England players visit Auschwitz and Oskar Schindler's factory in Krakow

 

The European Championship was put into perspective for England this afternoon after the squad visited Auschwitz and Oskar Schindler's factory in Krakow.

Football would have been the last thing on Roy Hodgson and his players' minds as they were given lessons in one of the darkest episodes in Europe's history.

After a light training session at their Hutnik base this morning, the squad split into two groups.

One, led by Wayne Rooney, Hodgson, and Football Association chairman David Bernstein, headed to former Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

The other, headed by captain Steven Gerrard, coach Gary Neville and FA director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking, visited the Schindler factory museum.

Rooney's group featured no players - barring goalkeeper Joe Hart - who are expected to start England's Euro 2012 Group D opener on Monday.

They made the 40-mile trip west to the town of Oswiecim, and then on to the nearby village of Brzezinka.

It was there - at Auschwitz - that an estimated one million Jews, including a minimum of 232,000 children, lost their lives during the Second World War.

Schindler was a German who saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust by employing them at his enamelware and munitions factory.

Defender Joleon Lescott was one of 14 players to visit today and said: "Days like today you tend to look back on as much as the tournament itself in years to come, the things you have done, the people you have met.

"I am sure, in years to come, the tournament will be a highlight but so will visiting places like this.

"It is fresh in my mind at the moment so it might take a while for it to sink in. I will go back to the hotel and think about what has been said to us by the guide.

"Most youngsters today have a glorified image of a ghetto but the ghettos we have learned about today are not like that. I did not have a full understanding of what the word means."

The visits continued England's open-doors policy towards their Euro 2012 quest following a public training session at their base on the outskirts of Krakow this morning.

The absence of nine players from the main session, in addition to Jermain Defoe who yesterday returned to England following the death of his father, spoiled it slightly for the 3,500 invited guests.

However, John Terry and Gerrard, who were amongst those who did pool and gym work, came out at the end to sign autographs.

Today's session was part of a concerted effort to be "good tourists" and avoid the negativity that followed England's World Cup exit in South Africa, when they were based at a remote location in Rustenburg.

The locals lapped up Rooney lashing home the goals, although as he is suspended for England's opening two games and was paired with Manchester United team-mate Danny Welbeck, that could indicate Hodgson is edging towards partnering Ashley Young with Andy Carroll in the opening Group D game with France on Monday.

That Stewart Downing was curling over crosses from the left, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain operating in a deeper position, may also be a pointer towards the Liverpool winger starting against the French, although such is the subterfuge involved in top-level football these days, nothing can be taken for granted.

The nine players who missed the main session - eight of whom who could well start on Monday - included Ashley Cole, who was said to be a fitness doubt.

However, the FA were at pains to stress all the absences were planned after a tough session behind closed doors yesterday and were part of the individual players' rehabilitation programmes.

There appeared to be no repeat of the racist abuse UEFA today acknowledged Holland's black players suffered during their own open training session on Wednesday.

England will train behind closed doors again tomorrow as they refocus on Monday's game in Donetsk.

Lescott said: "We have met a lot of children, been to parades and parties, but the football is what we are here for. We are here to win."

PA

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