Holocaust Educational Trust Blog

A space for featured guest bloggers and members of the Holocaust Educational Trust team to comment and reflect on timely issues.

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015: Journalist Benjamin Butterworth


In the second of today's blogs for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015, Gay Times journalist Benjamin Butterworth reflects on visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Trust and why it's important we also remember the other victims of Nazi persecution.

Visiting Auschwitz is a conflict. The extents of human injustice are impossible to comprehend, and more easily they'd be forgotten. But there's a sense of obligation, too: to recognise the brutalities and mistakes of our past. The Poles, Jehovah's Witnesses, disabled people and gay men who were persecuted. Seeing the remains of this tragedy, it felt all the more chilling knowing this could have been my story, as a gay man, had times been different.

Auschwitz is nestled in the once Jewish town of Oświęcim. It sits among schools and playgrounds and non-descript suburban housing. The sort of bland homogeny that feels idyllic next to the piercing barracks of Auschwitz.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the camps are maintained; living reminders of our past. The parameters are barbed and penal. The workhouses long and narrow; as uniform in design as the killing the were designed to contain. The remains of gas chambers rubbled yet still striking in the landscape.

Unlike Auschwitz 1, Birkenau is barren. The shadows of its workhouses and watch towers haunt the vast, empty countryside. The tracks that led over a million people to their deaths still run through Birkenau. Rusty, they may be, but their purpose still feels harrowingly real. And no matter where you stand, they follow you: casting judgement.

They say a picture tells a thousand words. Facing down the image of Birkenau's railway tracks tells just one: shame.

But there's a reason why we don't forget this atrocity and still visit: hearing is not seeing. The Trust's mantra, and, having had the opportunity, very much the truth. But when you see the site of such savagery, it's hard not to hear the unbearable echo that comes with it. Every one of the human stories whispering through the decades. Their lives extending down those long, hollow tracks. And yet Auschwitz is just one part of the story: there were so many, lesser known death camps, sites of mass shooting, concentration camps, sterilising programmes. The list is long and it's chilling. Gay men, under Nazi persecution, had little escape.

On the 70th anniversary of the camps' liberation, we mustn't let their stories be whispered: we must shout them. Shout for the freedoms that they were denied. And that, for some, are still denied today.

70 Voices - Week 1 - What Was the Holocaust?
Holocaust Memorial Day 2015: Hugo Rifkind