In 2008, before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron accused the Labour Government of being obsessed with headline-grabbing gimmicks.
Although Mr Cameron made no direct reference to the funding of visits for schoolchildren to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, he did single out "trips to Poland", where the camp is.
The basis of the attack seemed to be that the Government was only partially funding the trips and only two pupils per school could go, rather than that the visits themselves had no value. Nonetheless, there was a public outcry, with Mr Cameron attacked as "sick and ignorant". Earlier this year, as Holocaust memorial day was marked, Mr Cameron had noticeably changed tack, calling the charity that runs the events "an absolutely brilliant organisation", but the fact the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) could have become a political football was of huge concern to those who see its work as both a memorial to the past and a symbol of hope for the future.
Having just returned from such a trip this week, funded by the Scottish Government, and having spent time talking afterwards with pupils from the Scottish schools who went, I can testify to its profound impact.
What was most noticeable about the tour of the Auschwitz work camp and the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was the almost complete silence of the groups of teenagers who took in the chilling sights, from the barracks, torture cells and gas chambers to the glass cases of human hair, shoes and luggage marked with the names of the dead. No-one knew how to react as mankind's unthinkable capacity for evil slowly unfolded alongside the unutterable suffering of the victims.
On the coach home, pupils spoke about this suffering. The massacre of the Jews and others was no longer a story of mind-boggling statistics, but of mothers and infants crammed onto cattle trucks, transported across Europe, and then led, unsuspecting, to the gas chambers. It was this personalisation of the Holocaust through the experiences of the victims and, most powerfully, from the displays of photographs taken before the war where the dead could be seen in typical scenes of surburban happiness, that resonated most, giving the young people a sense of the value of their own freedom as well as stories of suffering to tell others.
Anyone who doubts the relevance of this experience need only read the reports earlier of a UN human rights enquiry in North Korea that uncovered systematic torture in detention camps, starvation and executions. The lessons from Auschwitz are also relevant closer to home. Irish police took a seven-year-old blonde-haired child from a Roma family in Dublin after receiving a tip-off from the public that she looked different from her parents. After spending two nights in care the child was returned when DNA tests proved she was theirs, an unthinkable situation for most parents and one which has elements of racial stereotyping. A founding principal for HET is for young people to see for themselves what can happen when racism and prejudice are allowed to go unchecked. That is just as vital today as it was all those years ago.
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