Tuesday 27 January 2015

Seventy years on

I suppose the sun does shine at Auschwitz. Of course it does. But, having been there on an entirely appropriate cold, grey day, it's hard to imagine it in the sunshine, the red bricks glowing warmly, 'Arbeit Macht Frei' silhouetted against a blue sky.

I was struck, though, by how neat and tidy it was, by the row of young poplar trees in front of the buildings, how well-maintained it all seemed. Perhaps it's a mark of respect by the Germans, who to their credit keep this shameful part of their history open to everyone, for free - or perhaps it was always like that, a kind of orderly balance to the nightmarish things that went on there. It's true that there was a kind of disconnect that went on, men doing hideous things and then going home to their wives and children, living normal family lives.
We marvel at that, but it's important to remember that it's not solely a German characteristic: it's what all people are capable of, and you don't have to look far inside any current newspaper to find proof of that. The world has never been so connected, so conscious of events, so comprehensively informed by affected individuals as well as commentators - and yet it's still clearly entirely possible for some groups to dismiss others as not just not like them, but not even human, worse than worthless.

So visiting Auschwitz, and Budapest's House of Terror, and Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, which I have, and so many other similar places in Cambodia, Africa, Russia and elsewhere, which I haven't, is necessary. Travel shouldn't just be about good times, it should always be about learning, and understanding, and remembering. That's why they say it broadens the mind - and, if nothing else, the Holocaust came about because of narrow, blinkered thinking.

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