Monday 26 April 2010

Reflecting On Auschwitz

I am currently in Kazimierz, the Jewish District in Krakow. Except there aren't really any Jews here anymore, because they are all dead. Prior to World War 2 there were 2.7 million Jews in Poland. After the war, there were 75,000. 98% of the Jewish population of Poland were killed.

It's very easy to label it as something that happened to 'The Jews', because of 'Those Nazi's' -- it's far less comfortable to realize, they were both ordinary humans on both sides. Over 7000 people worked at Auschwitz. That's 7000 people who were implicit in the killings. Less than a thousand of those stood trial after the war. 6000 of them got away with their crimes, and many of them are probably still alive today. God may deal with them further down the line. If not, they've gone unpunished and they are free to do as they please.

Auschwitz is a strange place to visit. Weirdly, it's surprisingly unemotional. You stroll around; seeing unimaginably horrific things; gas chambers, thousands of dead people's shoes, little children's clothes, etc--- but it doesn't quite hit you in the emotional way you might expect. At least, this is how it has been for me and the various people I have visited the camps with. It's impossible to fathom the grand scale of what took place. The main emotion I feel walking around Auschwitz is one of bemusement. One of 'Jesus--- this place is so fucking big! How??? How can people do this?'

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the second part of Auschwitz. Built mid-war with the sole purpose of mass extermination. Thousands would arrive by train and most of them would be transported directly to the gas chambers. When I watch movies and documentaries about these events, it's emotional-- you get the haunting music and close ups. But actually at the site, i feel more of a general bewilderment. All that's left are bricks and rubble and barbed wire--- on a giant scale. An incredibly giant scale. And it makes no sense-- that what happened could have happened. The bewilderment does turn into emotion, but it's one I can't explain very well.

I read in the New York Times that there's been an election in Austria in the last week. 15% of the electorate voted for a candidate who denies the Holocaust ever happened. That's 15% who happily and freely voted for her, so I'm assuming many more thought about voting for her. And this is what concerns me, about our world-- do we ever learn? is the killing of six million Jews not enough?

Despite what I'm saying, for me; it isn't really about Jews or Germans or Austrians or Jamaicans or Swedes or any particular group - the Holocaust was and is about human beings. In nearly every country in the world, bubbling just below the surface; are the seeds of another catastrophy. In the UK, we have a political group who have members who deny the Holocaust ever happened. It's disgusting but what do you do? Our tendency is to ridicule them, to find ways to make them not exist or be heard. It's like we want to fight oppression with oppression, and in the process we create more marginalized and under-represented groups, and it's those groups who get pushed to the extremes.

I find myself trying to comprehend what happened by looking more closely at myself. Who is the person inside of me who oppresses others? Could I have done what the Nazi's did? I feel there is NO WAY I could follow orders and kill others, I'd rather shoot myself or get killed. But I am also very aware that the people who committed these atrocities were just people -- people pushed to the extremes of killing on a mass scale. The incredibly large amount of people who knew about, and didn't do anything about the Holocaust is mind-boggling.

Tonight, I ate in a restaurant in Kazimierz, wondering what it should really look like here. Wondering and dreaming about the 60,000 Jews of Krakow who were closer to 1,000 by the end of World War 2. This is a part of history that continually upsets, fascinates and confuses me. And despite people moaning about how the Holocaust gets mentioned too often, I still think it's many stories and truths need to be unravelled and processed, rather than pushed over and forgotten. There are still questions to be asked, lessons to learn. By doing so, I can only hope - we will one day really learn how to love one another. Because we've tried hating for long enough.

Care to share?


  1. Powerful and true. There are millions of quiet stories out there without a voice, that haven't been told. Millions of experiences by the people who were brought to those camps, murdered there. Silent moments of extraordinary levels of human emotion...fears, hopes, stories of love, of pain, first hand accounts of witnessing something that, in the light of day, we can hardly fathom anymore. It's almost like, if you were to put a hand on one of those walls, you could really feel the imprint of each individual person that was in there. All of those stories are equally as important, deserve a voice, deserve to be spoken about and remembered, especially in the face of those who wish to deny it's happening because it's uncomfortable.
    This post was very moving, especially when focusing on the words and in between are the pictures of a location where millions of souls were led to slaughter. Really emotional reading and looking at the pictures.

  2. "we want to fight oppression with oppression"

    I feel that.

    You're reflection is so truthful and real. It is undescribable what happened there. It must be a strange feeling to be there and see it first hand. What you wrote is powerful

  3. That made me sad, thank you very much. A bit beautiful, though.

  4. Thanks for this...the sharing of your thoughts...contradictions and all! We all(humans) should have such as powerful 're-think'. Duncan

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful and honest comments. I am a descendant of krackow jews and am making a film about it. watch this space..

  6. A wonderful piece filled with wisdom and truth.