Auschwitz: How relevant is it in today’s society?

Melissa Pawson

108425496 300x200 Auschwitz: How relevant is it in todays society?A while ago, I was having a conversation with friends; the Holocaust came up and we began to tentatively discuss it. After a few minutes, one friend, who had been keeping very quiet, looked up and said, slightly confused: “What even is the Holocaust?”… I know: I was completely stunned. She is a relatively sensible person, yet seemed to have no knowledge of this massive historical event. The Holocaust, this significant chunk of world history, this stain on life in the 20th century, and probably one of the most discussed atrocities in the whole of history, had not even registered its existence to her.

I was particularly offended by her comment, due to feeling slightly more acquainted with the event than many other people I know. For, as part of a project engineered by Holocaust Educational Trust, in March 2012 I visited the site of Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.

As well as being deeply moved by the horrific personal stories and deathly atmosphere of the place, I found it extremely hard to know how to react to the place as a museum. Looking through some of the few pictures I took from the day, I’m struck by how uncomfortable and serious I look; it’s not like smiling for the camera as a visitor abroad, or in a conventional museum; the whole place demands respect, especially in the photos you take as a visitor. But is it even right to be a visitor, taking snaps for the album, labelling the place as a museum?

The website for Auschwitz Tours calls the place ‘Auschwitz Museum’, however, is this not degrading in some way, displaying the place as an artefact, to thousands of voyeuristic visitors each year, even when it was such an instrument of terror and death, inflicted on so many innocent lives?

To me, Auschwitz seems to be predominately a memorial; a reminder and a tribute to those who suffered throughout the Holocaust, stretching through time and forming valuable and relevant lessons for today. For mass scale crimes do not stop with the Holocaust of 1933 to 1945. There have been many holocausts since- the word itself meaning ‘sacrifice by fire’, of Greek origin, defining ‘wholesale or mass destruction, especially of human life’.

Along with the Holocaust itself, effects of more recent genocides, such as the Srebrenica massacre and Rwanda genocide, are still being felt today, with recent mass reburials in Srebrenica, 17 years after the event, and Rwanda still living with the devastating effects of genocide, almost two decades later.

As well as these, there is the extremely recent example of the Norway attacks, carried out by Anders Breivik, a lone terrorist who launched an attack on innocent civilians; the majority of those targeted being young people attending a Labour Party Youth Camp. At least 77 people were killed in this small scale version of a targeted holocaust.

All of these examples of extreme discrimination in action show just how wrong we are, when we may feel that such wide scale organised destruction as the Holocaust is now removed from anything relevant to 21st century life. Active and violent discrimination is still prevalent in modern civilisation, even though it is the complete opposite to what civilisation should really be.

This is why Auschwitz especially is so relevant, acting as a deterrent to the deterioration of civilisation and humanity. And even if not everyone visits the places, they still promote awareness – this is directly clear from the media for this year.

Awareness was certainly promoted in the run up to Euro 2012, when the England football squad visited Auschwitz (the site is close to where they were based in Krakow). And perhaps it doesn’t matter if this was motivated by a view to promoting good press of the footballers, or was genuinely a meaningful act with the aim to gaining some perspective and promoting true team spirit. For the experience that the footballers themselves appeared to gain and then pass on is surely more valuable than any publicity stunt.

Joe Hart, England goalkeeper, spoke of the first hand testimonies offered by Holocaust survivors, Zigi Shipper and Ben Helfgott: “There was no hate. They weren’t angry. They just had that message about how you can always be a better person. I couldn’t get over them – they were amazing. They spoke about what roles we have as footballers: that a lot of people look up to you, even though we were looking up to them at the time and how you should treat people as you meet them.

“I asked to be one of the players who will go to Auschwitz. Ever since Krakow was chosen as our base, my dad had told me I needed to go and experience this. It’s hard to talk about – I’m not being sick or perverse – but you need to see these things to appreciate them. It’s talked about and you hear people chuck words out like ‘Holocaust’, but you need to know what they are. It gives you more of a feeling of the history of this world.”

Auschwitz is incredibly valuable in order for us to remember what we are capable of as human beings, and how we might cause prevention of such atrocities even through small acts such as promoting tolerance.

The experience of Auschwitz that I had was life changing, as a reminder of the ever-present cruelty in the world in which we live. Yet through this cruelty can come the good that so many try to promote, by using such places as Auschwitz, where we can encourage awareness of what we all are capable of, and promote the place as a deterrent to evils that can only lead to more evils.

The hope can exist, and because we have our memorials and reminders, in them we can also remember the escape from their terrors, and the rebuilding that has been done and will continue on after. The Holocaust can never be remembered enough, and through these constant reminders of evil, we can have constant faith in the escape from evil, and faith in human goodness.

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  • andrew galea

    Food for thought.

  • Rossels

    Hey Susan G – clear and intelligent – thanks.

  • Rossels

    Daniel – you have probably got something interesting to say. Please share it.

  • Foxexpress

    are you trolling again?

  • andrew galea

    Ricardito, how old are you? I reckon about 10 yrs.old.
    Write this down one hundred times for your homework.
    Britain was in the Falklands (originally occupied by the French and called Les Iles Malouines, hence ths Spanish transliteration into Malvinas) before Argentina existed as a nation.
    That’s right ONE HUNDRED TIMES.
    Not the whole thing silly just:

  • Rossels

    Hi again Susan G – have you been to Auschwitz? Thinking about the original article which has sparked all this and spoke of the “voyeurism” of the visitors. She’s right to use a word that prompts introspection. I carried a camera and took lots of photographs and was conscious of others doing the same. But I did so with trepidation but also felt a respect amongst my fellow tourists. It was almost as if we were recording our own personal memorial to the horrors. This was not voyeurism, it was so much more respectful, but the term is apt because it challenges so much of what we experienced. Perhaps cameras should be banned – and we would understand why – but they aren’t. And therein lies a clue….

  • tomkyle

    Silly attempt at deflection from you, foxexpress. What’s the matter? Why don’t you answer the question? You tried to disparage the author by ” wondering” if she only knew of the Jewish experience of holocaust If you had read the article you would know that’s rubbish. Furthermore, any sentient human being is going to ” wonder” why you would make such a facetious comment? Agenda much? Now, who’s the troll?

  • teejay

    What exactly is “the Jewish lobby”? Are you suggesting that all Jews all over the world have the same views. Isn’t that similar to suggesting that, say, all Black Africans or all Hindus or all Muslims or all Christians have the same views.

    The point is that the Holocaust was an unprecedented event and the Armenian genocide was not the Holocaust. It was a genocide (unless you are the Turkish government, in which case it never happened) not even a holocaust as outside of the destruction of European Jewry the term holocaust to describe mass murder is essentially meaningless. There are genocides (about 50 in the 20th Century) and some, such as that of the Roma and Sinti are given other terms, either by survivors of the victim groups (cf. porrajmos) or by historians. The general usage of the term holocaust may cover events such as the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan (probably a more accurate usage to be honest) but terminologies are created to be used accurately and for historians Holocaust with a capital “H” refers only to the attempted destruction of European Jewry. (Incidentally, many Jews use the term Shoah, or even Churban, not Holocaust).

    Also incidentally, your comparison of the atomic bomb deaths and those in Rwanda is incorrect. Estimates of deaths at Hiroshima and Nagasaki vary at around 200 – 250,000. The Hiroshima Peace Site gives a figure of around 140,000; the 1946 Hiroshima Police Study a figure of around 129,000 casualties (all wounded and all deaths, with those missing presumed dead. The number of deaths in 100 days in Rwanda is estimated at around 800,000, with around 500,000 of those being killed between April 6 and mid-July; a rate of killing that even outstrips the Holocaust over its total period, but not at at its height of March 1942 – February 1943, when 80% of all Jews who would die in the Holocaust were killed – around 4.5 million people.

  • andrew galea


  • andrew galea

    I don’t know what you are referring to.
    As for my Greek and Latin (which Latin, written,spoken, High Church Latin, Roman Liturgical, classical,medieval, early Latin precursor of all romance languages) I don’t know but I am sure my Latin is fair, not to mention Aramaic, Elementary Phoenician, Spanish,English,Italian, French and Arabic,Chelha and currently tackling Sanskrit.

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