Saturday, July 25, 2009


I'm still processing the events of the school trip- so much as usual in such a short and exhausting time, paramedics in Berlin, train derailment in Poland, robbery in Slovenia (or was it Croatia?).

We went to Auschwitz/Birkenau and Sachsenhausen. It was my second time in both, and I'm always left sad (of course), angry (naturally)but also dissatisfied because the problem with museums (and Auschwitz is a museum) is that they seems to draw a line under events in history. Our guide this year was excellent but he stressed to the students that the lesson of Auschwitz was never to subscribe to the twisted ideology of anti-semitism. Now he is right of course but that's not the only lesson is it? I always think there should be an annexe bringing Auschwitz up to date via Cambodia, Serbia, Rwanda...even Palestine.


Children off the trains
stirred gravel with their shoes, went
hand in hand to the gas chambers.
We must remember.
Off the trains now, they wait
to be told to go to the toilet
or join the queue to buy some crisps,
and march in files through dust,
earphones glued to sweaty hair.
If you think this is bad
says the guide just remember……
Later we light candles
that die in the breeze as the sun
seeps through pine,
and birds, unaware of things
the guide books say, sing.
In Krakow we eat ice cream
below a banner hung from the first floor:
that Arab girl shot last week by a sniper.
Museums draw lines in time, remember,
and people cross, just like before.


Titus said...

Seriously good.

Rachel Fox said...

In a weird way I think you are brave to accompany kids on trips like that - not sure how well I would manage it. I was taken to 'visit' Belsen as a 12 year old and there is a poem now of course...not that different to yours probably. The birds weren't singing (not on the day I went) and they made an appearance of a kind in the poem. I remember the museum at Belsen quite clearly..the photos of starving children mainly.

I like your last two lines very much. And the crisps and gravel and dust.

hope said...

Wow...sadness, horror and awareness all wrapped up in stunning words.

I just read a book by journalist Kevin Sites titled, "In The Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, 20 Conflicts". His journey pointed out not just the horror of war but put a human face on it. Sites said the main reason for the project was to make Americans realize that there is more going on in the world than what they focus on. It was well done and had a DVD documentary included.

Well done, Professor. Those kids will no doubt remember.

Sorlil said...

I don't think I could bear to go to Auschwitz. Went to Dachau a few years back, was stuck there for four hours because I was part of a tour but really I wanted to leave after half an hour. Though I think it's important that such places are visited.

Rachel Fenton said...

All fascinating points.

McGuire said...

Important observations Shug. 'drawing a line' under history is a terrible mistake. You are right to highlight the plights that continue to exist. It's outrageous to focus solely on the holocaust and overlook every other genocidal trend.

I mean, Hitler didn't even massacre the highest number of people. I think that was Mao Zedong or Pol Pot or Stalin.

And then look at the horros today - Isael is killing Palestinians with its sophisticated armies. It begs the question (perhaps controversially) who hasn't learned from the past?

I hate the double standards. It is infuriating. Look at the War on Terror. That's a never ending war. And why is it when western powers start a war it's 'liberation' and when small nations attack each other it's terrorism? This hypocrisy is fatal.

It appears none of the powers that be have learned anything, lest we forget, in fact, I'm prone to believe the power elites actually revel in wars and power struggles and social engineering.

I hope you don't mind me sharing those thoughts. I studied politics and these are subjects that always play on my mind.

Great poem. Particular, the candle...harrowing.

shug said...

Titus- thank you. Have a good time with Douglas Dunn.

Rachel-I don't think I need to go again. The stuff to do with the kids is hardest to take.

shug said...

Hope:I wonder how much anyone really takes in, or wants to. I sometimes think taking things in properly would either lead to a lifetime as a human rights campaigner or madness. I'm certain the kids see it all as a part of history only remotely connected to their real lives. That's probably the only way to cope with the way the world is.

shug said...

Colin! Agree with you entirely.
Maybe we should all grow

"giant vegetables and fruits
learn whittling,
and sing at the top of (our) lungs"

Sounds good to me.
How are you by the way? You back?

the broken down barman said...

i think it is sad how things can get less real after a while. To me history has always been just like fiction only real. some times i lay awake at night and lament this. its hard....

mapstew said...

First time here. Wow!

Will be back tomrrow.