Letter: Get to Auschwitz on your own

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The Independent Online
SAM WESTMACOTT'S account of his visit to Auschwitz (Travel, 2 August) had a depressingly familiar ring and shows there is still a long way to go in resolving the question of the camp's status as exhibit and memorial.

Visiting six summers ago I looked on aghast as transports of foreigners were herded through with breakneck efficiency by authoritarian guides with barely a moment to draw breath, let alone organise a meaningful thought. I was left contemplating both the ghastly irony of that spectacle and the inadequacy of such official tours in helping people take on board realities they would sooner shirk - a conclusion confirmed by the sight of same tourists gaily posing for holiday snaps beneath watchtowers.

Clearly the passing of the ideological imperative provided by Communism has not prompted the museum authorities to alter their portrayal of Auschwitz primarily as a place of Polish anti-fascist martyrdom rather than the ground-zero of the Nazis' Final Solution. True, Auschwitz I, the location of the museum, was a concentration camp for enemies of the Reich in general, but it was nearby Birkenau and its four gas chamber/crematorium complexes that gave the place its infamy as a place of uniquely Jewish suffering. With first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust fast disappearing, confusion in the way the supposed guardians of the past present it can only encourage those who without more concerted opposition will succeed in eroding truth and memory.

None of this aims to discourage would-be visitors - quite the contrary - but they should make the trip under their own steam to ensure it is rewarding.

Jan Dekker

Ely, Cambridgeshire