Seventy Years after Auschwitz. What have we learned?

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp has recently passed. It is so important that we never forget the lessons of the past, how ordinary people can become mass murderers and others their victims simply for being of a different race, skin colour or religion.

The infamous entry gate to Auschwitz

The infamous entry gate to Auschwitz

This was the first time I visited Auschwitz, I was nervous before going because I was not sure what I would feel being in a place where there had been so much evil and so many people were murdered. The overwhelming feeling was one of sadness, it seems to permeate every brick of every building. The biggest shock for me was how small Auschwitz is considering how many people were murdered there, Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, more than 1.1 million in total. The camp was designed to be the most efficient killing machine possible.


Take away the barbed wire and watchtowers and Auschwitz could have been more like a village of uniform red-brick buildings. Words can not describe the horror that happened inside those walls

At the main entrance there is the infamous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei”, translated it means Work Brings Freedom. Freedom through death, many who were not sent immediately to the gas chambers were literally worked to death. They were seen as a resource to be used to do hard labour until they died from hunger or cold. The records that were kept show how meticulous details were recorded of the amount of work done, food consumed, as a modern business would keep account of profit and loss, and balance. The inmates were simply units of work, each with an identifying number tattooed onto their skin. When that unit could no longer do useful work it was disposed of.

Stripped of Humanity

Anything of economic value was stripped from the inmates, including prosthetics.

Nothing Personal

No personal possessions were allowed

With all the horror in Auschwitz the inmates still found ways to resist and help their fellow humans. When possible, food and medicine was smuggled in as were books. All religious texts were banned but they found their way into the camp too. When you have nothing left to lose you are prepared to do anything to resist those who are oppressing you. I was moved by a quote from a former inmate, Jozef Garlinski inmate no: 121421. He wrote, “Outwardly it might seem that Auschwitz was the last ideal place to start an underground organization. All reasonable arguments and calculations spoke against any hope of successful underground work, yet as it turned out, the situation was favourable. Clandestine action is usually taken and is usually successful when all other forms of action have failed, when desperate people must seek secret ties to help each other, to fight an enemy who is too strong for open struggle. Unlimited, however, are the moral and physical powers, which man has within him.”

QuoteToday we live in a world that is becoming more unequal and divided every day. The number of working poor, that is those who have a job but still struggle to pay for rent, food and electricity is constantly growing. Not since the period before the Second World War are so many people having to rely on food banks just so they can survive  These people are being pushed to the edge of society. At the same time, after Charlie Hebdo, all Muslims in the western world are being viewed with increased suspicion, fear and discrimination. Society is fracturing and at the same time the desire for national identity is increasing. After the discovery of the concentration camps the world said “Never Again” but it seems that as memories fade and society becomes more unequal the seeds are once again being sown that could allow new horrors to once again be unleashed.

EfficientThe chimney of the crematorium. The only way you could leave the camp.

The chimney of the crematorium. The only way you could leave the camp.

The outside world was so close but impossible to reach.

The outside world was so close but impossible to reach.

Never Again!

Never Again!


20 thoughts on “Seventy Years after Auschwitz. What have we learned?

  1. In todays world the divide between rich-poor on the basis of caste, creed, religion is increasingly evident. Unfortunately few understand the consequences of this divide. Auschwitz is a reminder of what we’re capable of and what we’re headed towards. The pictures brilliantly depict the setting, one can only imagine the horrors.

  2. Incomprehensible that this could or can happen, and yet it did.
    Words are not adequate to express the sadness and horror of what all these people went through.

  3. I find myself reminded of the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But I’m heartened by the fact that some people DID try to help, whether it was in big or small ways. Like Raoul Wallenberg.

    The BBC did a moving video tribute to the Auschwitz victims. Here’s the link if you’d like to see it:

    • Thanks for the video link. Some people did of course try to help but they were in the minority. As today, most people were too wrapped in their own lives to give consideration to others.

      • I don’t agree about the conditions – it was the fact that a strong politician like Hitler came to power and led many young people to want to conquer the World. We should not try defend Hitler in any way.

      • Hitler was evil and indefensible. I’m saying that if it has happened once then something similar could happen again, not genocide but against those who are not seen as a normal part of society in which they live. This is the potential danger of permitting and encouraging a them and us society.

      • Yes, that’s right, Hitler and his ideas were spiralling out of reasonable control, but people were hungry to listen to him and believe him. This situation won’t happen again on such a massive scale, as nobody wants to encourage groups like Neo-Nazis, because everybody knows where it leads to. There still will be nationalist groups appearing, but no-one will give them power to lead the nation.

  4. Many an American would have happily throw a few Muslims into a gas chamber after 9/11, The Germans after the first world war were thirsting for something to throw their energy onto. They had been depressed by Versailles, humiliated and it led to a ‘perfect storm’ that gave birth to the period before and during the second world war. Russell, i think, mentions the experiments in America where students inflicted pain with relish (they did not in fact of course but were under that impression) on fellow students in an experiment Humans will do this anywhere in the world if the conditions are fertile for. The Germans as a whole loved Hitler and I have spoken to many. Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, disabled, mentally ill, dyslexic, downs, all these are targets today in one way or another, “lets abort your disabled baby” its a start to the perfect race…happened today in London I dare say.

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