Oswiecim, Poland: England's footballers paid a sombre visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Friday in a show of respect to the estimated 1.3 million people killed at the site.

Manager Roy Hodgson and Football Association chairman David Bernstein led a group of players to the camp roughly 40 miles (64 kilometres) from England's Krakow training base.

Bernstein and Hodgson lit candles at the spot at Birkenau where hundreds of thousands were herded off trains before being led to their deaths.

Players including Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart and Andy Carroll walked around the site in silence for around 90 minutes and a growing sense of disbelief at the scale of the atrocities, according to a pool reporter accompanying the players.

At one point players headed into a gas chamber which was eventually used as an officers mess once the Birkenau extermination camp was operational.

A reflective Rooney struggled to come to terms with the camp's horrors, saying he had been affected by the sight of children's clothes and shoes piled high before they had been executed.

"It's hard to understand. I'm a parent and it's tough to see what happened there," Rooney said. "You've seen the amount of children who died.

"You see the children's clothes and shoes, it's really sad. You have to see it first hand. You don't realise how those who lived there and worked managed without food, without water.

"It's a form of torture and then they died. The others got murdered."

Hodgson was similarly shocked by the site's history.

"I have no great knowledge of the war but obviously know about certain aspects of it," the England manager said.

"You cannot understand how it can be so systematic, dehuman. It was a job. It is difficult to get your head around."

In a separate visit on Friday, captain Steven Gerrard accompanied other team-mates to Oskar Schindler's factory just outside the Krakow city centre.

Several teams have already paid visits to Auschwitz ahead of the Euros, with the Netherlands, Italy and Germany all travelling to the site.

England's visit on Friday is part of an ongoing partnership with the Holocaust Educational Trust. The trip will be filmed and included in a DVD used in secondary schools to educate students about the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivors Zigi Shipper and weightlifting champion Ben Helfgott both addressed England's players before they left for Poland last week.

"I knew a bit about Auschwitz but this tells you so much more," England defender Phil Jagielka said after Friday's visit.

"The lads wanted to come here. You would like to think society has moved on. Unfortunately, there are people out there who have extreme views."

Auschwitz museum official Andrzej Kacorzyk welcomed the visit from England's players.

"It's very important that the world speaks about Auschwitz, that famous footballers who are role models for many young people come here," he said.

"Thanks to them, a message of peace is being sent to the world," he added.


Latest news from Sports News Desk