We have just hammered out three blogs in a row, so do please have a look at the few beneath this one (otherwise Lucie will get upset that no-one is reading what she writes)!

Given we seemed to be engulfing ourselves in the the tragedies of WW2, we felt we should go to what is often termed ‘the largest graveyard in the world’ – Auschwitz.

Auschwitz was the largest concentration and death camp, consisting of Auschwitz I, III and Auschwitz II-Birkenau (which was the main death camp). Over a million people were killed here, of which 900,000 of them were defined as Jewish. The first prisoners to be brought here were Polish dissidents. Other prisoners included Roma, Sinti, political prisoners and Soviet soldiers.

I found the whole experience rather surreal, which was exacerbated by the perfect cold weather (blue sky, slight breeze etc, ) – everything was so still. While I didn’t know what to expect before I went there, and while I’m glad I went, I’ve been left questioning why people go to Auschwitz. This is not to mean that people shouldn’t go there or that it being kept open is useless. I strongly agree with a quote repeated throughout the place, ‘if you do not learn from history you are doomed to repeat it’. Of course, bizarre as this may sound, history in itself is subjective, but that’s a discussion for another blog.

However, I wonder whether a significant reason why people go there is out of a morbid curiosity. Throughout the exhibition you are told, ‘this is the real table that x sat at’. Or ‘this is the real crematorium in which they burnt x amount of people’. When they tell you that’ this is a reconstructed x’, you feel slightly let down.

Maybe I have no imagination, but I didn’t really feel like by being there I got a sense of what it was like to live and die there. Of course I didn’t. I don’t believe I could ever begin to imagine what those people had to go through. Yes, I saw the terrible conditions in which they slept, washed and ate. And there were the more distressing exhibitions of all the hair that was cut off the women and all the clothes etc taken from them (another reminder that these were really people not just statistics). How far do people go to such exhibitions to learn about what happened (which could equally be done from a couple of history books) and how far is the underlying reason a morbid curiosity? Not that everyone goes for this reason. While on the tour (which you have to do between 10am and 3pm) our tour guide told us that sporadically people who were prisoners in Auschwitz come back to visit the place. And then there are people that want to visit the sites were their friends and family were murdered – at various points around the site there are flowers laid and candles lit in remembrance.

Another interesting point I drew from the tour was how much emphasis was given to everything the Nazis kept. I’m obviously walking a thin line here, but the suggestion was that the Nazis were even more barbaric, cruel and inhumane for keeping all this stuff – i.e. clothes, shoes, rings etc. But I fail to see why this is. They were certainly barbaric, cruel and inhumane and more. But I don’t see why them reusing shoes, material etc makes them moreso. Of course for the loved ones, thinking that their dead friend/lover/etc shoes were being worn by a Nazi soldier must be horrible, but in reality its quite resourceful to reuse what can be reused, especially in a time of scarcity. I find it a weird cultural norm that the impersonal possessions of a dead person somehow become sacred and of more significance after their death. The dead person is not going to mind (or for that matter know) if their shoes are worn once they are dead. They are not going to go through any more pain or fear is someone is using their toothbrush or hairbrush. The pain and fear is endured when they are slowly starving and freezing in a concentration camp, in the knowledge that the next round the doctor does may be the one that sends them to their death as they are really too weak to work. With regards to people’s hair, I think this position might fall down as hair can be a highly personal thing. But then again as long as this is taken once the person is dead, what extra harm does it do to the dead person? The Nazis were monstrous disgusting people, but I do not see how taking the possessions of people adds to this or why we should look down on them further for this.

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