part of history I find remotely interesting – from an ethical point of view and also a personal one.

My great-uncle survived the camps, originally Dachau and then later Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Cait during her emotional visit

Cait during her emotional visit

As I was too young to talk to him while he was alive about his experiences, I felt it was important for me to see the place of his suffering as a way to understand what he went through, and hopefully, why.

I also have a lot of Jewish family who went through various camps, and I believed that the trip would help me connect with their suffering in a more real sense than simply looking at pictures.

If I could walk on the same blood-soaked earth it would make their suffering – alongside that of millions of others – an actual event and not merely a history lesson.

It was important to go because, as the Holocaust Educational Trust believes, seeing is not like reading.

Actually walking into gas chambers and through the infamous gates, reading "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work will set you free), gives you an emotional insight into how the prisoners felt as they trod the same earth, and a sense of the true scale of suffering and death that mere facts and figures can't give you.

The camp as it is today

A sight that Cait says will haunt her

Initially, as I walked through the gates, I had to stop and walk out again to prove to myself that I could. It brought tears to my eyes when I realised that I had the freedom to leave, when so many didn't have that choice.

Looking at the proof of the crimes committed by the Nazis was also extremely emotional – seeing tonnes of human hair and children's clothes was overwhelming and after leaving the block, I broke down in tears. Seeing really wasn't like reading.

At Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II), I felt many of the same emotions, but was also struck by the sheer scale of it.

From the watchtower I could see countless remains of wooden huts, each of which housed up to 1,000 people. The sight of all those brick chimneys standing up through the wooden ruins is something that will haunt me.

The visit has left a huge impression on me – for days later I cried about what I saw – and I know that when I work with students to help them learn from the past, I will be able to give a personal insight into how it felt to see what they saw, and walk where they died.

Caitlin Lisle

last updated: 21/04/2008 at 13:06
created: 21/04/2008

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