To get some perspective you often need to take a step back and look at things from a new angle. Karl Sagan could do this when he was presented with a photograph of Earth taken from the edge of our solar system. Karl Sagan, found it so inspiring that he created one of the most famous speeches on the topic of humanity.
As things stand, I can’t get to the edge of our solar system to see this awe inspiring sight at first hand, but I could see the Auschwitz concentration & death camps for a similar dose of perspective, if not for very different reasons.
The history of the camps is rather well documented, but just to throw out a few numbers that hit me today when visiting. Anywhere between 1.1 and 1.5 million people were exterminated there. The average weight of inmates who were not immediately exterminated would come to be around 25kg (60lbs). Between 700 to 1000 people stayed in one room designed for 52 horses. It took 15 minutes to kill 2,000 people in the biggest gas chamber. If you weren’t selected for immediate extermination, the conditions were so bad that you were only expected to survive for a few months. However 30 people survived the whole 5 years the camp was in operation. After the war, the most senior officer, Rudolf Höss was captured, tried and hanged 5 meters away from the first gas chamber.
There is no record of Adolf Hitler ever visiting any concentration camp.
These are sobering facts, and ones which provide more than a little perspective on things. However nothing prepares you for entering the only surviving gas chamber, followed by the only surviving blast furnaces that burned the dead bodies right next door. The chamber is small, but apparently large enough to fit 700 men, women and children – something I couldn’t even imagine.
The chamber will take any feeling you have and numb you to the core. I left the chamber empty, but at least with my life, which is more than most who went in there. Later though I left the camp in a different mood. It was the 30 people who survived every day the camp was operating that gave me inspiration, confidence, a drive even – and none of those words do it complete justice.
Here I am, with an anxiety attack here, or a bit of depression there. I get anxious from phone calls, or job interviews, I have triggers based on a few words or someones Immature actions. Then after hearing of the ordeal, the devastating conditions, the humiliation, decimated mental health, physically empty souls that these camps created. I left in a defiant mood.
I struggle to know exactly what I am defiant of, but I think its of mental illness, of my lack of motivation, my fear of rejection. Defiant of my behaviour, where I don’t do something because of what they might think. These things infinitely pale in comparison to the things I saw and heard today, the waste of life, the sheer inhumanity of it all. The perspective it provides gave me everything I need to know I won’t let a thing in my mind stop me from doing anything I want to do.
It also made me defiant of a society; modern society. Whether it is through media, attitudes, politics, action or inaction, the parallels with 1930s Europe are astounding. This time however, the countries which fought to end persecution and segregation are the ones trying to explain it all away today; a seperation of Europe here, or a Muslim ban there. We may never know every ingredient necessary to create an event like that again, but we know some of them: Nationalism, preaching division, blaming minorities for failings and an obsession with military might, are but a few.
The chances of an event happening like this again are exponentially small, but whatever happens in the future I will never be found on the wrong side. Every policy parallel, no matter how small, should be quashed. We have been down those paths and we have the scars to prove it.
Read more about history, its good for you.