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Faith & ethics

Auschwitz Birkenau
Auschwitz Birkenau

Man's inhumanity to man

By Tim Daley
BBC Radio Leeds' Tim Daley went on a commemorative trip Auschwitz. Read his thoughts on the camp.


Tim Went to Auschwitz with Leeds holocaust survivor Arek Hersh and school children from Woodhouse Grove School in Leeds and other schools from Liverpool.

The trip was organised by the Sefton Holocaust Memorial Project and UNISON on Merseyside to educate youngsters about the holocaust.

Auschwitz isn't necessarily a place you'd choose to visit, but perhaps it's a place everyone should be made to see.

If ever you need to put your life and general good fortune into perspective, this is the place that will do it because the old cliché about man's inhumanity to man doesn't even begin to cover this episode in the history of human beings.

Auschwitz is a complex essentially divided into two camps; one was a work camp where life was exceedingly cheap, while the other was simply a death factory where the people earmarked for extermination could be facing their final moments alive an hour after getting off the trains.

In some ways the original Auschwitz camp – a former army barracks - hits you harder than the death factory, but that's simply because of what's on show there. This is the place where the tons of human hair are on display, along with some of the blankets those locks of hair were woven into.

Paying respect to the victims of Auschwitz
Paying respect to the victims

Piles of glasses, shoes, suitcases, toothbrushes, pots and pans and childrens' clothes are there to see behind glass screens with each representing a life. And these are just a fraction of the items the Nazis took from the Jews, these are the things they couldn't ship back to Germany before the Russians arrived 60 years ago this month.

So if Auschwitz Birkenau is the death factory and scene of the crematoria and gas chambers, Auschwitz 1 has a strange affect on you and it's one you don't expect. There is a place called the 'death wall' where the Nazis padded a wall at the end of a courtyard with cork to stop the bullets they were firing into people ricocheting and hitting their soldiers.

That gives you an idea of the systematic planning that went into the extermination of the Jews; everything is laid out in perfect order with precision planning and a purpose.

Aushcwitz 1 also gives you an inkling on the horrors to come, because this is the site of a smaller gas chamber and crematorium and it's one of the few which survived the German cover-up operation towards the end of the war as the retreating Nazis tried to conceal their crimes by destroying the evidence.

Incredibly, the camp commandant's house is just a matter of yards away from the chamber – he lived there with his wife and children..

The second camp with its infamous gate-house, railway tracks and watch tower is a different place, it's far bleaker and far more basic than its older sister. Arriving there takes you by surprise; one minute you're on a country road in Poland and then on the horizon you see that red brick structure which has been called the mouth of hell.

Again, Auschwitz Birkenau is planned perfectly, its buildings are all laid out symmetrically giving an impression that every last detail of the killing and dehumanisation process was planned carefully.

Leeds holocaust survivor Arek Hersh
Leeds holocaust survivor Arek Hersh

Up to 10,000 people a day could be killed and disposed of there but there are few reminders of them compared with Auschwitz One. Perhaps that's why it's so quiet; you do see the odd bird, but the only sound you hear is people's footsteps on boggy land or gravel which is really covered in the ashes of all the victims. You're walking on the victims all the time at Birkenau.

There are too many feelings, thoughts and insights to mention in a small article like this, but all I can say is Auschwitz left me feeling confused. I can understand why the Nazis did what they did; after all they were racist fanatics and you can't reason with fanatics.

What I still can't fathom out is how they did it. How killing, beating and abusing people for seemingly no reason other than their religion was okay, normal, acceptable or in some cases fun.

What made someone take that initial step down the road towards barbarity? I expect that once you've killed one person it becomes easier, but normal?

The survivors just say "it's simple, they hated us".

Find out more

Use the link at the top right of this page to listen to Tim Daley's visit to Auschwitz. Tim's pictures can be seen in the image gallery.

You can also hear Amy Wilson from Woodhouse Grove School interview Leeds holocaust survivor Arek Hersh.

last updated: 15/03/06
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i live in Poland. it was very horrible place. Each people all over the world should see Oswiecim.

I can't concieve how leaving Auschwitz standing, even now SPENDING MONEY refurbishing it, is a fitting memorial to those who suffered or indeed the side of good - learning not to do something so evil again surely has to start by destroying everything it stood for and spend the money on helping other minorities in the world who are facing genocide today. Weren't people accused of doing nothing then?

Jon Golding
Simple. It Can NEVER happen again.

c a yates
It's a place people should see, a place to reflect what went on. It's a place you dont hear the birds sing - I defy anyone not to shed a tear and it just beggars belief. I send my best wishes to Arek - it MUST NEVER happen again

I think what happened was horrible and I feel very sorry about what happened. I hope that those that did die are now in a better place, and those that did it, are where they belong.

It is hard to imagine how Hitler could have been driven toward hatred and death just because the people were of Jewish heritage. Now they have groups of people who deny the truth---that it happened... there are generations of people/families that have been wiped out for all time. We need to make sure this never happens again and that we respect the humans and what they stand for.

It was awful to see our people suffer and also this had learn us how it feels to see people being killed for no reason. What about PALESTINE the people there are suffering and its like a holocaust and im shamed to see our own people are doing this, dont they understand what happened to us in 1930s. Us jews should have peace and morales as it says in the TORAH. All this for the sake of a small state.

Joe W
The visit to Birkenau did not come as a shock to me. It came as clarification to me that WE are all able to be in-humane to man... but it is the best reminder. All must reflect

I have just returned from a visit to Auschwitz. It was gut-wrenching to see the horrific systematic recycling of human beings by the Nazis. This was something that many sadistic people took part in and took pleasure in other people's suffering. Those who deny it happened should visit Auschwitz - we need to remember to prevent it ever happening again.

Bob Taylor
Please remember the other victims as well as the Jews. Gypsies, Russians, Poles, homosexuals and mentally and physically handicapped people were also killed in their millions in the death camps.

I met Arek Hersh in July 1999 when he came into my school to talk about what he endured during the holocaust. It was whilst he was there that I bought his book 'A Detail Of History' which he kindly signed. It is an amazing book which moved me greatly, several members of my family both old and young have also read it and were equally moved by its frank and detailed accounts. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about this Devastating time.

Sheila Robinson
My daughter is a pupil at Woodhouse Grove School which Arek visited recently. She was so moved by his story that she bought me his book so that I could share it as well. A remarkable story and a remarkable man. May we all learn something from it.

i send all my love to those who have suffered during the holocaust. i pray that something like that never a happens again.

i would like to go to Birkenau for one reason and that is to pay my respects to the millions that suffered - 6 million Jewish people died and to think someone would go to this length is absolutely horrendous. Arek Hersh deserves a medal for surviving this long. I can't imagine what he went through - hopefully this will never happen again

Claudia R
I have never been in any of those places but I cannot understand man's inhumanity to man. It is sickening.

arek hersh is an amazing man, i went on a trip to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau with Unison. we also went around Krakow.i went on this trip in 04, and it has changed my life. no one should forget this period in history. i even went campaigning against the BNP. is still keep in touch with Arek Hersh. he is the nicest man i have ever met, and i will never forget him. this whole eperience has changed me for the good,and i am going to go back. we are the people now that has to tell people waht happened, Arek has told us,we now have to tell the rest. i talked to year 8 classes in my highschool. it was horrific but it was one of the best times of my life, and i have made dome great friends.

i was at auschwitz 3 days ago. cant stop thinking about it!!!!!

Adina S
My grandparents a Holocaust survivors and learning about what happened to them is such an important part of my education. Thank you for making it possible for me and others to learn about the Holocaust so we can help never letting it happen again.

Johnny D
I went to Auschwitz in summer 2005 and words cannot begin to explain what happened there during the 40's. The visual reminders like the confiscated possesions on display give us an indication of what went on there. That is just the icing on the cake. I have read many survivors books and there is much pain within those pages. It's hard to think that around 60 years ago the Nazi's tried their best to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe. It wasn't till I arrived at Auschwitz Berkanau that the true impact of the German's killing machine hit me. Millions of innocent people lost their lives there. Let's hope we dont see another attrocity like this in our lifetime or ever again...

Tasha H
I need this for my citizenship homework and it is quite help ful :L

lauren s
great used it for my english homework

we are working on a project for social studies, thanks for the help.

I met Arek Hersh today in school, and I just couldn't believe the horror that he went through. He is a truly amazing man. It was a once in a life time experience and I am so glad I have heard from him. Its changed me life!

I went on the trip (sefton holocaust memorial project)that Tim went on with Arek on the 15th oct 05. my life has changed and i am doing all i can to make sure that history will not repeat.

Ive never been to Europe either but I find this crime upon humanity so abhorrent that every time I think about it I want to vomit.

I'm a Chinese, never been to Europe, but what happened in Auschwitz and other death camps in Europe has always make me ashamed to be a human being.

I have been to Auschwitz and as a Gulf War veteran I thought that i had seen it all. How I was wrong, Auschwitz is a place were the devil played out his wrath on fellow man. We must not forget that it was not only people of the jewish faith died there, but Russians, Poles, political prisoners, homosexuals, disabled people and any one else that the brutal nazi movement did not like. We must never forget and we must educate all people of this fact so it does not happen again. Dj Queensland Australia - aged 38.

Everything I have ever seen or heard on the atrocity leaves me saddened. To think that one person pursuaded an entire population to torture innocent men, women and children is without a doubt insane. I hope this could never be forgotten it will be the only thing to keep us sane in future events. It should remind us of a world that was sick and we all should pray to love one another from this day forth. We have one world and we are all people that share this space why not do this in love. Pain and suffering is still and now, who will be the first to stop it. Who will love the other for who they are and because we are all related. We are all of God and there is no difference in the air we breath.

yesterday, i visited beth shelam. it is a very beautiful place. in the afternoon we had a talk from arek hersh. and i was very moved by his story. i found out that there was more to the holocourse (sory about the speeling) then i thought. this man saw things that a young child should never see, and to sit and listen to a first hand acount of the pain and suffering that went on the camps is very disturbing. i realise now that my life could never be as bad as what the jewish people had.

i have a strong feel to pay respect to the dead Jewish people and their families. This horrible era of history is a true reminder of 'man's inhumanity to man' . unfortunately, pain and suffering is found among all peoples, all nations, all religions, and all races, and we need to do something to stop it.

i would love to go and visit auschwitz, i think that it would be a fantastic experience it would be so educational, i have recently just started studying the holocaust and i believe that it should be more recognised rather than forgotten i really enjoy learning about the holocaust and am glad that i have been given the opportunity to actually learn about what happened to all of those innocent people. It makes me so sad how so many innocent souls were killed and i didnt find out up until now its a shame that in this modern day and age it has basically been forgotten we should be letting our kids know about it no matter how graphic and horrific this event has been. so all that is left to do is REMEMBER and never forget as history has painted this horrific event with colours that will never fade, keep the story alive as its things like this that really make you think just how lucky you really are to have your loved ones and just simply to be living im only 17 and the holocaust story has deffinatly made me look at alot of things alot more differently. thanks for your time sally

i met arek the other week in school and the way he can actually talk about his experience in the holocaust at such a young age!

i met Arek hersh today and i admire him i agree and hope that the world will cahnge.

People today forget the relevance of the past and just focus on the moment of devastation or the moment they are in,they forget that the past is warning to everyone; only if we are strong can we prevent something like this happening again.And we have failed...take sudan rwanda maybe even congo. The scar of the Holocaust will remain until the end of time. As Auschwitz-Birkenau still stands and after all you cannot undo what has already been done.

Alex Lazar (a jew)
Loads of my family got killed and, if lived, suffered from the holocaust. It was a terrible experience for all jews but it sure taught us a lesson.

Wow, i've seen alot of movies and heard alot of stories about these sad stories and its really sad to hear what such a chaos like this can bring. I hope some time in my life i can take the time to go to Auschwitz and see all this for my self. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and taking the to tell us about this camp. I will be happy to use this information in my holacost essay im doing at school. : )

I met Arek Hersh in the end of August 2004 in Lodz, Poland. My family and me neve forget that day. Somethig very important was happen in our life... What a pity, my English knowledge is poor. would like to say much more... With regards - Jolanta

i think the holocaust was a bad thing to do to the people who went there

Stan Robinson
Tim Daley says he cannot fathom out why it was acceptable, the answer is that Hitler hated all Jews, all coloured people, and all those who were mentally affected. Most Germans were doctrined, willingly or through the system, to feel the same, at the time. Sounds very brutal to us,but the Nazi's never repented

geraldine o'connor
i may be 12 but i think what the Nazi's did to the Jews was disgraceful. i think that just bacause jews were doing well for themselevs dosent mean that they have to go and start a war. auschwitz is part of a dredful past and i don't think children know the hurt and feelings of themm people they don't relize how people would have felt and what they would do

jessica herritty
i think that people especially young people should try and understand the events that took place there because it might help prevent something so terrible happening again!

Michael Rollo
I think it sad that our educational systems have failed to adequately cover such atrocities in history. It's absolutely inconceivable that there should be anyone alive who claims to be unaware of these murderous acts along with parallel ones, say, at the Killing Fields in Cambodia, or, in far more recent times the 3000 murders committed daily by the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Auschwitz is part of a dreadful past that young people like myself don't think about. However, unlike those children I am one of the few who had no sheild into knowing the dreadful truth. However a intellegent comment from a man named Otto Frank read,"We cannot change the past, what we must do is learn from it, and learn how it has affected peoples lives to ensure it never happens again." I hope he is correct, and as a society we fight to prevent the worst from happening.

I am living in Poland and when I hear that someone i saying that it was polish camp for Jewish people it made me mad...For last few days I was hearing that in every information service in other countries... That camps because it wasn't only one camp as you know, were made by Hitler.

I think Auschwitz is a very nasty place to go to. I think, when people have time, and can afford to go, they should go, and think about the Jews that died.

Jeff Zhou
The Nazis should be defeated

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