200 Northern Ireland children on harrowing trip to Auschwitz
Two hundred children from Northern Ireland will to fly to Poland today to see for themselves the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, where more than a million people were killed during the Holocaust.
It is the first time the Holocaust Educational Trust has been able to organise the trip in almost 10 years.
It was only made possible after the Northern Ireland Executive released £160,000 to fund the Lessons from Auschwitz project.
Two pupils from each of the schools involved were expected to leave Belfast International Airport this morning for what officials said was a "life-changing opportunity".
Announcing the funding earlier this year, then Education Minister Peter Weir said:"We must ensure our young people have an understanding of what went on and that they see where hatred can ultimately lead.
"The Lessons from Auschwitz Project will be an extremely worthwhile and rewarding experience for them."
The last time students from Northern Ireland visited Auschwitz was in 2008, but the scheme has continued throughout the UK.
So far, organisers of the Lessons from Auschwitz project have taken more than 31,000 students and teachers from across the UK to the former Nazi concentration camp.
The children are being accompanied by officials from the Holocaust Trust, including chief executive Karen Pollock, who said: "The Holocaust was the darkest episode in our shared history - the systematic, industrialised murder of six million people just because they were Jewish."
Last weekend, the students attended an orientation seminar in Belfast, where they were addressed by Holocaust survivor Mala Tribich.
They were also prepared for what they can expect to see in what past visitors have warned is a "challenging" tour.
The students were told they can expect to see harrowing exhibits of human hair shorn from Jewish people, mountains of shoes - many ripped from children's feet - spectacles, prosthetic limbs and suitcases.
They will see hundreds of photographs of terrified people taken shortly before they were killed, and they will go inside the ruins of the gas chambers.
The tour will also include a visit to the railway lines at Birkenau. This is where hundreds of thousands of Jewish people arrived by train after their forced deportation and were examined by doctors who then sent them to work stations in one direction or to their immediate deaths in the other.