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Auschwitz: 70 Years On

I made a fascinating visit to the twin death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau back in late 2013 on a trip to Poland. Situated around 40 miles from Krakow in the town of Oswiecim, it was a place that defied imagination.

The sheer scale of the horrors perpetrated across the two camps is hard to take in; the millions involved, the conditions, the calculated cruelty, the distances people - mainly, but not exclusively Jews - were forced to travel from their homes where the Nazis had taken control, many conned into thinking they were making a new start in a better place. 

Auschwitz - with its displays of shoes, prosthetic limbs, suitcases and hair taken from the newly arrived inmates - was bad enough. The haunting black and white images of the prisoners in their regulation striped uniforms - with their arrival dates meticulously recorded and the date of their death showing how short their time there usually was - spoke of untold horrors, cruelty and neglect.

However, the extent of Birkenau, 3 km or so away, was staggering. Less to see, as the fleeing Nazis destroyed as much as they could before the Russian forces arrived, as this was where the mass killings occurred. But the odd preserved hut, the old gas chambers where the prisoners were told they were going for a shower, only for mustard gas then to be released once the temperature caused by the confined mass of people had increased enough for the pellets to leak their deadly contents, simply beggars belief.

So on the day survivors came together to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation by the Russian troops it serves as a warning to us all, as further horrors have continued to blight the world in the intervening years.

In my view Auschwitz-Birkenau a must-visit place, especially in these troubled times. It serves as a warning to all of us as to what can ultimately happen when a warped ideology gets into a position of power....


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