Monday, 23 July 2007

Residue


The town of Osweicim is surprisingly large, considering its location, the associations and, above all, how much smaller it was in 1939. This observation is all the more pronounced and poignant when the realisation that over half the 1939 population never returned. I was shown round the last remaining Jewish building which is a synagogue/ school and is adjacent to the home of the Osweicim's 'last Jew'. He died in 2001 and his home will form part of the residue that many people are very keen to preserve. The other remnant is the cemetery: he is buried there along with people that died prior to 1939. After the war the graves were lifted upright and logged but the upside down Hebrew gives a clue to who took the time to undo the wrecking job done by the Nazis. When I was told that the cemetery remains locked now because of Nazi graffiti and further desecration in recent years, it seemed to suggest that the polarisation of Polish 'memory' is as extreme as it is incomprehensible. The idea of tracing some of the vibrancy of Jewish life in Osweicim prior to the war is to make real the 'life' that existed before the all too familiar horrors of the Holocaust. However, apart form the obvious very sobering lessons to be learnt by visiting places like Auschwitz, the overriding impression of ongoing squabbles, rewriting of the past and shifting the blame taints everything that bears witness to the brutality and futility of it all.

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