When fear & hatred trump humanity

We visited Auschwitz-Birkenau yesterday (for me it was my 3rd visit after 1989 the summer before the Wall fell and 1994). Auschwitz-Birkenau consisted of two main camps and was an unimaginably huge murder-factory, the scale of which is absolutely daunting. When I walk there it feels like an iron fist has grabbed hold of my heart. Even after all these years, I still can not wrap my head around it all…


It is a lesson from the past that I want my children to learn today, especially in light of islamophobia and intolerance towards refugees so prevalent now. This is where it could end, once we stop seeing humanity and we only see ‘them’ and ‘us’… this is where it could end when we fail to help people in need… this is where it could end when we build walls and shut people out… this where it could end when fear and hatred trump humanity…

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22 thoughts on “When fear & hatred trump humanity

  1. I remember when I visited a euthanasie memorial – couldn’t sleep for nights.

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    • I can imagine. My first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was during a study trip and changed my life forever… Even now, after a 3rd visit, I just cannot fathom it all, it is impossible to fully understand…

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      • Yes – I was 16 at this visit, and remember when we’re lead down to the gas chambers and a friend stood beside me and i begged him not to go. This year I visited the battlefield of Verdun, and it was the same feeling: you feel the loss, the fear, the tears and the death- somhow it’s something like a religious experience, when you understand how fortunate we are by living in peace. And at least the Holocaust is still a very heavy theme, because there was hatred without any understandable reason.

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        • Yes, that must have been so difficult. We were at Verdun a few years ago as well and the tragedy of the cost of war is heartbreaking.
          About hatred without understandable reason… People will always find reasons to hate and those reasons will always seem ‘plausible’ to those who hate. I remember hating my chemistry teacher because she always picked on me. It’s a natural human emotion. Hitler didn’t invent anti-semitism or hatred of gays or gypsies or any other groupp but he used the hate very effectively. Hatred is a gut feeling, people react from that in negative ways and if not addressed and checked, this is where it could lead…

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          • Yes, I guess what was the most impressive, was this peaceful atmosphere, sun was shing, flowers, birds – and you couldn’t bring the pictures von 1916 together with what you saw. But also our guide told us several nice storys, about french and german solders whom formed friendships, even in the timne of the battle.

            Well, I don’t know – because I am not sure if I ever feel hatred – dislike yes, i get furious, but mostly somday I turn my back on those, so for me the I idea how to use hatred is strange. But actually we see it in various forms on religion, on politics, racism againt “the [choose what every]”- so i guess I have more fear about it, that this still works very effectively.

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            • Looking back, if I ever hated, I really think the only person I ever hated was that chemistry teacher but never enough to wish her harm… but I see so many examples in the world today where hatred is used and people are totally blinded by it. What I wish, I guess, is that, although it is impossible to like or love everyone, that at least when there is dislike or hatred humanity above all should never be forgotten…

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              • Well, I guess you can’t love/hate everyone – somewhere I read that the opposite of love is not hatred but that you don’t care anymore, which is perhaps something more fearful.
                Oh yes – and at least we live in peace since more than 70 years. So sometimes we need to think of this.

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            • I definitely feel hatred and I could certainly imagine killing someone out of hatred — but it’s individuals, not groups. That’s the piece that confuses me.

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              • Okay, that’s something I don’t know how to – once I had this feeling torwards someone: “If you would jump down a buildig, I couldn’t cry” – and this mortified me.
                I guess that’s something like we now see around” The muslims”or “the islam”.Mostly on cultural arguments: this is not a part of our culture, our “society” is in danger by [xyz]. Mostly based on stereotypes which are then become the idea “All like this” – or wourld someone comment the religion of Boris Johnson when he became Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn’s was a theme. Strange world.

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  2. There have been a lot of debates among historians about whether those places need to be preserved and if so, how. At the moment I’m glad they are there because they serve as a concrete reminder of what happens when racism and prejudice become law. I’m glad you went there with your kids.

    To me it is a very incongruous place. A horror in the midst of an innocent, even beautiful, countryside. And then back in Krakow all the advertising related to tours there, etc.

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    • Yes, that bothered me! We were at a hotel for 2 nights in what used to be the Jewish quarter and all the restaurants advertise Jewish food and Jewish music, very much in your face and only aimed at tourists. Judaism as a fairground attaction, run by people who have little to do with Judaism and actual Jewish life. A money-making machine. Or so it felt… we couldn’t eat there…

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      • And all the Jewish kitsch for sale, although to be fair, Jewish tourists buy it as well. There is a working Jewish community in Krakow, though (or was when I visited — I guess that is nine years ago now).

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        • For some reason I didn’t mind the souvenirs so much, it’s the Jewish life pretense (when most of the Jewish life was murdered) and marketing it for tourists that got to me.

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          • As I understand it from friends this is a general issue in Poland. It starts from a good impulse — let’s make sure people know who isn’t here any more who would have been — and is followed by a second good impulse — let’s not portray Jews / Judaism as if if it’s extinct — but then lets in marketing impulses and strategies that contradict the original impulses. And, of course, no one wants to feel responsible or horrible for too long. I always think of Schindler’s List — it’s bearable to watch because of the end sequence where everyone goes to Israel (sarcasm).

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  3. Was für ein schrecklicher und frustrierender Ort 😦 Und doch so wichtig, sich zu erinnern und die Fehler nicht noch einmal zu machen. Allerdings habe ich oft das Gefühl wir Menschen lernen nicht. Auch nicht aus der Geschichte…..

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    • Ja, das Gefühl habe ich auch und deswegen ist es mir so wichtig, dass meine Kinder dies auch sehen, in der Hoffnung, dass da irgendwas stecken bleibt… Mein kleiner Tropfen auf dem heissen Stein…

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  4. Je vous félicite pour votre courage et pour cette volonté de transmettre l’histoire et la valeur de la personne humaine à vos enfants.

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  5. I think you did good by taking the kids there and i think it is vital that at least a few such places are preserved because otherwise in history it becomes to easy to say it didn’t happen, it’s just exaggerated tales ( it is not like it hasn’t been said already about this place and other..).

    I see it at home as well in the generations that didn’t grow up in communism, they think it is all tales and exaggerations because they can’t believe it. We need to show these things again and again to people so they don’t forget and also what caused it. These days it becomes scarily evident how easy it is to manipulate people down the path of hatred.. all you need to do is turn on the television and see some red-faced person shouting at the top of their lungs for somebody to be jailed, ex-pulsed, eliminated, held behind walls etc… Humans seems to have very short memories…

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  6. […] of our vacation, continued during the rest of our vacation as well. The most difficult part was the visit to Auschwitz which my son doesn’t want to talk about any more and we had some drama […]

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  7. […] I visited Auschwitz this past summer, it’s one of the most sobering and heartbreaking experiences and a very powerful reminder of where hatred against certain groups of people can lead. In the US it’s starting already with immigrants, refugees and Muslims being ostracized officially now by the Trump administration, with a ‘me first’ philosophy prevalent and an attitude of building walls over bridges. I am afraid that it can not be stopped, I am afraid of who else will follow suit and I am afraid where this islamophobia / xenophobia and ‘me first’ philosophy will end… Now is the time to speak up against this, now is the time to try to act against xenophobia, before it is again too late. German anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller once said this… […]

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  8. […] but did this teach him anything? My visit to Auschwitz for the first time when I was 19 and for two visits afterwards have left a lasting impact on my life. Maybe the White House staff should do the same or […]

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