Why visiting concentration camps had nothing to do with me

Our blogger Ellie Hyman on her personal journey to understanding the Holocaust

April 18, 2017 16:33

Upon discussion with some close friends about visiting concentration camps in Poaland, there appeared to be two arguments: "it’s important for me to visit and try and understand what happened" and "I don’t want to visit as it perpetuates a victim mentality that we need to let go of".

Four years ago, I went to visit Poland: it feels like yesterday that I walked into Auschwitz with a survivor, listened to his story, and felt bursting with pride as he walked out with the next generation of Jews. I cried hysterically in front of the mass cremation ovens in Madjanek, overcome with the weight of the grief I felt for those who never had anybody to mourn them.

Both of these arguments have their merits, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I don’t fall into either of those groups.

The importance of my experience, funnily enough, lies outside of the impact that it had on me. The importance of my visiting the sites of mass death and destruction lies in the future. The Holocaust was 70 years ago; it is on the verge of becoming just part of history textbooks, rather than something fresh in people’s minds. Survivors’ numbers dwindle and ‘never forget’ begins to lose its power. Camps are slowly being built over and it is becoming easier to detach yourself from the Holocaust.

My generation – our generation – is probably going to be the last direct link to Holocaust survivors. Our children, our grandchildren, will only hear about the Holocaust as a story, rather than as a part of someone’s life. The importance of our generation visiting concentration camps, being fortunate enough to visit them with survivors, before all that is left of them is commercial tourist museums. Before it becomes more and more possible for people to diminish the significance of the Holocaust, or deny it altogether.

Because of my trip to Poland, I can sit with my peers at university and tell them that I visited Auschwitz with a man who spent his childhood in there, that I saw the tattoo on his arm and heard his stories. That I watched the tears on his face as he was able to walk out of there for the second time, when he thought he would never walk out the first. I will be able to tell the same thing to my children once they are old enough to understand, by which point the world will be rife with Holocaust deniers, and the majority of the grounds will likely be built over. The importance of my visiting the concentration camps was much larger than its impact on me.

April 18, 2017 16:33

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