70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: Reflections

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70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz: Reflections

Last week represented the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This will not be piece on what happened there, the story is well documented. Instead this piece will concentrate on what such an anniversary represents for today, and what we can learn from Auschwitz.

Auschwitz is an example of what happens when humanity is somewhat lost, and gives way to brutality. Yet this happened, as it did in other camps, just seventy years ago. Thereby, it is crucial that what happened must be continued to be told to everyone.

When you visit Auschwitz, people bring back a different representation of it. Having said that, there are three main themes which flow through these representations. First of all is the scale and organisation of it all. The buildings, mostly built with red bricks, dominate most of your view. Birkenau, only a few miles down the road, emphasises the scale more so: it’s mostly empty land, with only a few outhouses left and running down the middle of the land is a rail track. That rail track carried the trains to the camps, and for the majority, was the last stop they’d ever make. A vast empty space, as far as the eye can see, and there is no noise. Birds don’t fly over here, and you’re left in silence.

Secondly, in Auschwitz, is the hair. In everyday life, hair is rarely thought of. You probably got up this morning and brushed your hair and thought nothing of it. Here, there is a small room full of hair: lifeless, dry, hair. Is it the volume of hair, which then leads on to the volume of people? You can’t really tell. It just hits you.

Thirdly, is the shoes. Yes, the shoes. Everyone talks about the shoes. But then again, why shouldn’t they? Again, a small room full of shoes. Mostly black with cracked leather. Shoes are a personal item. These shoes belonged to people no longer here. Perhaps you look for a shoe a similar size to yourself: in that pile you’d find hundreds. Or perhaps the most heart wrenching: a child’s shoe. You’d find one in that pile. Then ten. Then hundred. Then, possibly a thousand. It adds up in your mind. The figures which are often banded around about Auschwitz suddenly have context, an item to place the numbers.

A visit to Auschwitz, or hearing first-hand accounts of what happened in the camps builds upon your understanding of it all. Not only that, but by being there, at the site of one of the most horrific events in the 20th century, it highlights how valuable freedom is.

We are lucky in this being the 70th anniversary that we have survivors to give first hand insight and to tell their tales. This insight needs to be respected and hopefully taken on as a lesson. However, as ever more generations come, survivors with their valuable first-hand experience do not. Thereby it is important that we not only listen and respect such experience, but also maintain it for future generations to come.

Carrying on from my brief introduction, now follows reflections from Craig Bateman and Jack Welch:

Holocaust Memoral Day: We Will Remember Them.

On 27th January 1945, the Red Army liberated the Nazi’s biggest concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in south-western Poland. They found just under 6,000 prisoners still alive in the camp. Many others had fallen victim to the Nazi killing machine.

70 years later these horrific human brutalities are remembered in a day of holocaust memorial, alongside the countless other examples of where human civilisation fell into the hands of the corrupt, broken and heartless.

However, in order to construct a society based on the principles of mutual respect, democratic expression, and freedom of speech; we must strive to articulate these values in our everyday actions, manifesting them in every word we say and every deed to do.

Whilst the term ‘holocaust’ continues to conjure up terrific mental images of the horrific atrocities that characterised this culturally and politically condemned German Nazi regime wherein more than six million European Jews, as well as members of other persecuted groups, such as gypsies and homosexuals were unjustly sentenced to death; others view it in its broader sense as any form of destruction or slaughter on a mass scale against humanity – often whereby the powerful exploited the vulnerabilities of the powerless.

Although the former may has enhanced cultural proximity when we look back at European history; it is the latter definition that will be the main emphasis in this column.

Throughout history, there have been numerous occasions wherein the few made humanity abandon human civilisation and turn towards a poisonous extremist narrative whereby the innocent were oppressed by the corrupt, the powerful, and the undeniably heartless.

The Nazi Holocaust, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and more recently, the anti-Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks are all modern examples of why our endeavour to build a global community based on the values of freedom of expression, rule of law and personal autonomy is so essential.

In July 2013, I set out on a ‘World Challenge’ expedition with a group of other students from within my locality to Thailand and Cambodia, the world’s third least economically developed country. Apart from trekking through the Um Phang jungle and spending a week working in an orphanage, we visited the site where the Khamer Rouge was carried out during the mid 1970‘s and 1980‘s.

To walk down the corridors where ordinary citizens had fell victim to some of the most barbaric scenes in humanity’s darkest hours, to witness the remaining shoes of the innocent individuals whose last walk was to the room in which they were to draw their last breath, and to learn about the history of this wicked and cruel regime were moments that I will never forget for as long as I live. They are moments that have been subdued to our history books forever. And moreover, they are moments that we should actively be taking lessons from in our human endeavour to build a more democratic world based on the principles of freedom of speech, respect for the individual, and personal, political, cultural and religious autonomy.

These are also moments that give wake to social and political reimaging too.

As an individual, I find it heart-breaking to think of what numerous generations before me have had to suffer in order to secure an equal place in society.

I am forever indebted to those few who in humanity’s darkest hours stuck to their convictions.

Their legacies remain inherent in politics and society today, and their actions are constant reminders of the struggle endured in order to acquire and retain the fundamental human rights that as individual citizens we take for granted in our modern world.

However, although efforts towards creating a more egaliterian society are being championed more so now than arguably ever before, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

As the famous eighteenth century philosopher, Edmund Burke, once said, ‘the only thing for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing’; it is only right that in a world as chaotic as it seemingly currently is, these words bear huge precedence in modern society.

As we continue in our endevour to construct a more equal society that is fair for all; it is only right that we will remember them.

Craig Bateman.

The Memory Lives On

In history, as any significant event marks for good or worse upon the consciousness of society, the living memories of those who lived to witness that period of time pass onto second, third generations and ultimately become academic to the point where they are no more than mere curiosities in textbooks. This past week, the 27th January commemorated the 70 year legacy of the liberation of the most infamous of Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz. After taking in the enormity of six million deaths to create a more unified and peaceful Europe, some may be content to say it is okay to categorise this point of time as a dark stain on Western development and progression. It is our duty to resist this argument at all costs.

Having been a volunteer and guest at this week’s Holocaust Memorial Day at Central Hall in Westminster, which was attended by a distinguished line-up featuring all three main party leaders and the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and David Dimbleby, it would be very easy to become starstruck by the profiles of such names and lose focus on the entire day. The real wonder of the day was the presence of an array of survivors across a number of the most devastating massacres and genocides in other parts of the world, besides the Nazi Germany terror. From Darfur to Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is a stark reminder that mankind really has really never learnt from history and create a safer future for other generations. This year in July also marks the 20th Anniversary since the genocide in Srebrenica, which brought a disastrous climax to the Bosnian War which saw the longest siege, in Sarajevo, to date so far and the United Nations, founded in the aftermath of World War II, completely discredited. If 70 years is sufficiently short to have enough survivors to tell the tale, which it does, than surely 20 years, which sits within this generation’s lifetime, demonstrates failure to genuinely fight against the cause and effect of prejudice and hatred within societies across the globe. Will this though be remembered?

The commemorations this week also brought an announcement from Prime Minister David Cameron, coinciding with the report from the Holocaust Commission set up last year, that he would be investing £50 million into a memorial and Learning Centre that will keep the memories alive of those who may not be around for much longer. Having visited both the sites in Auschwitz and the affected parts of Bosnia in the last five years, the sentiment to educate and inform is a worthwhile cause. However, it is not just about big names and dramatic events that we should seek to educate future generations on – it is the suffering of individual people everywhere, past and present, where people now must face up to the failings of conflict and to warn that any country, with the will, has a capacity to repeat what we already swore to never happen again 70 years on. History is not a case of the buried and forgotten, but a constant reminder of how people of any part in the world need to be kept in check.

Jack Welch.

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