I visited Auschwitz in 2012, as part of a 2-month trip interrailing through Europe with my then-boyfriend. We had made our way through Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, through Prague and before hitting Budapest in Hungary we made our way to Krakow in Poland. We had been warned by a few previous visitors that although a beautiful city, Krakow was quite boring (we actually had an amazing time, but that’s not the point of this post.) The reason we, and many other travellers before us, and many others after us visit Krakow is because of it’s proximity to a chilling historical landmark – Auschwitz. It was one of the most memorable moments of my trip.
I find myself reflecting back on my visit there, not for reasons of nostalgia, but instead for a cry of desperation. I was listening to a podcast by the Guardian recently, in which they were discussing the current migration ‘crisis.’ I recently read an article in which a Danish policeman was quoted as saying ‘I would have no problem with ripping out the gold teeth of a migrant once they arrived here’ (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t speak danish.) I think back to the corridors of Auschwitz, which are lined with containers of human hair, shoes, and most importantly possessions, that were seized off the new inhabitant of the camps as soon as they left the train. What is so poignantly heartbreaking about it, is how the people brought everything with them, because they were being moved to camps, to a new home, and then it was taken from them, because they were not deemed worthy enough to have possessions. This historical moment has been running around my mind for weeks, and I can’t help but see the pure similarity between countries we deem as ‘civilised’ and understanding, and one of the blackest marks in history.
If we also include the sheer magnitude of support that’s come in the wake of Donald Trump running for president, the whole world is starting to look like a whole joke that’s gone terribly wrong; the language used, i.e. referring to fellow humans connotes a land of cretins or sub-human species, which are far below western values. Even on our little island, we’ve seen racist sentiment grow. In the 2015 GE UKIP’s support grew by 3.2% (via Guardian) and David Cameron himself has been caught out using terms such as ‘swarm’ and ‘bunch,’ as well as implementing policies which might seem inclusive but are actually unfair and unappealing. Read. If you thought we’d gotten past this and learnt from history you’d be wrong. Trump recently asked a rally of his supporters to raise their right arm in support for him, they may as well be shouting Heil Hitler, but people are none the wiser.
History is repeating itself, and instead of doing something about it, we’re just sitting idly by as it attacks another section of humanity. Do we really need to talk about THAT Doctor Who episode?
This is exactly why people need to visit Auschwitz. Not just Jews, not just Germans, and definitely not just Westerners. It’s a pilgrimage that needs to be made by all of us because the devastation that happened there is intrinsic to us as human beings. It’s been a long time since the liberation of Auschwitz, most who were alive back then are nearing the end of their lives and were not much more than mere children at the time. Those who were old enough to understand the atrocities are nearly all gone, and none of our politicians around the world are old enough to have lived it, so it’s easy to understand where they could see a lack of relevance, but in reality, it’s uncanny. We all need to truly understand what we are capable of to make sure it can never happen again, otherwise it’s just a matter of time until the meaning of ‘the migrant’ becomes become something else entirely.