Monday, April 10, 2017

Pilgrimage to Auschwitz

This morning, I flew down from Oslo to Krakow, rented a car at the airport and set course for the small town of Oświęcim. It is probably better known by its Kraut German name, Auschwitz. After the horrors uncovered at the concentration camp in '45, the very name has become a symbol of the utmost evil. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and admission is free (unless you want a guide).

I wish I had good things to say about the camp as a museum, but I just don't. I mean, I pretty much check all the boxes. I'm interested in history. I like museums (I've even worked in one). I have a longstanding affinity for the Jewish people and I'm a strong defender of Israel in the Middle East. The story the exhibitions tell is hugely important. And that's why it's such a shame that it isn't told better.

Now, let me first of all make one thing very, very clear. I do NOT want Auschwitz to become a McAuschwitz. I do not wish to see a commercialized, glitzy testimony to the worst aspects of modern consumerism. But does everything have to be so... for lack of a better word, Eastern European? I understand the historical significance of the place and the wish to keep it authentic, but the tourist shops outside are grimy and boring and the staff speak atrocious English. Much of the parking lot is a muddy swamp. There is no waiting area so you're exposed to wind & weather as you wait to get in. The signposting is so-so. And the information once you enter is largely presented in an unimaginative, boring manner befitting a nation that gave us the Palace of Culture and Science in Warzaw.

There's TONS of information about how many were killed, in what way, where, when, etc, etc, etc. But rarely do you see anything resembling personal histories that can help understand what went on. Very quickly, you're numbed and overwhelmed by this machinelike insistence on facts, facts, facts and nothing else. There's no human side to it at all. Again, a very Eastern-European way of doing things, but utterly useless to anyone else. I could feel myself getting more and more angry as I walked around, looking at the umpteenth board with numbers on it, because this story could, nay SHOULD have been so, so much better told. I had planned to use the afternoon to scout it out and most of next day too, but in the end I left after about an hour. That's how frustrated I was. Anyway, here are some photos:

The (in)famous slogan "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work liberates). That's pretty much the schoolbook example of adding insult to injury.

From the grounds.

Attempt at something arty-farty.

Model of the camp.

I believe this was an execution site. Being cunts German, the camp management had a number of rules for everything and infractions were often punishable by death. Here, they were shot.

Another execution site, this time for hanging. Bullets cost money, you know.

The crematory. In the words of Bob Dylan: "Though they murdered six million / in the ovens the fried / the Germans now too have / God on their side".

Even the few attempts at making something humane out of the experience fell flat. Or maybe by this time, my mind had shut down and gone into survival mode.

You knows ah finds 'em - the shitters!

As you've probably gathered, I was deeply skeptical of Auschwitz.

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