On his three previous visits to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp a Leeds MP never knew that he had been walking in the footsteps of his murdered great grandparents.
Raina and Isaac Sevilla were captured by Nazi officers in Paris in 1940 and were never seen again – assumed dead by the devastated family of Leeds North East MP Fabian Hamilton.
More than 70 years have passed since the elderly couple were killed but only this week has Mr Hamilton been able to knowingly pay his respects on a Holocaust Educational Trust-organised visit with students.
The 58-year-old father of three only found out about the fate of his relatives last September after he was contacted by a French second cousin he never knew he had, who had been researching the family’s history.
He said: “After my third time I really didn’t want to go again to see the crematorium, the hair, the glasses and the suitcases anymore.
“I have seen it three times, it’s enough, I found it too emotionally draining and then the added knowledge that my great grandparents had perished there added to that really.
“But I did feel like I had to pay my respects and I felt I should be there to be with the young people.”
In part due to his family ties with the camp, he decided not to enter the morbid exhibits during the visit, which feature the hair and belongings taken from the bodies of some of the estimated 1.1m people killed there.
Some of the exhibits, which are situated in the many barracks that housed prisoners of war during the Nazi occupation, speak of “the selection” where doctors decided which of the latest inmates were young and fit enough to work and which were destined for the gas chambers.
Mr Hamilton said: “A woman in her mid to late 60s and a man in his 70s wouldn’t have been any use to the Nazis and they would have been sent straight to the gas chambers, so I imagine that they ended up in the crematorium that’s still in there.
“I was pretty shocked actually but then I should have known they were killed in a concentration camp – so many were.
“It’s always been a family mystery, my father never knew of anything like this.”
Raina and Isaac only moved from their Geneva home to Paris in 1934 and as French citizens six years later, they boarded a train doomed for Auschwitz at the Drancy internment camp along with thousands of French Jews.
Last year Mr Hamilton went to Paris to see a memorial near Notre Dame Cathedral, where the plight of Raina, Isaac and so many others is commemorated.
TRUST’S BID TO EDUCATE
The Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) runs trips for students, aged 16 to 18, to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp as part of Lessons from Auschwitz.
More than 200 Yorkshire students attended last week’s visit to the camp in Poland, where they toured the sites and took part in a special ceremony of remembrance.
HET offers seminars, testimony from a Holocaust survivor and a next steps initiative as part of Lessons from Auschwitz.
See Monday’s Yorkshire Evening Post for more on the experiences of Leeds students on the visit.