Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day and, for as long as I can remember, this leads to annual news stories not just about commemorative events, but about the ignorance that a lot of us have around the Holocaust and everyone affected by it.
For a prime example, see the idiotic posers at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, called out by the brilliant Yolocaust web project, which has now been taken down after mixed but generally positive feedback.
Sadly, anti-Semitism has never totally disappeared. There have been reports of Holocaust survivors being abused in the street and, in a cruel modern twist, Jewish Twitter users being targeted and mercilessly trolled because of their religion and heritage. Even Google search results have been manipulated by the far-right.
There’s so much to tell you about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau that I’ve split this into two posts: first the emotional side of things, then the practical side. It’s important not to let logistics overtake the reasons you’d want to visit: to learn, to pay respects, to remember, and to pass on what you’ve seen.
My mum and I arrived on a cold but sunny March morning and joined a group tour with an official guide. This was what we discovered under bright blue skies.
What to Expect
Auschwitz I looks less like a traditional camp and more like a forlorn housing estate, because it used to be an army barracks, whereas Birkenau’s low wooden buildings were stables for horses before they housed people, and the brick buildings came later. Life goes on around the camps, with houses and businesses on their very fringes, and signs directing you to KFC. Monowitz-Buna, one of the satellite camps, was based further away and doesn’t exist anymore, but our guide pointed it out from Birkenau as laying beyond the two industrial towers in the distance.
There’s nothing like the joy of finding a great pre-loved book – set me up in a branch of Oxfam or a car boot sale and I’m happy as a sandboy, browsing through the goods. I also find they make great souvenirs when I’m travelling (not so much souvenirs for other people, as not everyone appreciates a dog-eared Penguin classic when they were hoping for a nice fridge magnet). Over the last few years I’ve been on quite a few bookish adventures, and these are some of the best…
As the centenary of the Great War approaches, it’s fair to say that things are already hotting up on the tourism and publicity front.
Whilst I unfortunately missed the WWI talk at World Travel Market last year, due to clashes in my schedule, I did manage to pick up some poppy seeds from the Visit Flanders area and I will be planting them (despite my not-so-green fingered gardening ‘abilities’) in an effort to bring a part of this very real, global event home – I think that offering poppy seeds is a great marketing tool, but also a really personal way to get people involved. After all, the Great War was something that touched the lives of normal citizens and changed the future and fortunes of a whole generation.
I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter had me at the multi-layered imagery on the outside – I was hooked before I’d even turned over to the blurb, let alone before I’d began to make my way through the novel itself. Just like the cover, the plot was composed of layers, and it also flipped backwards and forwards in time and around the world. What sounds chaotic and clunky actually is, in actuality, a story that becomes almost impossible to put down and perfectly evokes Italy in 1962.
Calavera (Span. feminine noun) = skull. A travel blog with a love of culture, dark tourism and the unconventional.