Seventy years after the guards fled, Auschwitz’s keepers confront their role

时间:2019-08-22  作者:充筮嗳  来源:美高梅  浏览:37次  评论:67条

It is disconcerting to see visits to Auschwitz advertised as part of a day-trip package before an afternoon at historic salt mines, and jarring to see signs for H&M and Planet Cinema flash past as you draw near to the former concentration camp in .

The site where the SS oversaw the killing of at least a million people seems so isolated in horror it is easy to forget that it is not isolated at all as a place. The Nazis’ most notorious camp sits on the edge of a thriving town – they chose a site with railway lines that could bring in victims from across and with factories to devour its slave labourers.

As the slips out of living memory into the history books, time is apparently blunting the realities of the gas chambers so much that it is possible for some visitors to contemplate passing straight from shedding a few tears at the camp to marvelling at dwarves carved from rock salt.

Around 300 people who endured the nightmare of Auschwitz will gather this month at the site, now a museum, to remember the dead and their own liberation. But their numbers are shrinking – 10 years ago 1,500 came – and the youngest are mostly in their 80s and 90s. So museums and educators are reluctantly starting to plan for a future without their eyewitness accounts, puzzling how to preserve the site’s impact and educational role now that it is described as a “legendary tourist attraction”, and visitors take .

Inside the Auschwitz museum, the team whose gruelling job is to curate the evidence of mass murder insist they do not worry about competition from garish salt-sculptures. “The reason people decide to come here is not exactly the most important thing to us,” says director Piotr Cywinski. He wants visitors, after they grieve Auschwitz’s dead, to leave wondering what they can do to stop contemporary horrors. “This is not just a sad look at history … empathy is a very noble feeling, but it is not enough.” He has dedicated the last few years to raising a €120m endowment fund that will allow the museum to operate without worrying about political concerns or having to court donors.

His team has designed a new exhibition for the main Auschwitz barracks, a delicate and difficult challenge in a place where the displays have remained almost unchanged since they were created by survivors more than half a century ago. Stepping under the entrance sign Arbeit macht frei (“work sets you free”) takes you into their memories of hell.

Seventy years ago this weekend, Nazi camp commanders facing the Soviet army’s rapid advance abandoned their plans to destroy Auschwitz, leaving dozens of barracks standing, and the twisted concrete-and-steel remains of gas chambers that were only half-destroyed by dynamite.

They drove 60,000 prisoners on a death march that lasted weeks; almost a quarter died. But the rushed evacuation left future generations the physical remains of a camp almost too grim to imagine, and some of its ghoulish contents, including two tonnes of hair harvested from victims and destined for sale to the textile industry, tens of thousands of shoes from the last group murdered in the gas chambers, and a photo album of its operations.

A few thousand extremely sick and malnourished prisoners were allowed to stay at the camp, including Italian writer and ’s father, Otto. Those nursed back to health by Soviet forces and those who survived the forced marches created the terrible, detailed chronicle of camp life preserved in the museum.

Auschwitz survivors greet a Red Army doctor upon the camp’s liberation in 1945. Photograph: Getty Images

They have also been at the heart of efforts around the world to pass on the history of Auschwitz and sound a warning to future generations about genocide. “I only started speaking about it in 2008, because I was seeing the same antisemitic waves coming up, people have not learned anything,” said 86-year-old Leslie Kleinman. “That’s exactly why I’m going to schools all the time. I’m telling the children we shouldn’t hate each other.”

Kleinman, born in Romania, lost seven siblings and both parents to Auschwitz, and survived by eating grass and snow on the death march from the camp. But he bears no anger and married a German woman, which baffles many in his audiences.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK’s Holocaust Education Trust, said: “We are well aware of the impact of hearing eyewitness testimony, not just the moment when they are in the room but the way afterwards people carry that story with them, sharing it with family and friends, and feeling the personal responsibility to pass on that survivor’s story. It actually makes the challenge for us even more acute, because we are aware that nothing can fill that gap.”

Time is taking a heavy toll not just on survivors, but on the physical structures of the camp, exacerbated by the relentless demands of modern tourism. Last year more than 1.3 million people passed through Auschwitz’s main barracks, and the stark expanse of nearby Birkenau, where trains arrived and Jews were selected for slave labour or immediate gassing.

More than 100 buildings survived but most were built quickly and badly by unskilled inmates, which made conserving them particularly difficult, said Anna Lopuska, who is in charge of preservation. “We aim to avoid dismantling and rebuilding the brickwork – because this would be a different wall, not the one built by prisoners, even if it had the same bricks. Every fragment, every object is different, that’s why the process is slow. You can’t have a standard procedure.”

Everyday items that those murdered in the camp brought with them, the only physical traces of their existence after their bodies were cremated, are also a challenge for conservationists. Most work in the field has focused on protecting fine art, not the detritus of daily life. “Toothbrushes are a good example. They are made of synthetic materials that degrade fast and efficient ways of conserving them have not yet been developed,” said Lopuska.

Better protected relics will be part of the new exhibition, along with an exploration of the only aspect of Auschwitz’s gruesome history the museum has ignored until now. “The current exhibition has one great fault: it almost entirely leaves out the perpetrators,” said Cywinski, bemoaning the absence of details about the men who built and ran the camp.

He has been told by some survivors that the exhibition’s creators did not want to be reminded of their tormentors and by others that they only want to remember the victims. But for visitors today trying to grasp how the horrors of Auschwitz unfolded, it is a gaping hole. “How was it possible that normal people, fathers of families, started murdering people on an industrial scale? This question cannot be put aside,” said Cywinski.

The first section of the new exhibition will cover the “infernal infrastructure” of the camps, and the men who ran them. A second section will detail the lives of those sent into the labour camp, to work and starve to death, and explore how the Nazis tried to utterly dehumanise those men and women.

And a final part will tell the story of those murdered on arrival, part of an extermination programme also run at “pure” death camps less infamous today, perhaps because they were entirely dismantled when their murderous purpose was done. In one, Treblinka, nearly 900,000 people were killed and fewer than 100 survived.

With an office looking out on a gas chamber, Cywinski is constantly reminded of why he has chosen such a difficult job. “We throw accusations against people who were bystanders, who did nothing at that time, and then how do we look in the light of that period?” he asks. “When we look at genocide or tragedy or famine or totalitarian regimes, our silence today is indefensible. And we know how it ends, what is the outcome for the victims, because Europe went through that history 70 years ago.

“I hope that, thanks to this memorial, the work of the people here, perhaps people in the world murder each other a little bit less. And this is a lot.”