It’s a little past noon, but I don’t need to wait until the end of the day to blog. Because Nothing Important Happened. Sure: THINGS probably happened after I hit “publish”. I ate food, did some work. My insides hurt – yes, still – but that’s okay. Rinse, repeat.
The important thing about today is that it’s seventy years to the day that the Soviets stepped through the a gate emblazened with Arbeit Macht Frei. Seventy years since the soldiers saw the emaciated frames of the sick, dead and dying. The mountains of corpses. The cameramen still weep when they talk about what they saw. What they heard. What they smelt.
A few months later, Richard Dimbleby will report from Bergen-Belsen that he found it hard to adequately describe the horrible things he has seen and heard. That he wished with all his heart that everyone who fought in that war could have come with him through the barbed-wire fence that leads to the inner compound of the camp.
“I passed through the barrier and found myself in a nightmare,” he said in April 1945. “Dead bodies, some of them in decay, lay strewn about the road and along the rutted tracks. On each side of the road were brown wooden huts. There were faces at the windows, the bony, emaciated faces of starving women, too weak to come outside, propping themselves against the glass to see the daylight before they died.”
“And they were dying, every hour and every minute. I saw a man, wandering dazedly along the road, stagger and fall. Someone else looked down at him, took him by the heels and dragged him to the side of the road to join the other bodies lying unburied there. No-one else took the slightest notice. They didn’t even trouble to turn their heads. Behind the huts, two youths and two girls who had found a morsel of food were sitting together on the grass sharing it. They were not six feet from a pile of decomposing bodies.”
Over the weekend I watched Night Will Fall. I cried watching it, again, devastated by the mountain of unworn spectacles, hair, toys, corpses. I have walked around the cramped confines Anne Frank called home as she hid from forces intent on murdering her based not on her actions or character, but merely on her faith. I never have and never will grow accustomed to the abject horror of what those soldiers recorded as they took the first steps into the death camps and liberated those who were not so much Still Alive as simply Not Yet Dead. I cannot watch the unceremonious footage of a child reaching for a parent’s hand and not weep for knowing that they likely as not died, choking to death, their hand still reaching for their mother, their father. Children systematically murdered because of a faith they hadn’t yet been old enough to take as their own. Children.
I exist in a generation that chiefly views this war as a non-sensical time that can only be conveyed via soundbites, history teachers and shaky black and white footage. It has potency, but no currency. We cannot fathom a life where people, in their millions, can be murdered this way. And that is why we must never, ever forget. If we don’t learn the lessons these pictures teach, night will fall.