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Auschwitz and Africa: Remembering is Not Enough

January 27th, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

In 1994, during what seems like a former life as a financial publisher, I found myself spending the best part of a month in Poland. One weekend I decided to visit Auschwitz and take in for myself what I had often seen through the TV screen. In part I was inspired to do this by a good Jewish friend whose grandparents had all died at the camp. The rest of my motivation was to see and understand, to comprehend the horror of victims and victimizers.

There were still enough reminders to make the visit sombre and a deeply felt experience. Many friends had no idea why I would do such a thing – I had no idea how anyone could not arm themselves with knowledge. The hardest experience for me was not entering the gas chambers where so many died and nor was it hearing the bubbly banter of a coachload of German schoolchildren as they completed the tour.

The hardest part was entering the long living shed which had been split all along one side by a glass partition. The other side of the glass was human hair from floor to ceiling, cut from victims. Blond, brown, black, some of it still in pigtails, the odd ribbon here and there, destined to be woven into coat linings. Standing next to the glass I could see the hair from the head of thousands of individuals, up close and personal. It looked like it had been swept from the hairdressers floor just that morning. Each lock, each strand, so obviously coming from an individual human being who had their own hopes, fears, celebrations and sadnesses. The whole room was an undying reminder of the uber-efficiency of the German killing machine.

On the way out of the camp there was a discreet sign that read something along the lines of ‘funded by the holocaust fund so we don’t forget and it doesn’t happen again’ – I am very heavily paraphrasing here. This was when my anger rose, and not at history but at the then present. At the time Bosnia was all over the television. Camps, mass murders, rapes, genocide. “It is happening again”, I thought, “remembering is not enough”.

It is always happening it seems, in one way or another. Today half the people in Africa will not have enough to eat. Tonnes of topsoil will be exported in the form of vegetables for Europeans to eat and flowers to grace their tables whilst they do so. Each one should come with a label that shows starving children on it and the worst effects of the desertification that will be rife in Africa within 50 years.

Remembering is not enough. Action is the only response that makes sense. If we are to live in a world where peace is the norm and hunger unknown we must take action now. It is not good enough to give a little crumb or two from the table, we must be Christlike and turn the table over.

We must change our whole way of being in the world or the world will change things for us. It is quite simply true that we live in a closed system, with limited resources and that the disproportionate use of resources, and over-use by largely white westerners, is causing Africa’s harm. These injustices are the fundamental recruiting ground for terrorists and where the untrammelled anger they carry grows. We can not escape the consequences of our actions or inaction however much we would like to.

Another 30,000 children will die needlessly today.

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