Friday, February 19, 2010

Can Auschwitz be saved?

This January 27 marked the 65th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by Soviet soldiers.

It is today a museum and a memorial.
The February issue article in the Smithsonian about restoring Auschwitz made me think about its value, or about its purpose today. It is a Unesco World Heritage site, a distinction usually reserved for places of culture and beauty.
I have always felt a curious interest in the WWII era, perhaps because my grandmother and her generation were directly "connected" to it. They were IN it, they experienced the war and all that it brought along as opposed to me and my generation who are "merely" reading about it (not that I would want to experience it myself). I find that mind blowing. Reading about it always creates a certain distance between the reader and the actual experience. It is as if it wasn't real. But, our grandmothers showed us their ragged hands, their wrinkly faces, their hurt souls; they told us their cruel childhood stories and showed us the tiredness in their eyes, the hurt, the pain. That "distance" becomes smaller. Nowadays, monuments, museums, personal stories written down in books and photographs documenting the horrors committed then remind us that it was very real.

To go a step further, it is a fact that the winners write history. What we read, or at least, what we used to read or learn about history is thus altered - it is shown to us from ONE perspective and IT is not objective. In the last few decades, this has started to change. The history is written by both sides. In connection to the WWII, particularly the holocaust, new stories have sprung up, photographs have been found, documents have been dug up. The holocaust story is becoming more and more detailed.

In 2009, I saw many new documentaries about the holocaust. The perspective about it has changed over the years, the history has been rewritten. I mean, as it was considered then, it is still considered the largest mass murder in human history.

It is not possible to write about the holocaust in technical terms, so I shall not. It is emotionally too overwhelming and no (negative) superlative seems strong enough to describe the holocaust.

Anyway, to come back to the question which is also hinted at in the above mentioned article, I think the question could be, not could we save it, but Should we save it? One reason for not saving it, as Robert Jan van Pelt, a cultural historian in the school of architecture at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada puts it is that Auschwitz is a “kind of theme park, cleaned up for tourists...Seal it up. Don’t give people a sense that they can imitate the experience and walk in the steps of the people who were there." But then again, masses of people see it every year and the very presence of the ghosts there affects them.

I hope Auschwitz (Poland) gets funds from other countries for preservation. I believe, and strongly, that it should be preserved. Absolutely save Auschwitz. But, as a "DENK MAL NACH", as a CONSTANT reminder of what beasts human beings can become/or are, as a nagging finger at the evils of humankind, as a preventive to evil. It should be saved as a sacred memorial.

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