Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

27/3/2009

Auschwitz: a few thoughts

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On the 24th of January this year, my wife and I visited the sites of the death camps Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, in a group of fifteen people from the Church of Scotland.

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I was struck by the sheer scale of the camp at Birkenau, known as Auschwitz II. Although only one of forty camps, it was the largest. Like the whole complex, it served a dual purpose. It operated as a concentration camp, where prisoners mainly died of starvation and related diseases. It was also an extermination camp, where people were put to death in gas chambers and then cremated. This camp alone covers over 140 hectares or 345 acres. Sadly, it is all too easy to imagine how a million people could have died there.

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And yet, it was the personal and individual suffering and death that affected me most directly and painfully. The pictures of the first prisoners to die there, Poles, each individually photographed and fastidiously recorded by the Nazis. Two drawings, one of a town square, the other of a group of children playing, drawn by a Jewish prisoner and pinned to a barracks wall; an extraordinary attempt to brighten the last few hours of children who were only alive because the gas chambers were too busy to accommodate them.

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My wife met a Jewish lady in Israel last year and told her of her plans to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. The lady responded by saying that she could not do so and felt that ‘nothing good could come out of that place.’ Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the camps serve as a warning of what can result if we forget that we are all created in the image of God.

Scott McCarthy
March 2009

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