It was an unsettling and disturbing experience, beyond being brought up against the horrors that had taken place there. For I found myself surrounded by coach parties of Japanese and other tourists eagerly photographing the camp sights — and even posing for snaps in front of the exhibits.She's got a point, there is something troubling about how it's become some kind of a lighthearted tourist exhibition, which is a most inappropriate way to teach about a horrifying subject.
I thought about this queasy-making ‘Holocaust tourism’ when I read about last week’s visit to Auschwitz by seven members of the England football squad, ahead of their first match today in the Euro 2012 football championships being held jointly in Poland and Ukraine.
Of course, the fact that Poland was the epicentre of the industrialised Nazi killing machine, and had virtually its entire population of three million Polish Jews exterminated — not to mention the bestial part played by the Ukrainians in the Nazi genocide — is impossible to forget. [...]
When the Dutch, German and Italian teams similarly piled into the Auschwitz trip, it seemed to be turning into a competition to show who was most caring and empathetic.
This is not to belittle the undoubted revulsion of the players, who reacted as any decent person would when confronted with the evidence of such unique evil.
Indeed, there were fears the trip might rebound, with the players unable to shake off their shock and horror at the images now imprinted on their minds.
Nevertheless, it is distasteful to turn Auschwitz of all places into this kind of media circus.
And just as disturbing is the racist quagmire the soccer world in Europe's become:
What makes it even worse is that this trip, with its symbolic message that never again will Europeans descend to such barbaric racism, occurred in the same week that black players in the Holland squad were being subjected to monkey chants during a training session in Krakow, while the black Czech defender, Theodor Gebre Selassie, was abused during his side’s opening game with Russia in Wroclaw.There was once a time when soccer tournaments were a great place to visit and just relax while watching the action on the field. Thanks to the astounding failure of politicians in eastern Europe to write up a sensible education system, for example, it's now become this anti-semitic and racist horrorfest that's clearly a most unpleasant place to see even on television.
In eastern Europe today, such racism is a fact of life. Anti-Jewish chanting is not uncommon at matches in Poland. Neo-Nazi salutes and stylised swastikas are used by Polish and Ukrainian gangs.
Supporters of the Polish team Hutnik Warszawa have placed stickers in public places showing fans dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits holding the club flag and standing around a tree with an image of a black man hanging on it.
Ukraine, in whose second city Donetsk England today play France, is even more thuggish. A BBC1 Panorama programme recently showed Ukrainian supporters in Kharkiv beating up Asian fans and giving Nazi salutes.
Even the Foreign Office website now warns British football fans of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent, or members of religious minorities, to take extra care if they attend the Euro 2012 matches.
Yet the football authorities have taken no effective action to end these abuses.
On the contrary, after Manchester City’s Italy striker, Mario Balotelli, said that if he is racially abused he will walk off the pitch, Michel Platini, the man in charge of Uefa, replied that any player would be punished if he did so.
Threatening to punish the victims of racial abuse while taking no steps to end it is nothing short of disgraceful.
And this egregious failure by the football authorities to protect black players from racist abuse makes it beyond ironic that these squads are visiting Auschwitz.
Such continuing racism at the geographical heart of the Holocaust, I’m afraid, also exposes the fact that, for all the exhibitions and memorials Europe has erected to the memory of the Nazis’ victims, it has still not properly come to terms with what took place.Sometimes I can't help but wonder if even Israel has some responsibility to shoulder for not demanding - specifically - that European countries plagued with this kind of abominable mentality do something to improve their education system.
Poland, indeed, has rewritten history by casting itself as a principal victim of the Nazis along with the Jews, and denies any complicity in their extermination.
Yet, although it is a fact that Poland was invaded by the Nazis, who imprisoned and killed many of its citizens, other Poles savagely assisted in atrocities against the Jews — and continued massacring them even after the end of the war.
More broadly, I would argue that Holocaust education has signally failed to prevent widespread anti-semitism in Europe — not least because of several countries’ continuing state of denial about their past complicity in such crimes.
Even Britain themselves have some blame to shoulder here, that they don't take responsibility for their silent partner role in the Holocaust, by barring entry of Jews to Israel when they occupied this country. And to some extent, Israel's politicians are at fault for not making it clear to those European countries with skeletons in their closets that they have to admit what roles they had in nazi collaboration and take responsibility where it's due. Our diplomatic relations are not as important as seeking justice by getting European countries to start clearly acknowledging what sins they have to their record.
With Islamofascism running rampant in Europe today, one can wonder if they'll survive it. But with the kind of racist mentality plaguing some Europeans themselves, it's enough to wonder if they even deserve to.