It is a sombre anniversary for our world – the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. It MUST be remembered, yet I wonder how long we must insist German people atone for sins of a generation so far removed? Witness Greek politicians insisting Germany should pay huge sums in war reparations – which in reality would no doubt mean supporting many who don’t want to face the real world of working.
I admit to utter confusion about it all – people are right when they say “We must never forget,” we musn’t, but the reverse of that, is making people pay for past sins forever. Perhaps we should take on past sins of mankind collectively? Anyhow, today, here is my personal account, which does not even include my stumbling across Dachau in horror years ago, though it was not a “death camp” as such.
Grunewald, however, is a lovely, obviously well-heeled Berlin inner suburb – it could be Vaucluse, or Camberwell, or Nedlands. The station is postcard picturesque, so nothing prepares you for Platform (Gleis) 17.
There are no lights, the stairs seem forlorn, clean, but empty, nobody walks them. There is a small sign from the railway company, “What is this?” I ask my German partner. “You will understand when you reach the platform,” she hesitantly replies as we walk up the stairs.
There are two sets of railway tracks leading off into trees, the original concrete platform has been covered in rust-weathered steel. It’s obviously disused, yet sitting in the middle of a bustling vibrant station.
I turn to ask a further question, she is standing looking at me. Puzzled, I sense all is not right, but I can’t put a finger on it. I walk on alone.
Jesus wept. In cold horror, it dawns on me where I’m standing. Each section of the platform has a date and the numbers of Jews (and others) sent by train on that day, to Auschwitz. Dear God, this is where they packed people into cattle wagons for the final trip to the death camps.
I had been to Dachau. Although not a death camp, it filled me with horror and revulsion, but this? This squeezes the breath from me. There was no escape then, there is no escape now.
My eyes well up, tears flow down my cheeks, my jaw trembles and begins to ache, something inside me begins to silently scream. It still does, as I write this a year later. Words from the French Resistance song, The Partisan fell from me as I stood – “An old woman gave us shelter, she died without a whisper.”
“I’m sorry,” I said to my partner.
“So are we,” she replied.