England in Auschwitz.
(photo credit: REUTERS/POOL New)
England forward Wayne Rooney and several of his team mates spent two hours in the scorching sun at the Auschwitz death camp on Friday, finding it hard to grasp the horrors of the largest Nazi extermination camp.
England have their Euro 2012 base in Krakow, about an hour away from Auschwitz, where 1.5 million victims, mainly Jewish, perished in World War II.
The players, who visited the museum after the German, Dutch and Italian teams, spent time walking round in respectful silence, broken by the players' questions regarding the details of the prisoners' existence.
"It is unreal. I learned some of this stuff at school but I could never imagine anything on this scale. It is just beyond belief or comprehension," winger Theo Walcott said.
The players were joined by coach Roy Hodgson, English FA chairman David Bernstein and several staff members as they passed under the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets one free) sign.
"To actually come here and see it for myself is quite humbling," said young Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland.
The Auschwitz museum contains exhibits such as hair shaved from the heads of incoming prisoners, piles of their personal belongings as well as cans for storing Zyklon B, the cyanide-based gas the Nazis used to exterminate inmates.
The England party went on the railway platform used to unload prisoners locked in cattle carriages and bound for almost-certain death, where Hodgson and Bernstein, their heads dressed in kippas, lit two candles on the wooden rail sleepers.
Much of the Holocaust was perpetrated on Polish soil by its war-time Nazi occupiers, nearly wiping out its entire Jewish community of some 3.3 million people.
Poland has maintained some of the death camp facilities as a reminder of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis on its soil.