A horrific place... but everyone must pay a visit to Auschwitz

In his weekly column, Trevor Laffan recalls a visit to Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million people were killed by the Nazis, between 1940 and 1945.
A horrific place... but everyone must pay a visit to Auschwitz

HELL ON EARTH: The main gate of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The slogan, ‘Arbeit macht frei’, means ‘Work liberates’

RTÉ reported that an Irish tourist admitted to causing damage in Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp, recently.

A local prosecutor confirmed to RTÉ that the tourist was detained by security guards at the site after scratching his name on a wall there.

The prosecutor said the tourist was taken by car to the police station and he was charged, in the presence of a translator, with breaching Article 335 of the Polish Penal Code.

He immediately admitted defacing the memorial and agreed to a punishment, which will be made public after a court hearing.

The use of an accelerated process means that the person, whose name was not released by the prosecutor, will not have to return for the hearing.

The Polish press agency, PAP, reported that the tourist is a 38-year-old Irish man who scratched his name onto a wall after he saw other names written on it.

More than 1.1 million people were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945. They included Jews, Poles, Roma and Sinti people, Soviet prisoners of war and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This guy is 38, so he should be well past the stage where he needs to go scratching his name on walls. Especially the walls of such a historic site that is a memorial to so many people who were murdered there during their captivity.

I was at Auschwitz myself a few years ago and I was so conscious of the horrors that took place in that camp that I was reluctant to touch anything or to even talk, in case I would cause offence to the memory of the dead.

I walked around for the day with my mouth open, speechless, as stories of the barbarism that took place were relayed to us.

How this guy thought it was appropriate to do what he did is beyond me. At best, he was thoughtless and immature, and he should be ashamed of himself. It’s unfortunate for us that he happens to be Irish.

The camps are there for anyone to visit and to show respect. It’s a trip worth making but it’s difficult to describe the experience. It’s fascinating, horrifying and depressing all at once, but it’s an experience that everyone should go through.

As time passes, there are fewer witnesses left to tell their stories, but these stories must not be forgotten.

Emerich Fuchs, aged 91, was 19 years old the day soldiers forced him into a cattle car for the three-day journey to Auschwitz.

He recalls it being a place of brutality and murder from the beginning to the end. He described the air as being foul and there was a smell of burned flesh. He saw his mother and sister being forced to join a line with other women and children and they went straight to the gas chambers.

Emerich and his father performed hard labour with little food and his father died just three days before the Russian army liberated the camp.

Mordechai Ronen, aged 82 remembers seeing Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazis’ Angel of Death, send his mother and two sisters to the gas chambers when they arrived at the camp. Ronen made a life-saving decision when he grabbed his father’s hand and joined the line of men.

Mordechai spent about two weeks at Auschwitz, where he witnessed soldiers using an infant for target practice. At night, he resorted to sleeping on piles of corpses to avoid being selected for the gas chamber.

One day, his father told him he was at the end of the road and was no longer physically able to get up for work. The last time he saw his father was when the soldiers led him away.

Joseph Goebbels’s secretary, Brunhilde Pomsel, died at 106 years of age and she was one of the last surviving people to be so closely connected to the Nazi regime.

As his secretary, she would have worked closely with him and would have known him well. Goebbels served as minister of propaganda and it was his job to make the Nazis look good.

Towards the end of the war, when the writing was on the wall for the Germans, Goebbels advocated for an all-out battle to the death against the Allied forces.

He was a renowned public speaker and he rallied the German population and demanded their support for a total war effort. His idea was that if Germany was destined to lose the war, the German nation should be wiped out.

When defeat was inevitable, some high-ranking Nazis made contact with the Allies to save themselves and to try and cut a deal. Goebbels, on the other hand, had no intention of giving up and he remained devoted to Hitler, right to the end.

Conveniently, Brunhilde Pomsel claimed she didn’t know what Goebbels was doing and she insisted that she did nothing to harm the Jews herself. In fact, she claimed that the love of her life was a Jew and she had planned to run away with him.

She spent three years working for Goebbels until his death on May 1, 1945, when he and his wife poisoned their six children before killing themselves.

Brunhilde said that she could never forgive Goebbels for what he did to the world or for the fact that he murdered his innocent children. “No one believes me now, but I knew nothing,” she said.

She was right about one thing, nobody believed her. Her job while she worked in the Nazis’ propaganda department was to tell lies. Lies about how many soldiers were killed on both sides, and lies about how the allies were losing the war. That was what propaganda was and she told lies for a living.

It’s not acceptable for anyone involved in that regime to say that they didn’t know.

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