If It’s Sunday, It Must Be Auschwitz

by Marinka on July 4, 2010

Yesterday I read that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States will be giving $15 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, to preserve the site of the concentration camp.

I learned about it from my main news source–Twitter, when someone that I follow tweeted a link to the story, with a comment that  indicated that she thought that we shouldn’t be spending the money because we’re broke. And also because genocide is nothing new.  Unfortunately, she’s right on both counts.

But I still say, spring for it.

Because $15 seems like a bargain if the alternative is forgetting.

I’m not even talking about the Holocaust deniers.  Because I consider those people just plain insane.  Having a discussion with those people is like arguing with people who claim that poultry speaks to them. In French.  I’m talking about the generations to come who will simply forget because the Holocaust is too painful to remember. Because the survivors, the first-hand witnesses will all be dead soon, and the accounts will become once-more removed.  And less believable.

Because it’s already hard to believe.

* * *

I’ve never been to a concentration camp, but Husbandrinka has.

So I interviewed him about his experience.  Because nothing says “Happy long weekend!” like a quick chat about the Holocaust.

In 1984,he went to Dachau, outside of Munich.  They went with some students for Oktoberfest and then, for extra fun, they went to Dachau.  Dachau was created early on in Hitler’s regime and its principal purpose was a political re-education camp.  Many people were sent there, by no means were Jews the only ones.  There were also Communists, trade unionists and political opponents.  Dachau has been preserved the way that it was back then–barracks and open spaces.  Many prisoners died, so there was a crematorium as well.

In 1993, Husbandrinka went to Liepzig.  The concentration camp wasn’t primarily an extermination camp.  It was a forced labor camp and a prisoner of war camp.  When Americans occupied the camp, they marched the people from Liezig to have a look at what was there.  They were horrified.  There were piles and piles of malnourished bodies.

Auschwitz is divided into two separate zones, approximately 2 to 3 miles away from each other.  Auschwitz itself was a forced labor camp, with electric wires surrounding it and signs in German stating “Warning” and “Life Threatening Danger”.  There are train tracks leading to Birkenau (which means “Birch Trees”) which was an extermination camp.

Husandrinka told me that being at Bikenau was almost a religious experience, because unlike the other places, there is almost nothing left.  The Russians razed it after they occupied it, and there is only a gate left, and the railroad signs.  When the train pulled up, they picked out able bodied people, and all the others were sent to the gas chamber.  The gas chambers are still there, but the Germans blew them up as they were retreating.

Despite all I’ve written about Husbandrinka’s insensitivity to my need to lounge and relax, shop and lounge some more, let me reassure you that he is very highly educated and kind of smart.  So it was interesting for me to talk to him about the difference between reading about these events as opposed to actually visiting.  His feeling is that to be on the actual site where hundreds of thousands people were murdered, where their bone fragments still remain is to be on sacred ground.  There have been other genocides, of course,  but I don’t think that it does anyone any good to compare horribles.  Husbandrinka thinks that the it is the highest expression of evil–the mechanical, industrialized planning.

I can’t help to think that if it was such a profound experience for my Husbandrinka, what an experience would be like for someone who has not studied the Holocaust, who did not have a good knowledge of the history what happened.

One year ago ...

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Cameron
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 12:06 pm

We traveled to Poland in 2007, and our Polish friends thought we were crazy to want to go to Auschwitz. “Too depressing, why would you want to go be depressed?” So we took the train and a bus and went by ourselves. And it was amazing. It did feel like sacred ground, and I started crying as soon as we arrived and continued for most of our tour, tears just streaming for all the people who suffered and died there. It *is* important to preserve it.

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Karen at French Skinny July 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm

I agree. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Pammer July 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Thanks for writing this. And you are right – as Eli Weisel wrote, it’s the indifference that is the most dangerous. I’d hate to see what would happen if indifference met inexistence.

There is a trip that many high-school aged Jewish kids take from here called The March of the Living. Check it out – you may find it interesting.

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Pauline
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 2:05 pm

I’ve been to Auschwitz twice. Once as a 13 year old and once ten years later. Both times it was an unforgettable experience. I’m very thankful that Hilary Clinton agrees – there is so much there to preserve. Walking past mounds of artificial limbs, piles of gold teeth fillings, and an entire room filled with toys – and it’s hard not to imagine. Which is why everyone there is silent.

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Maravonda July 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Isn’t there a saying…something like,”To forget history is to see it repeated”.

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Scary Mommy
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I have never been. And, I need to go. So for me, and every other person who has never been, Auschwitz must be preserved. It simply can’t *not* be.

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Aunt Becky
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm

My grandfather, Grandpa Aunt Becky, was one of the US Army doctors who liberated the camps.

This must be preserved so that we never, ever forget the horrors. Ever.

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Lisa July 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Well said. I’m crying now, thinking about it.

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Alex@LateEnough
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 3:32 pm

I completely agree – the money is well-spent. And I am also reminded and saddened by how often we have forgotten. How do we live up to Never Again when we have already failed?

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Sophie@Fabrications July 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Even here in Israel the situation gets worse. The last few survivors live in shaming poverty. The youth trips to the camps become more expensive as the years go by, and there’s little, if any, government funding, so only the richer kids can go. And when they go, almost every year there’s one story about alcohol parties and all kinds of behavior not suitable for a trip like that. I’m not even sure people are taking it all that seriously when they study about the holocaust in history lessons at school, and that unit is compulsory here, and appears in the matriculation exams..
And don’t even let me get started about politicians using the word “Nazi” as an acceptable insult…

Yeah, Marinka, I think your so-called rant is far from misplaced.

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Allyson July 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I wasn’t able to go to Germany when I went to Europe in college, and I still regret it.

We can teach our children about the history all we want, but without the opportunity to experience it, they will learn so much less. I can think of a thousand ways we could spend $15 million here, but I think spending it there is just as important. For our kids. Our grandkids. And everyone else’s. Because the only way to make sure we don’t forget is by making sure everyone has the opportunity to remember and really learn.

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christy July 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

It’s like they say – if you forget history, you’re doomed to repeat it…great post Marinka.

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Neil
Twitter:
July 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm

$15 million is a very little cost to help with the preservation of the ultimate site of man’s cruelty to fellow man, considering that during wars, that is the cost of a tank.

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Elise July 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm

I’m wiping away tears. I agree with you one thousand percent.

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Ann's Rants July 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm

Thank you for writing this. This is also why I cannot listen to anti-gay rhetoric or anti-immigrant rhetoric or anti-name a group rhetoric. Because it has all been said before, and used strategically, to gain a momentum of hate that could turn into a fury. This fury allowed–caused–enabled the holocaust.

And whenever I hear those little bits of distancing “us” and “them” I see gold stars on my children’s jackets and my profile in those emaciated, decimated mothers.

It wasn’t that long ago.

Thank you for what is a most fitting forth of july tribute.

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jonathan July 4, 2010 at 9:55 pm

That is really interesting and chilling. I have also Victor frankls book where he described life in the camps and that was really an inspirational experience so I can imagine what visiting the sites were like. Really interesting post and love the title.

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pinklea July 5, 2010 at 1:55 am

I have been to Dachau twice and Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam twice. Both are incredibly moving, and I was constantly close to tears in both places both times. There is truly nothing like experiencing places such as these, even so many years removed from the horror of it all. Reading about it or viewing documentaries is a good start, but to really begin to understand how important it is to never forget, you must actually go there and walk on that ground. It changes everything.

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Coco
Twitter:
July 5, 2010 at 8:31 am

We studied about the Holocaust in high school. The horror of it didn’t really hit me until I saw a movie about it. I wish I could remember which one. Everyone should have to watch that movie to make sure people really “get it” about what happened. It was horrific. It should NEVER be forgotten.

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GrandeMocha
Twitter:
July 5, 2010 at 10:34 am

I wanted to visit a camp when I went to Germany at 18. The people I stayed with as an exchanged student were horrified that I would request it. Now I would go by myself but at 18 I wasn’t as ballsy. I wish I had.

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amy2boys
Twitter:
July 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I agree – it’s so important. When Mr. Smith and I were in France, we went to the beaches and battlefields across northern France – from World War I and II. It didn’t feel like a nutty thing to do (we went to Paris too!), but it was emotional, and having studied those wars, it makes it personal in a way that can’t happen unless you are there.

If we are ever near, we will definetly visit one of the camps, as hard as it will be.

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dusty earth mother July 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I went to Dachau and I will never ever forget it. Excellent post, marinka.

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jessica July 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm

I went to the camp in Dachau and will be forever changed by it. I also teach a woman who is a survivor of one of those lovely fucking work camps and you are correct, we are not here to compare “terribles” but to remember them all and this is no exception.

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Jeanne July 5, 2010 at 6:44 pm

When I was in high school, I read everything Leon Uris ever wrote.

And since those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, I say $15M is a small investment.

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Schmamy July 6, 2010 at 7:07 am

I lived around the corner from the Anne Frank house for 2 years (and have been in the same city for over 7) and lived in Munich for 3 years. I have never been to either. Just after I moved to Munich I went furniture shopping at Ikea and bought too much stuff and I had to take the train back into the city. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the fact that I was on the train to Dachau. I wasn’t taking it that far, but I was on the train. To Dachau.

I do not forget, I will not forget. I spend my life surrounded by evidence of the wars, both of my grandfathers fighting for different countries but the same side.

If the Germans are not allowed to forget (EVER), then why should we? And HOW can we?

Thanks Hilary and thanks Marinka.

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Vicki
Twitter:
July 6, 2010 at 9:19 am

Let me be the lone dissenter.

Yes, visiting these sites is a profound and important experience. I was in Poland for a week on March of the Living (http://www.motl.org/) and went to Auschwitz, Birkenau, the Warsaw ghetto, and lots of other places where Jews died. Then we marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on those train tracks you mentioned carrying Israeli flags and Israel’s chief rabbi spoke at the end of the march.

In the gas chamber at Auschwitz, everything finally clicked for me and I broke down sobbing until I threw up in the bathroom of our Soviet-era Polish motel in Lublin. It was an extremely powerful experience that shaped the beginning of my Jewish identity and these sites should definitely be preserved and upkept for a long, long time.

As a Jew, I’m happy with Clinton’s decision. But, as an American who understands that $15 million here and $15 million there goes to countless projects like this that don’t contribute to the stability of the American economy, I’m not so sure. For example, I have no idea how much of my tax money is going to projects in other countries that are ostensibly for the higher good but instead only serve to further U.S. agendas (i.e. anything going on in Afghanistan right now.)

What else are we giving money to that don’t reflect causes as noble as preservation of important historical sites?

Alternatively, is it possible that the U.S. government gave the $15 million not out of respect for the site, but to gain favor in Poland, who has had trouble footing the Auschwitz bill, in return for possible U.S. missile installations there, based on the missile defense pact they’ve signed when Clinton visited? They’ve already started the process in Prague. So, could it be that the money was not given innocently? It’s very likely, which would make it dirty money.

While it is in the collective responsibility of the world to make sure that the Holocaust is never forgotten, I’m not so sure it’s America’s responsibility to fund it. I’m very conflicted about this.

Now, stop writing thought-provoking posts and I want to hear more about Stalin and Simon.

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Marinka July 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

I really appreciate your comment, Vicki. As you probably guessed, I’m not an economist, and I admit that our federal spending is very “Monopoly money” for me.

So I get to be all bleeding heart and you get to be all practical.

I have put my money where my mouth is (you know, below my huge Jew nose) and made a contribution to the Holocaust museum.

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Schmamy July 7, 2010 at 8:08 am

Interesting Vicki and I see where you are heading with it, but isn’t it just politics? Isn’t a lot of money that goes to foreign countries a trade off for something else? I’m not claiming to know a lot about the US spending habits since I’m not an American and have never lived or paid taxes there… but it seems to me that if this time, the money is going to the right place or a good place, can we accept it and be happy? It’s not America’s responsibility and it usually isn’t, but that’s part of where the American pride comes from isn’t it? Jumping in when others don’t, having an opinion when others won’t etc?

Hmm – I maybe will stick with the bleeding hearts on this one.

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jules July 6, 2010 at 10:07 am

I’ve never been. But I went through a phase of reading every book I could about the Holocaust. We really should be paying more.

P.S. Did you know that Hitler was taking meth most of his adult life? Something I learned….. Good to know, right?

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Keyona
Twitter:
July 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

Great post! I plan to visit one day.

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Loukia July 6, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Agree with Neil, Pauline… and especially you, for this post is so touching and of course it is EXTREMELY important to preserve. I quite often think about the Holocaust. The closest I’ve been has been the Holocaust mueum in D.C., or reading books like Night, etc. I still cannot fathom that this actually took place, that millions of innocent people died in such ways, that families were torn apart, children seperated from their parents. I CANNOT imagine their pain. It completely pains me and makes my heart hurt that something so barbaric and without reason took place only a few years ago. Not centuries and centuries ago. But years ago.

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suburbancorrespondent
Twitter:
July 6, 2010 at 8:59 pm

My dad was with the troops who liberated the camps. “We thought they were all dead,” he told me, “until someone moved.” It was real, all right.

That said, I resent the way Israeli politicians use the memory of the Holocaust to justify misguided policies towards the Palestinians. I feel it desecrates the memory of those who died in the camps. So I am conflicted about this a bit.

On another subject, am I the only person who is completely bothered by the new IBooks setup? You know, where if you want to shop in the IBooks store, the bookcase with your “library” on it swings around to get you into the store? Every time it does that, I expect to see a Jewish family huddled behind it, waiting for the Gestapo.

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alimartell
Twitter:
July 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

My grandfather survived Dachau and my grandmother survived Auschwitz. I never never never want their stories forgotten.

I say BARGAIN.

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Wondering July 16, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Not to be insenstive, but what do you need 15 million dollars for? How much does it cost to leave exactly everything how it is?

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