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