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Auschwitz must be a warning to us all

6 January 2014

TSSA president Mick Carney recently joined Unite Against Fascism on a visit to Poland, seeing at first hand the legacy of Nazi fascism.

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Krakow is a beautiful city, with a lot to see, reasonably priced and well worth a visit. Relatively undamaged during World War II, it is a mix of Austro-Hungarian, Russian and German architecture. Within it, the once thriving Jewish Quarter now looks a little despondent, perhaps just because of the rain whilst we were there. On our visit in November some of what we saw was recognisable from Schindler’s List, including the small ghetto into which the Nazis forced large numbers of Jews.

Our group, which also included TSSA’s Alex Stoten (Big Al), then visited Schindler’s factory. The machinery as depicted in the film had long gone. In its place is a museum of Poland and the brutal treatment of Krakovians – both ethnic Poles and Jews. Our guide explained things quite matter of factly – which whilst understandable, was odd when you think of what you were seeing. Something he said at the end of the tour stuck with me: the legacy the Nazis left his country is that as soon as people think of Poland, they think of the War. That will never go away. This is a real shame as it’s a beautiful country.

The next day we went to O?wi?cim. Auschwitz. Something I never knew was that the original Auschwitz camp started life as a Polish army barracks. A number of these barracks have been turned into rooms with, I suppose, what you would call exhibits. Items not destroyed by the Nazis before the liberation of the camp by the Soviets. Some of them, I confess, were too hard to stomach. Nothing really prepares you for two tonnes of human hair and the mattresses and blankets prisoners were making for shipment back to Germany. The barbarity people faced was evident. On one wall were pictures of inmates. All with hollow faces, soulless eyes. Their heads shaved. All of the people I was looking at on this wall were political prisoners: communists, protesters, trade unionists just like many of us. It was only halfway along that I realised that all the photographs were of women. It was impossible to tell. The pictures had details underneath: name, place of birth, date born, entered camp and date of death. Of all the pictures I looked at, no one was incarcerated for more than a year. No one survived. Going back through the camp I couldn’t look at the exhibition of the children murdered there. I stayed outside. We then went to see the camp’s first gas chamber, the only one intact.

We then visited Auschwitz-Birkenau – the much larger camp. This was the purpose built death camp, with many of those who arrived never being held as prisoners but sent straight to the gas chambers. Much of this camp, including the gas chambers and industrial size crematoria has gone, either destroyed by the Nazis to hide the evidence, or victim to the ravages of time. One thing that does still exist is the railway line. It makes you wonder how many rail workers were complicit? What choice did they have? The railways certainly played a huge part.

So why is this relevant now? The far right are on the rise in many parts of Europe and without vigilance and protest this could easily happen again. Think not? In 1928 the Nazis received less than 3 per cent of the vote. By 1933 Hitler was Fuehrer. Brought to power on the back of civil unrest and economic meltdown, much like we face now. Then it was Jewish people, now it is Bulgarians and Romanians. Hate-stories whipped up by the right wing press, someone to blame for the failings of capitalism.

Please note this trip was fully self-funded. For more on Unite Against Fascism, see www.uaf.org.uk

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