Archdeacon Michael: Visiting the horrors of Auschwitz

One of Archdeacon Michael Everitt's photographs taken at Auschwitz
One of Archdeacon Michael Everitt's photographs taken at Auschwitz

It was the bitter bleak and devastating coldness of the place that overwhelmed me. I wanted to curl up in a ball, but I knew that with temperatures of -14C that would indeed be lethal.

It was not just the physical coldness, which I was protected from with winter coats and the like. Auschwitz would set a chill down my body in the middle of summer.

It is over two years since I was there, that I came face-to-face with the horrors of that place. My grandmother was a Jew, and while we never met, her influence on me and my identity is huge.

I was fully aware that if history had turned in a different direction, she and my father could have been loaded into the cattle trucks and sent to this factory of death. The statistics are too great to fully comprehend.

The systematic killing of 6m people for their faith along with others for ‘not fitting in’ either because of their background, views or identities is both hard to take onboard and also essential to remember.

When my daughter visited, for her it was the stolen spectacles piled up that gave to her the vision of the horrors of the place, for others it is the hair, destined to be woven into fabric, others the shoes. For me it was the silence and the cold.

This weekend sees the commemoration World Holocaust Day. It is 74 years since Aushwitz was liberated and its full horrors revealed to the world. Yet for many they live with it everyday. Antisemitism is still a sad reality. The world has seen many further massacres and acts of genocide.

We commemorate those who suffer and die in such actions and we remember that within our human nature there is the ability to commit such dreadful acts.

For many, places like Auschwitz destroy their faith in humanity and in God. The silence and senselessness of it all is too much. Even hope is extinguished.

While for others, they remember Daniel and the young men being joined by an angel in the furnace, and this gave comfort that God was there alongside those killed in the gas chambers.

Similarly for Christians, recalling the Christians killed there, they remember Jesus, who was of course Jewish, also being unjustly killed by an oppressive regime, again the assurance of God being with us not just in life but also death.

For me, it is not a place or a time to try to explain, but one to honour, remember and pledge to strive to ensure it is never repeated.