Should Auschwitz be left to decay – and disappear?


Reminder at the edge of Track 17, Grunewald Station, Berlin
Daylife/Getty Images

On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, two experts on Auschwitz argue for and against the idea that the former Nazi death camp should be allowed to crumble away.

ROBERT JAN VAN PELT, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR

Many Auschwitz survivors have told me that a visit to the camp can teach little to those who were not imprisoned there.

Their view is best summarised in the text of Alain Resnais’ celebrated movie Night and Fog (1955), written by the camp survivor Jean Cayrol. As the camera pans across the empty barracks, the narrator warns the viewer that these remains do not reveal the wartime reality of “endless, uninterrupted fear”. The barracks offer no more than “the shell, the shadow”.

Should the world marshal enormous resources to preserve empty shells and faint shadows?


WLADYSLAW BARTOSZEWSKI, CHAIRMAN OF THE INTERNATIONAL AUSCHWITZ COUNCIL

The only people with a full and undeniable right to decide the future of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial are the hundreds of thousands murdered in this concentration camp. The prisoners whom I met as prisoner number 4427, when I was detained in Auschwitz between September 1940 and April 1941, are among them.

To some I owe my survival. They saved me, guided not only by the impulse of the heart, which was heroic at the time. They also believed that the survivors will bear witness to the tragedy which in Auschwitz-Birkenau became the fate of so many Europeans.

But the moment when there will be no more eyewitnesses left is inexorably approaching. What remains is the belief that when the people are gone, “the stones will cry out”.

Because we preserve an archive of evil we remind and remember what that evil was and did to the world. There is no less reason to preserve Auschwitz than to polish and paint the Statue of Liberty or temper the air in the Louvre.

Frankly, I consider this discussion to be an exercise in sophistry. The premise of museums and libraries is established as a necessity of civilization. Only nations and politicians with a stake in forgetting consider the question.

It’s been thirty years since I visited and learned from Auschwitz. Future generations should have the same opportunity.

[It’s been over twelve years since I reached the conclusion immediately above this line. I still feel the same.]

2 thoughts on “Should Auschwitz be left to decay – and disappear?

  1. Footnote says:

    “Auschwitz and Birkenau: Why the World War II Photo Interpreters Failed to Identify the Extermination Complex” https://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/imint/holocaust2.htm
    “…Concomitant with the tragic failure of photo interpreters to identify the Auschwitz- Birkenau Extermination Complex was the equally tragic failure of major Allied air commands to be aware that aerial photography of the complex existed. There had been numerous appeals from many sources to bomb the complex, the railyards, the rail bridges and rail lines leading to Auschwitz. Those appeals reached the highest levels, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the bombing specialists were ordered to formulate plans for bombing the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex, officials of the Air Ministry, the Royal Air Force Bomber Command and the U.S. 8th Air Force bemoaned the lack of aerial photographic coverage of the complex. In fact, such photos were readily available at the Allied Central Interpretation Unit at Royal Air Force Station Medmenham, 50 miles outside of London and at the Mediterranean Allied Photo Reconnaissance Wing in Italy. The ultimate irony was that no search for the aerial photos was ever instituted by either organization. In retrospect, it is a fact that by the time the Soviet Army reached Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, the Allies had photographed the Auschwitz-Birkenau Extermination Complex at least 30 times.”

  2. Santayana says:

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. “Auschwitz comes to the middle of America, with a powerful warning” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/06/15/auschwitz-america-holocaust-warning/
    The exhibition is called “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away.” Created by a small but ambitious Spanish firm, Musealia, in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, this groundbreaking exhibition brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world. https://unionstation.org/event/auschwitz/

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