To a reader who may dream a dream…
This photograph may not look like anything much, but this is actually the exterior of the gas chambers at Auschwitz. I sat silently staring at it for nearly an hour last year. And during this time, I took this photograph.
Visiting Auschwitz was a peculiar experience. I was struck by what I can only describe as a dark emptiness in the pit of my stomach as I walked around that day… I studied all the ins and outs of World War II and the Holocaust at high school and University. I did an entire subject in the second year of my undergrad degree on the Nuremberg trial. But it still surprised me to learn that 80% of everyone who arrived at Auschwitz was immediately sentenced to death.
Right beside the gas chamber is a replica of the gallows where Rudolf Hoss was hanged. And right beside that is where Hoss’s children’s playground once stood. One might have asked what perversion possessed Hoss to allow his children to play so close to a site where hundreds of thousands of people died, on his orders. But I really doubt there was any perversion at play, perhaps it was just a factor he didn’t think of any great importance. To Hoss, the Jews and the Romany gypsies alike were not in fact people at all, and their deaths were inconsequential. The Jewish children who were sent to the gas-chambers because they were of no use, were not deemed children by Hoss. They were something ‘other’ than children.
I have other photos from Auschwitz too. One of the room where the the hair of so many thousands of murdered women lies lifelessly in piles. I thought about the care and energy I’ve dedicated to my own hair as I caught glimpses of locks that could very easily have been mine. I have many photos of the rooms filled with shoes. Some of them tiny little ones belonging to infants and some of Espirillas similar to those that have now found their way back into fashion seven decades later. And these photos speak to me, but not quite so much as the one above does.
This photo will always be a reminder of the dangers of something we do, and our government does on behalf of us on a daily basis. When we ‘other’ people, we make them less worthy of our compassion and our remorse. (The week I went to Auschwitz, the Australian government had announced ‘The PNG solution‘ which allowed them to send Asylum seekers arriving on our shores by boat to Papua New Guinea for processing and ‘resettlement’… Resulting in gross human rights abuses.)
Othering begins as relatively harmless and without malice. And then it transcends into something else… Apathy for those who are treated as less than we are in the name of sovereignty, and protecting our own interests, apathy for those who are sent to places out of sight, that that in turn they are out of mind. And it ends where this photograph was taken.