Skins star's dramatic Shoah education

By Jennifer Lipman, July 14, 2011
Shlipesh Patel, Hasan Dogan, Ollie Barbieri and Nick Robinson at the young ambassadors’ reception

Shlipesh Patel, Hasan Dogan, Ollie Barbieri and Nick Robinson at the young ambassadors’ reception

A star of Channel 4 teen drama Skins has described visiting the Auschwitz and Birkenau sites with the Holocaust Educational trust as a life-changing experience.

Ollie Barbieri was among guests at a Westminster reception on Tuesday honouring the work of HET student ambassadors who have been through its Lessons from Auschwitz programme for sixth-formers.

Barbieri admitted that when approached to join a trip earlier this year, he had limited knowledge of the Nazi era.

"I knew about the Holocaust, about the statistics, but you don't really think about it. With today's culture and news cycle, it's easy to put things out of your mind and distance yourself."

For him, as for many, it was the small details at the death camp sites that left the greatest impression.

Pupils recalled the impact the trip had made

"It was the little personal effects on display, people's things that meant so much to them. The pots of hair cream, things that were just stripped from them.

"I was surprised by the industrialism of it. It was designed as a factory for killing human beings after they worked themselves to the edge of death. And this was not in the middle ages but 70 years ago."

Barbieri is one of more than 2,000 students and teachers who have taken part in the Lessons from Auschwitz programme over the past year. In excess of 14,500 have participated in the government-backed scheme since its inception in 1998.

BBC political editor and long-time HET supporter Nick Robinson spoke movingly of his Jewish grandparents' escape from Nazi Germany before the Holocaust.

On Lessons from Auschwitz, it was "brilliant that the charity is creating a new generation of young people who can't remember or who don't have family members who were caught up in it, but who are ambassadors so that the rest of society does remember."

Seeing a concentration camp as a teenager backpacking around Europe had made a lasting impression. "You don't forget it - seeing is different to hearing."

HET ambassadors who addressed the gathering included Tristan Page, a Devon pupil who went on the trip last year. Visiting the Jewish cemetery at Oswiecim, "we saw that it was not just six million Jews that died, it was individuals, communities, families and cultures", he said.

He and fellow student Sarah Robinson explained how they followed their visit by running a programme for other pupils about bullying and the idea that there was little difference between being the perpetrator of a crime and standing on the sidelines doing nothing.

Waltham Forest pupils recalled planting a British oak tree at their school after an HET trip as a symbol of resilience and strength, expressing the hope that it would be the start of an annual tradition of remembrance.

Last updated: 4:31pm, July 14 2011