Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Should Auschwitz be preserved?

On Holocaust Memorial Day (which is today) I thought this was an interesting debate to have.

The concentration camp at Auschwitz, where acts of unspeakable cruelty occurred, is apparently falling to pieces, and with no cash to restore it, it may well crumble away. But should it be allowed to crumble, the place where cruelty wrought abandoned? Or should it be preserved, a monument to the victims who passed through its deadly gates?

I don't know. I've never visited the place, and as a member of a generation whose only link to the war is a sole surviving grandmother, I'm not sure I will ever comprehend the place.

Studying at university alongside a cosmopolitan student body, discussions with German students always fascinated me. Most, despite not themselves yet 30, still carry a nation's guilt at the acts of leaders' of their nation over 60 years ago.

"But that's crazy," I'd argue. "You are no more responsible for Hitler's lunacy than I am for all the wrong done in the history of my country." But to no avail. The Holocaust is a tie that binds modern Germany to its scarred past, shaping the thoughts and actions, not only of its student ambassadors but its leaders and its foreign policy.

If that institutional memory continues to bind Germans, then why must the building remain? All that remains in that place are the the silent voices of its victims. No good can come of maintaining it as a grisly monument to sins never to be forgotten.

But places and symbols matter. And the memories of those who survived the place, of those whose relatives did not. To my knowledge, I have no connection to the Holocaust. To that end, I don't feel comfortable saying definitively whether Auschwitz should be preserved or demolished. Let those who have been touched by the horrors inside decide its fate.


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