This post comes a week late. On January 27th, 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by allied forces. Tonight, Oxford’s Chabad House held a commemorative event for the 65th anniversary. Before I can return to my (now much less important-seeming) work, there are some thoughts I simply have to put to paper (but, if you want to read something actually worthwhile, I recommend this piece )
I, like others, am apprehensive about the passing of the generation that experienced Auschwitz. There is something deeply disturbing to me about the idea that to Holocaust will turn into another sad tale for the history books, rather than the sort of immediate and visceral evil that left me sobbing in the back of a crowded lecture hall tonight. The speaker was Denis Avey, a British POW who smuggled himself into Auschwitz because he wanted to see it himself, for fear that none of the inmates inside would live to tell the world about what happened there (you can—and probably should—read about him here). At 91, his fury at what he saw is clearly undiminished, and he was refreshing in his unwillingness to offer any feel-good stories for the crowd.
I do sometimes wonder why I put myself through this, why I force myself to hear it all, to sit through lectures and films and seminars that only make me realize my own insignificance in the face of humanity’s crushing capacity for evil. I suppose it’s to remind myself that the BNP, White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are not individuals espousing legitimate viewpoints but vile movements to be stopped; that to draw a Hitler mustache on a poster of Obama (or Bush) is to show a willful and dangerous ignorance of true evil; and that to blame the Jew, the gay, the black, the Arab, “the other” is to align ourselves with the absolute worst tendencies of human nature.