Melissa Pawson: How Relevant is Auschwitz in Today’s Society?

Roundup: Talking About History

Melissa Pawson is a student ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

A while ago, I was having a conversation with friends; the Holocaust came up and we began to tentatively discuss it. After a few minutes, one friend, who had been keeping very quiet, looked up and said, slightly confused: “What even is the Holocaust?”… I know: I was completely stunned. She is a relatively sensible person, yet seemed to have no knowledge of this massive historical event. The Holocaust, this significant chunk of world history, this stain on life in the 20th century, and probably one of the most discussed atrocities in the whole of history, had not even registered its existence to her.
I was particularly offended by her comment, due to feeling slightly more acquainted with the event than many other people I know. For, as part of a project engineered by Holocaust Educational Trust, in March 2012 I visited the site of Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.
As well as being deeply moved by the horrific personal stories and deathly atmosphere of the place, I found it extremely hard to know how to react to the place as a museum. Looking through some of the few pictures I took from the day, I’m struck by how uncomfortable and serious I look; it’s not like smiling for the camera as a visitor abroad, or in a conventional museum; the whole place demands respect, especially in the photos you take as a visitor. But is it even right to be a visitor, taking snaps for the album, labelling the place as a museum?
The website for Auschwitz Tours calls the place ‘Auschwitz Museum’, however, is this not degrading in some way, displaying the place as an artefact, to thousands of voyeuristic visitors each year, even when it was such an instrument of terror and death, inflicted on so many innocent lives?..

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