According to a news story which you can read here, “The Holocaust Educational Trust sends about 2,000 post-16 [British] students to Auschwitz-Birkenau a year.”
The “educator for the day,” for the students, was Tom Jackson, according to the article.
This quote from the article is about what Tom Jackson told the students:
The reconstructed gas chamber at Auschwitz 1 has a cold feel to it, a cold that seeps into your bones, as if your body knows the evil took place there.
It sits just a few hundred yards from the electric fence and beyond that a house.
Camp Commander Rudolf Höss lived there with his wife and children – he was the man who oversaw the extension of Auschwitz to Birkeneau and to develop an extermination camp, following orders.
But, as Tom told us these facts and told us that he would have received no punishment if he had not built the gas chamber, I cannot help but feel sick and the faces of the pupils around me reflect that sentiment.
[Jackson] added: “He was a family man, he had a heart, I’m not excusing what he did, but think about these things, too.”
Tom Jackson was referring to the house in the main Auschwitz camp, where the Commandant lived with his wife and children; his house was very close to the gas chamber. Yet, Jackson told the students that Hoess would “have received no punishment if he had not built a gas chamber.”
The gas chamber in the main camp was inside the crematorium building, in what was obviously a morgue; Hoess did not order the construction, nor the reconstruction, of this building. In the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, there were four gas chambers which were built while Hoess was the Commandant.
This quote is also from the news article, cited above:
Even after death, [the Jews] were stripped further of their identity.
Once killed in the gas chamber, their heads were shaved before their bodies were incinerated to hide the evidence.
For many women, their hair is their pride, and for it to be shaved after death seemed almost as barbaric as the gassing itself.
Surely, the hair was not shaved from the heads of the victims AFTER they were dead. According to Holocaust lore, there were 900 people crowed into the gas chamber at a time. After the gassing, their bodies were piled up to the ceiling, and covered with bodily fluids that were eliminated as the victims died. Jewish helpers, called Kapos, had to go inside the gas chamber and drag the bodies to the cremation ovens, which were next door to the gas chamber.
This quote is also from the news article:
While we stood in a place where so much death and destruction took place, a man rode by on his bike.
Tom told us this was normal, that people often walked through the camp on their way home or to work – it seemed cold and cruel but they did not ask the Germans to move in and build a concentration camp, he reminded us.
The gas chambers have gone, destroyed by the Nazis to try and hide what they did, just weeks before the Red Army arrived, but the steps remain, a small reminder of the horrors that took place right by the giant memorial where Rabbi Andrew Shaw gave a moving memorial.
Rabbi Shaw’s grandfather was a victim of the Holocaust and his grandmother a survivor.
His grandfather never knew his child or his grandchildren, he did not even know his wife was pregnant.
In the above quote, it is not clear to me whether Tom was talking about the main Auschwitz camp, or the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. I doubt that “people often walked through the [main] camp on their way to work.” The main camp was in a suburb of the town of Auschwitz, and there was a wall around it.
However, local people could have walked through the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, which was a mile wide and a mile and a half long. Seven villages had been torn down to build the camp. The displaced villagers might have walked through the camp.
One thing that most tourists don’t realize is that the International Monument at Auschwitz-Birkenau is built on top of a road that used to continue on to the outside of the camp. There were people, coming from outside the camp, and people going outside the camp, while the “death camp” was in operation.
The article about the HET trip starts off by mentioning the Great Synagogue, which was burned down on the night of Novemeber 9, 1939. What is not mentioned is that this was the night of Kristallnacht, when Synagogues were burned all over Germany.
The HET tours seem to impress upon the students that the Polish town of Oswiecim was a Jewish town, which the Germans took away from the Jews and turned into a German town named Auschwitz. It was the other way around.