Refreshing our memory can help in building a peaceful future.
TO GO OR NOT TO GO?
As I was planning my trip to Oswiecim was thinking about all the evil and violence (ISIS, Indonesia fires, Boko Haram, Paris – you name it) that is going on today under my radar. Frankly, I was considering postponing or cancelling.
In November (2015) I took a trip to see my friend Chris who works in Krakow. Since I arrived there on Friday morning and Chris had to work until five I decided to take a turn and go a few stops back to Oswiecim. I came to the conclusion that one should probably pay this place a visit as a part of general education.
The first tingling that I'm about to see something terribly twisted came when I asked for a one way ticket. (I had an unchecked ticket to Krakow from my first ride so I kinda hoped that I could use it also as a return ticket from Oswiecim to Krakow – the track is the same). So there I was, buying a one way ticket to the most likely deadliest place on Earth.
WELCOME TO THE GHOST TOWN
While the Krakow main station was one of the most modern railway stations I've ever seen (and yes I've been to southern Germany), the stop in Oswiecim was likely the ugliest. The rainy cold autumn weather fine-tuned the atmosphere.
The second warning came when I asked for the way to the... Suddenly, I couldn't find any suitable vocabulary for naming the place where I was going: “Auschwitz? Arbeits Lager? Work camp? Concentration camp?” I decided to go with “Museum”.
The passers-by who I approached didn't give me much hint on the directions. Either they didn't know or perhaps they didn't want to talk about it. I can't blame them. Who would want to talk about what's really going on in Silent Hill? Twin Peaks? Wayard Pines?
ENTER INTO THE DEAD ZONE. LITERALLY
After about 3km in my feet I finally found the “museum”. The remains of the first concentration camp called Auschwitz I. (Stammlager). On the 27th of April, 1940, by the order of the sick nazi fu*k Heinrich Himmler it was established on the remains of polish barracks. Under the command of Rudolf Höss, along with the second local camp Konzentrationslager Auschwitz-Birkenau, Oswiecim was the final destination to over one million of people (some sources talk even about 3 millions).
If someone blindfolded you and took you in the middle of the Auschwitz I. Camp, let you look around, perhaps the first impression would be - “It looks like some overly perfected built-up area in the heart of England, since everything is built from red bricks.”
But then you notice the barbed wire.
The numbers on the buildings.
A rail (for hangings) in the middle of the street.
By then you know that a) this sure as heel ain't no England and b) you start looking where is the exit.
AND HERE COMES THE BRAIN STORM
After my visit I thought about the soldiers of the Red Army who came on the 27th of January 1945 to free the prisoners. I thought about what they saw. I thought about their temptation to burn this hellish place to the grounds. Some parts were indeed destroyed, however the major part of the site remained untouched. And already in 1947 Poland turned the place into a museum. A memorial that would never let us forget.
It is good that they did so.
When I first learned about the holocaust in primary school, I considered the event to be something distant and buried in the past. It stroke me as something purely impossible – 'not in my world'. Obviously I assured myself with strong phrases like “I would never...” or “How could they...”, etc.
Today I see it differently. However disgusting and hateful events happened in all of history, most of them started with an idea of hatred 'against'. Either against something, but more likely against someone.
REFRESHING OUR MEMORY
Even though we believe we would never let anything of such scale and damage repeat in todays's Europe, what we are particularly good at is sharing information. In our social filters (of what information we ignore and what information we send forward) we need to take into account the tremendous impact of our actions. A simple – perhaps even well thought – idea can be shared, twisted and misinterpreted. Bad and hateful information have even greater potential to be sent forward.
A place like the museum in Oswiecim reminds us the damage a single idea can cause when realized ad absurdum. It is the one extreme that serves as a reminder of being responsible for our actions – not just the present and the past but also the future ones.
Perhaps you see all of the above slightly far fetched, but think about it. What are we saying about people who are our neighbors and colleagues behind their back? Could it harm them in any way? And how are we talking about strangers who have no place to go to – people who we don't know? Where do we take our right to judge them? Again, could such bad talk harm then some day? Easy. In fact easier than we think.
...AND THAT'S A WRAP
Much like this article most of the information we read (and consume in general) are created by humans – creatures prone to error. Information contain memories, experience, notes taken in the heat of the moment, personal opinion...
Indeed I was quite struggling how to provide you with an insight into Oswiecim. I conclude persuaded, that the best way is to just remind you. The rest is up to you. If you haven't until today – pay Oswiecim a visit. And while you at it, make a stop in Krakow. It's beautiful there, even when it rains...
In the meantime be cautious what information gets into your head and what information and ideals you spread into the heads and hearts of other.
Perhaps one day your caution and self-reflection will be repaid with gratitude.