IN THE Polish town of Oswiecim there are missing men, women and children who should be at work, learning at school or taking in the beautiful autumn air.

They would be the descendants of the 8,000 Jewish people who lived there but they are lost because in September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland and their brutal regime wanted to destroy the Jewish way of life and remove them from society.

The Jewish communities’ mark remains an imprint on the town in street names, cemeteries and the former synagogue which was a place of worship.

But the Nazis made their mark too, renaming the area Auschwitz, the place synonymous with an unprecedented scale of human destruction.

Just 186 survivors of the Holocaust arrived back in Oswiecim and today not a single Jew remains in the town.

This is just one of the many heart-wrenching realities 200 students faced when taking a trip hosted by the Holocaust Educational Trust last Thursday.

The trust takes pupils to visit death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and two West Fife students making the trip last week were Maisie Douglas and Emma Hunking, from Inverkeithing High School.

Rabbi Marcus, who founded the trust, brought the group to Oswiecim, just a stone's throw away from the extermination camp, as the first port of call to set the scene to what was to be an unforgettable and emotional day.

The absence of the Jewish community was duly noted with Maisie explaining that she felt Oswiecim was “empty and eerie”.

But while this was a sad introduction to what we would discover through the day, Rabbi Marcus wanted us to grasp an important message of hope from this town.

“Around 60 per cent of the town was Jewish; it was a normal, thriving community and everyone lived in harmony,” he said.

“It is so sad because it was a symbol of what it should be and it’s all gone.

“It gives us hope for it can be like in the future.”

After understanding more of what Jewish life was like before the Second World War, we headed to the first of the three camps at Auschwitz which had previously been Polish barracks.

It is estimated 1.2 million people were murdered here, the majority being Jewish.

The iconic gate greets visitors with the word: “The work will set you free”, but of course it was a lie.

Those who also perished here included political prisoners, Polish fighters, Soviet soldiers, gypsies and homosexuals, who were forced into slave labour.

But for most Jews they were never given that option and were killed almost immediately after their arrival.

The former barracks are now a museum, and walking around the symmetrical buildings we learned about the appalling conditions faced by many including disease, starvation, overcrowding, torture and exhaustion.

We were also faced with the belongings and the reminders they left behind including, suitcases, glasses, shoes, clothes, crockery, combs, photos, hair and the artificial body parts of disabled people; all used to profit the Nazi treasury and send out their chilling message that people could be used as commodities.

In one barrack lies one of the largest and confronting books filled with the names of four million Jewish people who perished at the hands of Nazi perpetrators. The records of two million souls are still missing.

There we met Rebbetzin Ilana Epstein, who to date has found 100 of her relatives in these pages.

She said: “In the 1950s, people were told to write down the names of their family members who had died and my grandfather painstakingly wrote down the names of his 11 siblings.

“Within two hours of arriving here they were dead.

“Can you imagine a whole family disappearing from your town? Who is going to write their names down?

“The Nazis took away the humanity of these people so we should remember each one.”

After touring Auschwitz I, we arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the camps which which is now a memorial to those who lost their life there.

At the front of the enormous site, you are met with the harrowing building which would have been the last thing thousands of Jews saw before their death.

The rail tracks into the camp mark the end of the journey for those who were cramped into trains like cattle for days at a time. Unbelievably, many were made to pay for a ticket for their own death on the promise of resettlement.

Doctors such as Josef Mengele would then pick out those who would be taken immediately to the gas chambers and those fit for hard labour.

As we toured the site, students walked around in silence and tears were shed as the tragedy of what happened here became incomprehensible.

Maisie said: “I just can’t describe what I saw. I still can’t get my head around that someone would do that to other people.

“I think everyone should have the chance to see what took place here.”

Emma added: “It was nothing like I expected, so much bigger than I thought.

“I’m really glad I came but I would find it hard to come again.”

As we came to the end of the tour, we were reminded of the lives people left behind with smiling photos documenting weddings, holidays and family celebrations.

A Remembrance ceremony was then led by Rabbi Marcus. He concluded: “What happened here is beyond us. We would have to remain silent for 11-and-a- half years if wer were silent for a minute for each person.

“This represents a blight on human society. This is why we do this, it’s a race between education and another catastrophe.

“Thank God that you can walk out again.”