Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, marking 68 years since the liberation of Auschwitz Concentration Camp by Allied troops. The best way I could think of to mark it was to pass on the following story, which was told to my classmates and I when we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau back in 2001.
At the Auschwitz Museum there is one particular hallway which holds on its walls countless framed pictures of the victims of that place’s past atrocities. When we reached this hallway and looked over the pale, hollow faces of those long-departed, our guide drew our attention to one single picture which had a flower resting above its frame.
"Several years ago," she told us, “my colleague was guiding a tour and when he came to this hallway a man in his party broke down in tears.
"My colleague tried to comfort the gentleman, assuming he was simply moved by the images and their horrific implications.
"When the man had composed himself, he told the guide and the others assembled that this picture," [here she pointed to the photograph with the flower], “was of his own mother.
"A child when his mother was taken from him, he had never known what had happened to her after his final, haunting image of her being herded onto a packed train headed for Auschwitz.
"He went on to explain that, though partly due to his shock and sadness at seeing one of his own flesh and blood pictured on the wall, his tears had also been those of relief. He finally knew what had become of his dear mother. No longer would he be tormented by the possiblity that she may be out there somewhere, unknown to him. Finally, he could truly mourn and honour the woman who had meant so much to him.
"Now he visits Auschwitz every year with a flower to place above the photo of his beloved mother. It is the only memorial available to him."
This story moved me so deeply and I’ve never forgotten it, nor indeed the haunting feeling of being in a place where so many cruelly lost their lives for no other reason than their religious beliefs, race, sexuality or lifestyle. There is no more poignant a lesson in tolerance than standing in the now-empty crematoriums at Auschwitz or silently walking the railway tracks at Birkenau which brought so many to their doom. An atmosphere of dread, sadness and tragedy pervades the entire area and I urge anybody who has the opportunity to visit to do so. It is a chilling, heart-breaking experience, but the lessons it teaches are among the most vital any human could ever learn.
I light a candle today in remembrance of those who were killed or who suffered so greatly at the hands of Hitler, and in the knowledge that as strongly as these memories remain with me, they can be as nothing compared to those which must linger in the hearts and minds of those who survived or lost loved ones to this tyranny.
Never forget. Never again.
*None of these pictures belong to me and are all from various sources.