Auschwitz: There is no “normal” reaction – this was mine

27th January, 2013 2:51 pm

As today is Holocaust Memorial Day, I’ve decided to re-post this piece from last year, reflecting on a trip I made to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

—————

Last November I took a trip with two hundred school kids, a few politicians and a selection of journalists and writers. I’ve resisted writing anything about it until now, because it was one of the most moving experiences I imagine I’ll ever have, and I didn’t have the confidence to put it into words.

But today is Holocaust Memorial Day, and the visit was to Auschwitz.

Now seems as good a time as any.

My main concern about writing this was that anything I came out with would be cliched. After a few months of reading countless other records of visits to Auschwitz, I’ve realised that cliches are both inevitable and essential. It really is one of the most silent places on earth, with each crunching gravelly step echoing through the headphones each visitor wears, accentuating that silence. The gas chamber seems an almost innocuous room, until you step through a small doorway and see the body burning ovens, rigged with metal stretchers for the more efficient incineration of the mass murdered.

The mounds of possessions were especially troubling. I look around my flat now and see what I’ve accumulated over nearly three decades. Not much but more than enough. Compare that to the suitcases, glasses, kitchenware and shoes piled high in glass cases. This tiny fraction of what was taken from Auschwitz’s victims is still an enormous haul, made up of what millions were able to carry across a continent in horrifically cramped train “carriages”.

The significance of each item is somehow too great to take in.

For many it’s the stolen hair that is particularly affecting – piled impossibly high behind a glass screen. For me, it was the tiny shoes. We’ve all at some point helped a child lace up their shoes. Each one different. Each one significant. To see them cast aside and know what happened to the children who wore them would ordinarily have been too much to bear.

But at Auschwitz, it’s just another layer of horror. Utterly numbing horror.

Returning home afterwards everything seemed inadequate. Taxi home. Late night burger. Try to read a book. Fail. Try to sleep. Fail.

Yet it wasn’t until three weeks later that the enormity of that visit to that place really hit me. Flicking through the TV channels one night, I stumbled across a documentary about the holocaust. Standing where I had stood in bitterly cold Southern Poland less than a month earlier, were these ghosts from the past, their ghostly nature accentuated by their thin frames, black and white clothes worn in black and white film. The memory of that cold harsh wind struck me like a hammer blow. And I wept.

There is no “normal” reaction to Auschwitz. That was mine.

Mark would like to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust for organising the trip, and the valuable work that they do

Latest

  • Comment Branches are more than just foot canvassers

    Branches are more than just foot canvassers

    One of the few rays of light in this bleak month has been the level of new Labour recruits: 20,000 people joining the Labour Party since the Tories wafer thin win. Considering this represents a 15% increase in overall membership – it’s a statistic that should be raising eyebrows everywhere. By now the mountain of red membership cards will be starting to arrive on doorsteps up and down the country. It will be a massive own goal if we fail […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Has Militant’s Derek Hatton really been allowed back in the Labour Party?

    Has Militant’s Derek Hatton really been allowed back in the Labour Party?

    Last night, ITV News revealed that Derek Hatton had rejoined the Labour Party – 29 years after being expelled. Hatton had originally joined Labour as part of an entryist tactic by the Trotskyist group Militant in the 1980s, and rose through the ranks to become deputy leader of Labour-run Liverpool Council. The actions of that council led then-Labour leader Neil Kinnock to denounce them in a famous speech in Bournemouth in 1985, where he said: “I’ll tell you what happens with […]

    Read more →
  • News After humiliating defeat in Bradford West, George Galloway is running for Mayor of London

    After humiliating defeat in Bradford West, George Galloway is running for Mayor of London

    Following his embarrassing election defeat to Labour’s Naz Shah in Bradford West, former Labour MP George Galloway has announced his candidacy in the 2016 Mayor of London race. The Respect Party leader recently began legal proceedings over the Bradford West result, where his 10,000 majority turned into an 11,000 majority for Labour. Given his new interest, it is unclear whether he will be pursuing the case. During the election, Galloway caused an uproar when accused his Labour opponent Naz Shah of lying […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured You can’t replace the experiences of millions of workers with ‘aspirational politics’

    You can’t replace the experiences of millions of workers with ‘aspirational politics’

    Over my long life I have been many things: As a lad I was a child labourer who lived in cheap doss houses with my parents who had been made destitute by the Great Depression. As a young man, I left those warrens and took the kings shilling and served in the RAF during the Second World War. In peace time, because a Labour government introduced the Welfare State, I became a member of the middle class and exchanged my […]

    Read more →
  • News Sadiq Khan slams tendency of politicians and media to “lump all Asians together”

    Sadiq Khan slams tendency of politicians and media to “lump all Asians together”

    London Mayor hopeful Sadiq Khan has pledged today to make efforts to win back over Hindu voters, following polling showing that at this election more Hindus voted Tory than Labour for the first time ever. Survation polling released this week showed that the Conservatives had an eight point lead over Labour among Hindu voters, 49% to 41%. Over 425,000 Hindus live in London, and Labour failed to win two target seats that have large Hindu populations, Harrow East and Croydon Central. […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit