My visit to Auschwitz


Sliding Doors
So, it was a simple twist of fate:
Rivers near Auschwitz, railways at Auschwitz,
Junctions at Auschwitz,
Trains from Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and Vienna,
So that’s why it was there.
I mean, here.
But Art imitates Life – or is it Death?
The buses ferrying people into the concentration camp,
People idly fagging it, sending wreathes of smoke into the air,
Some have scrawled felt tip penned graffiti on to the red brick walls;
Others firmly inhabit the 21st century,
They memorialize the day with confectionery and souvenirs from the gift shop,
Industrial Death and Industrial Tourism,
People have worked hard for their day out,
“Arbeit Macht Frei”.
Photography makes you free too,
The iconography of death,
Electric fences, execution spots,
The corpses of prisoners,
The Orchestra,
Music while you work,
‘Keep in step while we count you’,
The alphabet and abacus of death,
There’s block 24D,
The soulless logic of number and letter,
The bureaucracy of extermination,
The relentless productivity of extermination,
The understated tone of our guide,
“The Final Solution of the Jewish Question,
Now we go into Block Number 4”,
The lamps outside the blocks,
Redolent of Dixon of Dock Green,
A blue lamp for more than blue murder,
The No Smoking sign outside the block,
Inside, George Santanya:
“The One Who Does Not Remember History is Bound To Repeat It”;
The understated monotone continues,
“It was easier for the Nazis to transport the Jews here.”
We had a loo stop, we didn’t have to pay,
We just had to say the word, “London”,
(“This is the BBC and this is Alvar Liddell reading the news”)
Then the walk through the blocks,
The art deco recreation of some ovens,
“So now follow me please”,
Past the typewriters and the fountain pens,
The documented numbers of the production line,
80 prisoners a wagon,
2,000 victims crammed into the chamber,
The 15-20 minute death schedule,
The black smoke,
“You can see model of crematorium and gas chamber”,
The undressing, the shower, the Zyklon B crystals,
The Hydrogen Sulphide, the evaporation,
The suffocation, the display, just like a Tracy Emin,
Massive display cabinets,
1kg human hair sold by the S.S. for 50 pfennigs,
All neatly parceled up,
The rendering of humanity,
Like an efficient abattoir.
We step outside,
There is a young family with a baby in a pram,
Relaxing in the sunshine, stretching in the warmth,
But we carry on,
Past the cabinets of spectacles and eye glasses,
The combs and brushes, shaving brushes,
The children’s shoes, the dolls,
The adult shoes, brogues, sandals, dainty shoes, sensible shoes,
Dress shoes, fashion shoes, heavy boots,
All echoing down the corridors of my head,
Then the prosthetic limbs,
The enamel bowls, the cheese graters, the rolling pins,
The suitcases with the names and transportation numbers,
L. Bermann, 26.12. 1886, Hamburg, V1/11/42,
“Do I find it hard to work here? Yes.
It is not a nice place. But someone has to do it.”
Then past the emergency exit signs,
The bakelite light switches,
The desks, the files, the index cards,
And on to Block 10, the Human Sterilisation Experiment Block,
Then the “Wall of Death”, where political prisoners were shot,
Outside, a man saunters by, with his tee shirt:
“Where the hell is Esmeralda Beach?”
Then the Gestapo Block, 28 cells,
The starvation cell,
The pre-execution washrooms,
The spyholes (why did we look through them?)
The chill in the basement,
The screams that should still echo,
Block 20: “Chemical injections into the heart”,
The scaffold where the women were hanged,
“Now we are going behind the watch-tower
To see crematorium and gas chamber.”
The gas chamber made me feel physically sick,
It was impossible to stand in that place and not feel the past,
Sense and sensibility meant that a visceral reaction was the only
rational response,
At which point the phrase about the banality of evil becomes banal
I noticed a chimney had a lightning conductor attached to it,
“The electrified wire made it very difficult to escape from
The tour ended.
Some birds were singing.
We were all stunned.
The atmosphere was tense.
You couldn’t say,
‘Cheer up. It might never happen.’
How can the holocaust deniers deny?