Our last act before leaving Eastern Europe, was to visit the wonderful city of Krakow and in particular the Jewish Quarter where soon after the Nazi’s invasion of Europe in 1939, Hitler’s Gestapo turned this area into a walled-in ghetto where the citizenry had to wear armbands, and were then removed to go to forced labour camps and ultimately to be exterminated. After Krakow itself we then visited Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camps where not the citizens of Krakow were murdered around 1.1 million people in total shipped in from the surrounding area of Nazi-occupied Europe, about 90% of them Jewish..
We’ve spent several weeks now learning of the micro-nations that populate this part of the world, some of whom are struggling for self-determination – such as in South Ossetia, Transdneistr and Abkhazia – and others who live in fear that they’ll wake up one morning and find they’ve been invaded by neighbours who have a history of aggression. It is difficult for us – from such a remote and unaffected part of the world – to appreciate the shadows that so many of the world live under.
The Nazi regime of course, has been by far the most inhuman and oppressive to operate in these parts in modern times, and a visit to these sites which became little more than a livestock slaughterhouse where the staff attended each day to routinely murder thousands of people, is something we struggle to get our heads around but nevertheless which amply demonstrate how a mix of maniacal and terrorising leadership is capable of converting everyday people into instruments of mass murder and torture.
That alone, is the lesson that these sites of reminder should teach us about ourselves as a species – we are capable of the most grotesque acts.