Tragedy for humanity

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 January, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 1995, 12:00am

EVEN 50 years after the liberation of the German death-camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the anguish and suffering of those who died there are barely imaginable. The grim, haunting pictures of gaunt, staring figures lined up behind barbed-wire awaiting the liberating armies are the nearest most people will come to understanding the horror of what happened in the Nazi extermination camps. But those who did survive will never rid themselves of the memories. The message of Auschwitz must not be forgotten either by those who did not live through it: systematic genocide must never be allowed to happen again. The images of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s show how quickly that lesson is cast aside.

Pious lectures on forgiveness are out of place. The Nazis' victims can no more easily forgive their oppressors than can the countless Asians who suffered at the hands of the Japanese. The six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis - and nine out of 10 of the 1.5 million killed at Auschwitz were Jews - will not be brought back to life by magnanimous gestures to Adolf Hitler's followers. The millions of Poles, Gypsies, Russians and others who also perished cannot be resurrected by smiles and back-slapping.

But the 50th anniversary should be a time for reconciliation between the victim-peoples and the millions of innocent Germans tarred with the brush of Nazism. It is sad that Polish handling of the memorial failed to take Jewish sensibilities into account. It appeared to play down the Jewish tragedy and to treat Auschwitz as a tragedy of national significance. It was both. Genocide is tragic for all humanity.