Leeds schools to become first to take part in 'ground breaking' virtual tour of Auschwitz concentration camp

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Secondary school students in Leeds learning about the impact of the Holocaust are set to become the first in Britain to experience a "ground breaking" online live-guided tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland, the site of the infamous former concentration and extermination camp.

The “Auschwitz in Front of Your Eyes” tour, run by the Warsaw-based Auschwitz Birkenau Foundation and the Auschwitz Memorial, uses an online platform to connect memorial educators with audiences anywhere in the world. 

Each group spends up to two hours virtually touring the former Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II -Birkenau sites to learn about the history of the complex and its impact. Participants can pose questions directly to their guides in real-time and multimedia content will be used to help illustrate answers, including testimony from Holocaust survivors. 

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Considered the epicentre of the Holocaust, over 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives at Auschwitz during its nearly five years of operation. Approximately one million victims were Jewish, but Poles, Roma and Sinti, LGBT people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, those with disabilities, and Soviet prisoners of war also died at the site. Preserved following the end of the Second World War, Auschwitz now acts as both a memorial and a centre for learning about the consequences of hate and prejudice of all kinds. 

Secondary school students in Leeds are set to become the first in Britain to experience an online live-guided tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in PolandSecondary school students in Leeds are set to become the first in Britain to experience an online live-guided tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland
Secondary school students in Leeds are set to become the first in Britain to experience an online live-guided tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in Poland

Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council and executive member for economy, culture and education Councillor Jonathan Pryor, said: "Leeds is a city built on tolerance, understanding, and learning. As a society, we must never forget the horrific actions that humans are capable of to ensure that this is never repeated.  I’m proud that young people in Leeds will become some of the first participants in the Auschwitz-Birkenau virtual tour. 

“This an incredible opportunity for people around the world to further their understanding of genocide by seeing the scale of the camps, and contemporary accounts of what took place.

“Sadly, the world is still blighted by hate. Education is the best weapon in fighting the threat of future atrocities and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial acts as a powerful warning from history. The virtual tour will become an invaluable tool in anti-discrimination education here in Leeds, nationally and internationally.”

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One fully funded tour will be offered to each of the 44 secondary schools in Leeds and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation puts no limits on the number of attendees in each session. The tours are aimed at the 14–15-year-old age group and will be in line with the year 9 and 10 curriculum, but it will be left to individual schools to govern student suitability and the number of attendees. 

The first year of the programme has been funded by individual councillors who have used some of their community funding allowances to raise £4,600. The initiative to bring the “Auschwitz in Front of Your Eyes” programme to Leeds secondary schools supports the national work of the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which the United Kingdom is currently chairing. 

Leeds took part in a trial of the virtual tour system in May 2023, following Councillor Robert W. Gettings’ visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in November 2022 as Lord Mayor of Leeds. A reciprocal visit to Leeds by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation chief executive, Wojciech Soczewica, took place in January 2023 in which Mr Soczewica met councillors to discuss the project. 

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Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation chief executive, Wojciech Soczewica, said: “In less than a year the world will be commemorating for the 80th time the liberation of Auschwitz.

“We will be listening to survivors, who over the past decades have been warning against hatred, indifference, and polarization. Their personal stories are testimony to the horrific crimes committed at Auschwitz and other sites during the Second World War and have been shaping remembrance across Europe and the world. As a result, memorials have become centres of education. They have secured the voices of the victims, laid out the roles of perpetrators, and helped us understand how exclusion and hate led to Auschwitz. 

“Now, in a rapidly changing environment, where new technologies provide global access to content, it is our responsibility to seek new ways in which the truth about Europe’s darkest chapter can be accessed by everyone.

“I believe that we can and should learn from history. This is why the partnership with Leeds City Council leading to the introduction of live, interactive tours at the memorial for all public schools is such an opportunity. It will allow the city’s students to see with their own eyes, directly from their school classes the universality of antisemitism and hate and serve as a vaccine against all types of discrimination. Together we are demonstrating that with goodwill and personal commitment, innovation across borders is possible and it will help us in our goals of reaching a global audience.

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“I am confident that this is just the beginning of a close relationship, one based on common values and responsibility towards our difficult past.”

Schools in Leeds will be able to book their virtual tour from February 19 and further information on the project will be made available on the Leeds For Learning website.

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