Saturday, 13 August 2011

The day I went to the death camps

I've written here, at some point, about the amount of books and related material that I've read, or watched, about the two world wars. My thirst for knowledge about it was based on, on the one hand, the need for historical perspective: to be able to have a sense of what informed the flow of events and how these have shaped the subsequent decades upon which they still have a huge impact.

On the other hand there has been, in my mind, a need to find some kind of insight, or attempt to come to terms with on some level, the sheer impact on human lives at an individual and collective level that those wars brought.

What this has meant, during those extended periods of reading and viewing, is a lot of exposure to material which is heartrending, depressing, bleak, unfathomable, yet also inspiring and humbling. All this, of course, in the vulgar comfort of my armchair.

Quite what it says about me that I've kept a corner of my mind open to information about such extremes of existence, I'm not sure - but there's a desire in there to try to comprehend or at least apprehend such suffering and adversity. I know that part of it is informed by the sheer proximity of such great and terrible events to my own lifetime: WWII ended a mere twenty-five years before I was born. Long enough to render me at a safe distance from it, but otherwise a mere blink of an eyelid, and still very much shaping the world I was born and brought up in.

It's too neat to suggest that this inward flow of words and images served as preparation for my visit earlier this week to Auschwitz: that wasn't my intention, though in retrospect it did have that effect. But it's a largely separate set of circumstances (not of particular relevance here) that enabled myself and a couple of friends to go there a few days ago.

Reflecting on all this, I'm not quite sure what I can meaningfully say about the experience, yet I do feel the need to express it somehow. There's the ever-present chance that I could write an extended, convoluted post which could be summed up as I really don't have the words. Also, an account based on my own subjective experience feels like it would be indulgent: yet should I try to open it up into more large-scale observations then I think I would fall flat on my face.

Perhaps my own subjective experience, indulgent as it may be, will be the only way I can express anything at the present time. Right now though I feel the need to go out and get a temporary change of scenery.