Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Final Solution

"Arbeit macht frei" - Work makes you free.
            Recently I spent an evening reading ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, by Irish novelist John Boyne.  I can honestly admit that I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life.  You may have read it yourself, or perhaps it might be more likely that you have seen the film adaptation.  Maybe you cried too.  It’s a short read, I would recommend it to anyone who falls under the category of ‘reader’ as it goes above and beyond any literary genre that I have come across (don’t let my crying put you off!).  Even if you have seen the film, go out and find the book! 

The remaining barracks.
Boyne writes in such a simplistic way, yet he grasps your attention on every single page.  His language captures the tragedy that was the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a nine-year-old boy, replacing the expected horrendous descriptions with subtle images from an unknowing perspective, making more powerful the sheer horror of the cruel situation.  There are moments of laughter, of confrontation, of hopes and disappointments, as Boyne beckons readers to chase the development of an unbreakable friendship before hitting us with an ending that would penetrate even the hardest of hearts.

The guards walkway between two parts of the camp.
The barbed wire fences had an electric current running
through to keep the prison from attempting escape.
As well as being such a fantastic read, this fable addresses one of the most important events in history; a moment in history that people still deny today.  As far as I know this is a topic rarely discussed, and one that is not often taught in schools in great detail.  However, during the year before I came to university, I became involved in an incredible organisation called the Holocaust Education Trust.  Travelling to Aston University, I attended lectures and seminars on various topics and ethical issues, where I met a Jewish woman called Kitty Hart-Moxon who spoke on how she survived the concentration camp.  This was followed by a day trip to Auschwitz in Poland (the concentration camp mentioned in ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ and where Kitty and her mother were imprisoned).

Family photographs found in the suitcases of those who
were killed. A memorial room contained walls covered
from top to bottom with the only memories left of
these families.
Throughout my day in Auschwitz I did not cry, not once, not like I did at the writings of John Boyne.  My pre-visit expectations were that I would feel an overwhelming sense of anger and despair; but I felt neither.  I wanted to feel such things; but I just felt numb.  It was incredibly difficult to take it all in; how could I comprehend the fact that almost 3 million people had been brutally massacred in such a small, eerie and now desolate space?  As dusk fell, I remember walking through the black dead trees, as a kind of half-light hovered still in the air and the rain fell lightly on a world in greyscale.  The birds sang melodically, almost as a mockery of the place, impounding a strange sense of guilt upon my heart.  Birdsong and footsteps of the free were not welcome within the confines of this death camp.

The entrance gate and the train track which was built
for the special purpose of bringing people from the cities
straight into the camp, either to the famous crossroads for a
selection process or right up to the gas chambers for
immediate execution.
As the hovering dusk dropped into a thick darkness, the group gathered together alongside the remains of a gas chamber, and a remembrance service was held by the Rabbi that accompanied us on our daytrip.  From underneath the canopy of umbrellas we sang hymns and the Rabbi recited Jewish prayers.  We each lit a candle and as we made our leave, we laid them along the train track on which cattle-carts full of people were shipped in to be killed.  At the end of the day, I walked through the gates from which 3 million people came in and never went out again.  To this day I remain fascinated, my heart lacerated, completely devastated, at the brutality that was conducted as Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’.  Such human capability perhaps shall never be understood.

- All photographs by Annie Davies -


  1. Good blog post, it is devastating and I find it difficult to even comprehend that over 6 million Jews died in the second world war. You have now inspired me to read the book "the boy in the striped pyjamas". I look forward to reading your next blog :)

  2. This is your concience speaking .. Update moooorrreeee!! ;)