Remembering and learning

This week the 27th January marks Holocaust Memorial Day, a special one as it is 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz on this day in 1945. It is probably the last major anniversary in which survivors will be able to be involved. There are various events marking this anniversary.
I visited Auschwitz with the September Pilgrims ten years ago in 2010. We were based in nearby Krakow, and decided that we would offer the visit to those who were with us. I think everybody came. We visited the original Auschwitz camp and then the much larger Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The weather was grey and overcast and rained off and on, somehow suitable for the day.
At the end of the first part of the visit our guide quietly motioned us without words towards a smallish nondescript building looking a bit like a school from the 30s or 40s. But this was the surviving gas-chamber. I went in and found myself in this soul-destroying gloomy room. I observed the candles and the hole in the roof for the gas cylinder. But a few moments was enough – I had to get out of that hell. But in order to get out you had to pass by some of the (in)famous furnaces for the disposal of the bodies. Without any doubt I believe this was the worst place I have ever been. It haunted me for quite a time, and, looking back, its effect went deep.
Some people do not want to go to places like Auschwitz, and some who have been say it was terrible but that they are glad they went. I belong to the second group. For sometimes I wonder if we need to have our faces rubbed in it, as it were. Like most people, I find that the vast majority of the human race are good and kind. But I think that it’s good to be reminded how bad we can be – if we can take it5
If we are to be the Church as the 21st century unfolds, if we are to offer the Good News to what seems to be a world that couldn’t care less, one way of getting some fire in our bellies is by experiencing or coming close to the Bad News that our human race can inflict, and that so many in our world have had to endure, and still are.
“So where was your God at Auschwitz?” some ask, faced with this utter emptiness, a vacuum of humanity. And the nearest to an answer maybe is that our crucified humiliated God, Jesus, the Lamb, was there with them.

Fr Matthew