Rooney humbled by Auschwitz as England squad visit Nazi death camp
09:52 GMT, 9 June 2012
Wayne Rooney hopes England's visit to Auschwitz will generate a greater degree of understanding about the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Rooney was one of seven members of Roy Hodgson's squad that visited the site of the biggest mass murder ever carried out.
Like the many thousands each year who pass under that mocking legend 'Arbeit Mach Frei', Rooney was left incredulous at the sheer inhumanity of a site which brutally put 1.1million Jews to their deaths, 80 per cent within two hours of their arrival.
In the spotlight: Rooney and other members of the England team visit Auschwitz
But as those who experienced it first hand get fewer, so the education process needs to be reinforced.
'Kids nowadays are interested in footballers,' said Rooney.
'I am sure that will get them interested. I am sure all of us who were there will speak of what we have seen.
'If a few more people understand it that's good.'
Accompanied by Phil Jagielka, Joe Hart, Leighton Baines, Theo Walcott, Andy Carroll and Jack Butland, Rooney was struck most by a picture hanging in a building at Auschwitz, depicting a scene from nearby Birkenau.
Harrowing: The Manchester United striker was taken aback by his experience
No-one is quite sure who it was. It might have been the infamous SS officer Heinz Thilo but it is too grainy to be certain. Yet there is no doubt about what it depicts.
With a flick of the finger, an old man is told to join a queue. He has just got off a train, one of thousands, its origin unknown. Clearly he is not someone capable of working a 10 hour day on a couple of slices of bread. The decision is easy.
The finger flicked to the mass of people to the right. He does not know it but this unnamed old man is 400 yards and two hours away from his death.
Harrowing: Rooney leaves the gas chamber and crematorium during Friday's trip
'That guy who made all the decisions, whether they lived or died,' said Rooney softly, his words delivered with total disbelief.
'He's probably gone home after that, listened to music, had dinner with his family, as if nothing had happened. It's crazy.'
Auschwitz is like that. It reduces everyone to exactly the same level. For four-and-a-half hours, this was not Wayne Rooney footballing superstar, but a 26-year-old man being shown the instruments of death, being told about the sub-human treatment of an entire race.
'It's hard to understand,' said Rooney. 'I am a parent and it's tough to see what happened there.
'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 to work managed without food, without water. It's a form of torture and then they died. The others got murdered.'