Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Auschwitz: Beyond human understanding

January 27, 2008: Sixty-three years down the road from the day when the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp took place in 1945 signalling an end to the campaign of systematic murder which saw the extermination of over six million Jews and millions of other innocent citizens of Europe.

To observer the event at the initiative of the European Friends of Israel (EFI), Marian Turski, a Holocaust Survivor and Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Historical Institute Association in Poland was joined by a delegation of 20 members of the European Parliament and of EU national parliaments to visit the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp in southern Poland.

The group was joined by six Israeli members of Knesset, Israel’s parliament, coming from a variety of political parties including MKs Rabbi Meir Porush (Agudas Israel); Rabbi Nissim Ze’ev (Shas); Nissan Slomiansky (NRP), member of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors; Colette Avital (Labor), Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chairperson of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors; Yoram Marciano (Labor) and Stas Miszhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu), the current chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Before Auschwitz became the ultimate symbol of the Shoah or Holocaust, it was just an ordinary town known as Oswiecim. 1.5 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau during World War II. Today the Auschwitz Jewish Center which opened in 2000 is trying to teach future generations about the destruction caused by the Holocaust.

The infamous welcome sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes you free) hung heavy above the entrance to Auschwitz and I had expected to see the camp without absorbing the pain of its monstrous past but I could not believe what I saw.

In the well-organised rows of desolate blocks of brick houses, there were rooms set out, museum-like, to display crowded images of prisoners being herded off trains, anonymous masses waiting and, everywhere, the horrible Auschwitz stripe. The baby clothes and children’s tiny shoes; a decaying collection of suitcases with names and date of births; piles of adult shoes; a three-dimensional collage of reading glasses and heaps of everyday household items once dear to their owners for usage in their everyday life and who made it to this organised dead-end place under the false hope of a new life.

In one of the rooms there were photographs with several pieces of writing paper covered with a scrawl that was unintelligible to me but seemed to speak volumes about helplessness of existence and trying to clutch the last straw to survive.

Then we embarked on the slow tread to Auschwitz II – Birkenau which was created when the original Auschwitz was full and, with its purposebuilt gas chambers (but today in ruins as destroyed by the fleeing Nazis), it looked an even more sinister killing machine, set in a flat, treeless landscape, The amazing organised way how death could be ordered into neat rows and numbers and that the records were kept with a system that counted human beings nothing more than cattle. Nothing could have prepared anyone for this experience seeing how truly massive Auschwitz-Birkenau is.

Turski, the Holocaust Survivor from here came alive as he pointed the different zones and explained the intricate working mechanisms which were shrouded in secrecy to keep victims guessing till the end.

Asked to comment, Turski, with a heavy voice told New Europe, “We should never wait too long. This happened because world waited too long before it reacted.” He added, “It was modern day slavery as my mother was taken away by a company to labour.” His voice flickered like a candle in the wind literally as gusty winds and snow hit us while he slowly spoke amidst virtually untouched environs since the Russian liberation on January 27, 1945.

“This important mission to Auschwitz permitted us not only to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to stand against all forms of extremism and to vigorously condemn them but also to tie the bonds between supporters of Israel from all over Europe which, we think, will lead to substantial improvement of the understanding of Europe in Israel as well as the understanding of Israel in Europe. Moreover this mission was a great opportunity for both Members of the European Parliament and National Parliaments to meet their counterparts from the Knesset and further discuss joint activities related to Israel and the EU,” summed up Dimitri Dombret, Director EFI.

On the way back, Elizabeth Svantesson, Member of Parliament, Sweden and member of the Parliamentary Friendship Group with Israel told New Europe, “I visited Auschwitz in 1989 and again today. This horrifying chapter in human history is important for everyone to get involved.” She highlighted the Swedish project to provide families with a book on Holocaust to bring awareness and educate children about it. And last but not the least, going to Auschwitz was a decision with a choice. The millions of Jews, gypsies, Poles and others who died there did not have that choice.

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