Holocaust Memorial day, Thursday 27th January 2005, 60 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. In London a memorial service was attended by Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip, the Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Michael Howard amongst others. Sixty survivors, one for each year since 1945, were guests at the Palace of Westminster. Throughout the service Her Majesty sat obviously in deep thought, her face stern and eyes roving silently to gauge the scene. The memorial candelabra, a modern intricate weave of metal, held 62 candles, each one lit by the Queen, Prince Philip and the 60 survivors respectively. Throughout, several grandchildren of survivors read quietly and steadily the names of those who had perished. Tony Blair made a speech, Mr Howard whose grandparents were exterminated at Auschwitz sat there in silence. The Queen led the way out, her gaze fixed to the stony floor.
Of course the major world event was held at Auschwitz. The setting was austere and sombre. The most notorious railway track in the world was lit in two parallel lines by candles in memory of those who perished in history’s most evil record of man’s inhumanity to man. Here 700 survivors, all now in their 70’s and 80’s, walked through the snow the quarter of a mile up the track, retracing their steps of all those years ago as young children making a journey into the unknown pits of hell. How brave of them in the autumn of their lives to come back here again in the dark, in the bleakness of a cold winter’s night, to remember a time that forever fills the nightmares of their sleep.
Shivering, they took their places on the snow covered chairs, their only heat emanating from several huge wire-caged fires. For an hour they waited for the dignitaries to arrive so the service could begin, their jaws rattling as they shivered from the cold and the memories flooding back through the dark night air. And then they arrived, the Presidents of Russia and France, the Prime Minister of the Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary of Great Britain, the German Chancellor, the Queen’s son Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex, and the rest of them, mounting the heated platform opposite to take their places on the snow-protected seats reserved especially for them.
The whistle of The Train sounded, The Siren screeched and The Floodlights waved their beams across the bleak landscape. Speeches from the President of Russia recounting how Russian troops had librated the camp, the Prime Minister of the Ukraine taking an oath that never again will such evil be tolerated in his land, never again repeated again and again whilst the 700 sat there silently perched on the cold snow-covered chairs, quivering in that freezing night, their frozen tears stuck to their cheeks, as the words never again reverberated over and over as if to make an indelible stamp on their forearms to cover the numbered tattoos that would forever remain.
Then the dignitaries departed, leaving the 700 to make their way back that quarter of a mile to the waiting buses that would spirit them to the warmth of their hotels. A relief to realise that those barren huts with three tiered shelves packed nine by nine by nine with ice cold bodies trying in vain to be warmed by a single stove, that the ultimate heat of those burning ovens, could no longer be their destination.
The next day, reports in the press described this event with pride in the success of remembering for posterity those iniquitous times that must never happen again.
Never again reverberated, never again and again and again, the irony escaping them of a scene where once again, after sixty years, those 700 survivors in the Autumn of their lives, carrying half a century’s baggage, stuffed with putrefied evil, that quarter of a mile up those railway tracks of their very worst memories, to sit in the cold on the snow covered chairs, waiting an hour for the VIP’s to arrive cosseted in warmth and security with an air that reeked of their superior status in the nature of things, leaving without a thought that their memorial service depicted a scene of the jester laughing in the creased up faces stuck with icicled tears of the very survivors who were the reason for their presence.
SDK 30th January 2005