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Natasha Fatah: "Holocaust deniers should spend a day at Auschwitz"

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  • Tarek Fatah
    April 29, 2007 MINORITY REPORT Holocaust deniers should spend a day at Auschwitz -- Natasha Fatah CBC.ca
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 30, 2008
      April 29, 2007


      Holocaust deniers should
      spend a day at Auschwitz

      Natasha Fatah

      As we approach Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1, I've noticed the reemergence of Holocaust denial.
      I am reminded of the day two years ago, when I visited the Auschwitz death camps in Poland to meet the ghosts of a million dead souls. There I was, a Muslim woman entering a place where the attempted extermination of the Jewish people took place more than 60 years ago. I was there to see the dark side of humanity for myself.
      Conflicting emotions overcame me as I walked towards the iron gate. Was I coming to pay tribute to the millions killed by the Nazis or was I a tourist coming to check off one more world historic site? I decided this was to be a private sojourn and I would not talk or write about it. And so I didn't, until now — when I've begun to realize that Holocaust deniers continue to insist that the event never happened; that it is a Jewish conspiracy.
      In denying the Holocaust, we fall prey to the same evil that almost wiped out one of humanity's most ancient people.
      Auschwitz and the sister camp Birkenau are located in a small town called Oswiecim, where huge apartment buildings are just a few metres away from one of history's worst death camps. It's hard to imagine why anyone would want to live here, but I read that after the end of the war, some Jews returned to this area and still live here.
      An act of defiance to the German master plan, I suppose. At the Auschwitz entrance is the infamous gateway that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" which translates into "Work shall set you free." I wondered what the purpose of that sign was. Was it a way to throw off the Jews, so that they might actually believe freedom was a possibility? Or did the Nazis erect it as some sort of cruel joke?

      Tourist mecca or tourist trap?

      Auschwitz is a surprisingly small area, only 40 square kilometres and containing about 40 sub-camps where the captives worked and slept. Despite its size, thousands and thousands of people lived, worked and died in this tiny, confined area. It's dark, dusty, and damp — an appropriate atmosphere for a place like this. The place feels hollow and empty. But Auschwitz is hardly empty. It is teeming with tourists.
      The former living and working quarters have been converted into a museum, and people from all walks of life come to see this historic relic. And again, this is where my discomfort comes in. Outside the gates to Auschwitz are dozens of tour buses with camera-happy travellers pushing their way through the gate. It didn't seem right — why would Sunshine Tours and Safeway Travels and their palm-tree, smiley-face logo-ed buses come here? I wonder what the survivors of Auschwitz think about people like us, spending a few hours here, before we move on to our next tourist attraction.
      The museum houses several huge aquarium-like displays that encase the belongings of the Jews who lost their lives. One display was filled with eyeglasses. Another was brimming with toothbrushes; another, with dishes and bowls. There was an entire room filled with shoes, all of which were torn and ripped and looked fit for the trash. A tour guide from Spain explained that the Nazis only kept the ugly shoes at Auschwitz. All the beautiful, expensive shoes were immediately sent back to Germany and distributed to "real" Germans. As a Jew, you weren't even fit to have a decent pair of shoes.
      I saw a display filled with the empty cans that once contained the gas that was used to kill millions of Jews. But even more disturbing than that was a display filled with human hair, millions of strands of hair. Hair, shaved off the heads of the women who were brought to Auschwitz, just before they were sent to the gas chambers. Their hair was used to make clothes and blankets for Germany. It is thought that many of those blankets must still be in German basements and closets.
      One of the last displays holds thousands of pieces of luggage, each one with the owner's name and address written in chalk. I can only imagine what the owners of the luggage were thinking. Coming here with all their belongings, unaware of the hell awaited them. Ever single name on every single piece of luggage represents a life, a family, a neighbourhood, a community, part of all of our communities — stolen from us.
      A 15-minute walk from Auschwitz is Birkenau, the sister camp, which is where most of the Jews were gassed. I stood outside the camp, staring at the bunks and rooms, and the towers from which the guards must have kept an eye on their captives 60 years ago. But even all these years later, it doesn't seem like we've learned much.
      Just two years after allied troops liberated Auschwitz, in faraway India, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs butchered each other in a religious frenzy that produced one million dead bodies in just three months of bloodbath. Had they not learned anything from the holocaust?
      Today, genocide continues to take place in Darfur, where fairer skinned Muslims slaughter their darker skinned African bothers and sisters.
      Will anyone learn from history?
      Not if we continue to deny the Holocaust and let the memory of six million dead vanish into thin air.
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