Sunday, December 20, 2009

Musings on the returned Auschwitz sign

I've wanted to blog about the stolen "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign since Friday, and now that it has been found it seems as good a time to any to do it. It is difficult for me to say anything intelligent about this - this action's symbolic violence left me speechless in a way that physical (or economic, or political) violence do not. Part of my difficulty finding something intelligent to say is that my first response after reading this story, and second, and maybe third, is that it reflects a deep seated Polish anti-Semitism. I am uncomfortable justifying or sharing this response with the internets because the rational part of me knows that a small group of hooligans in no way represent the opinions of the entire country. The rest of me still thinks that Poland IS pretty bass ackwards when it comes to dealing with it's Holocaust legacy, what with ongoing resistance (not from everyone) to assuming any responsibility for the genocide which took place within Polish border.

Anyways, so yes, this news leaves me without a clear explanation, narrative, or lesson. Others, though, specifically Britain's Times, seem to argue that the greatest fallout from this vandalism is a potential strengthening of Holocaust deniers' assertion that Auschwitz is a fake:
"Holocaust deniers have long targeted Auschwitz in an attempt to demonstrate that the systematic murder of Jews has been invented or exaggerated. Deniers have previously taken soil samples from the camp and made measurements in order to argue that the number of victims gassed and cremated was far smaller than claimed. The camp museum directors have already stated that a replica has been made of the sign. The neo-Nazis could try to establish that the sign is fake and thus, by extension, claim that much of the camp is as well... There has always been a danger as Holocaust survivors and their Nazi murderers die out that the authenticity of the sites themselves would be questioned."
It is more than unclear to me what Holocaust denier's arguments have to do with the vandalism of Auschwitz. It is as of now (and certainly as of the publishing of that article) not known what the motives for the crime were, and I hope that the Time's does not feel more than I do that Auschwitz's authenticity is a topic up for debate.

Anyways, a tough topic and tough to know what to take from it. Hopefully this can remind me, and others hurt by this crime not to claim too quickly that offenses against others are just symbolic.