Tuesday, January 28, 2014

International Holocaust Memorial Day

Correctly speaking, this is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, in Berlin, but everyone knows it as the Holocaust Memorial. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs of various heights, arranged in a grid pattern over an area of nearly five acres. It's an odd concept, not like any other sort of memorial I've visited, and some mindless ratbags even seemed to be playing hide and seek through it, but there's no doubting its serious intent. Huge and grey and sharp-edged and full of shadows - I think it works. Because, really, how else could you do it? The scale of the atrocity, and the horrific detail of it, are pretty much untranslatable into anything more graphic.

It's enough that Auschwitz, and the other death camps, are still there, open to everyone and un-whitewashed. Our Insight Vacations coach tour of Eastern Europe was WWII-centric and often very grim, but it was fascinating and educational and memorable, and I'm glad that I've done it. Especially Auschwitz: to walk through those buildings, lined with framed photos of prisoners, past the tangle of spectacles, the mounds of hair, the huge piles of shoes, all sizes, in the company of a guide whose grandfather survived Auschwitz, really focused the mind. The cells, firing range yard and gallows posts, the high electric fences, the extermination wing... and then the shower room, and the gas ovens with their clever mechanism for efficient transferral of corpse into flames: everyone should go there, and be reminded of what can happen.

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