Arbeit Macht (Nicht) Frei

As you all know, today – the 27th January – is the Holocaust Memorial Day.

“Countless men, women and children suffered the horrors of the ghettos and Nazi death camps, yet somehow survived. All of them carry a crucial message for all of us.  A message about the triumph of the human spirit.  A living testament that tyranny, though it may rise, will surely not prevail”. (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 27 January 2010)

The 27th January – the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp – was designated  in the “Holocaust Remembrance” United Nations Resolution 60/7 – as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust. This occasion is observed with ceremonies and activities at United Nations Headquarters in New York and at UN offices around the world. Every country around the world holds specific events dedicated to this occasion.

I don’t actually like using the term ‘Holocaust‘, in fact a lot of controversy has been raised regarding the use of a term meaning “sacrifice” as if the killing of millions of people had a ‘higher’ purpose or justification. This is why the preferred term is the Hebrew one ‘Shoah’ meaning catastrophe, disaster and destruction.

I would like to remember this day, by posting the famous poem ‘If this is a man’ (Se questo è un uomo) by Primo Levi, which was written by the well-known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp to convey the feeling of degradation and inhumanisation experienced by the people kept in the Nazi extermination camps.

Voi che vivete sicuri / You who live safe
Nelle vostre tiepide case / In your warm houses,
voi che trovate tornando a sera / You who find warm food
Il cibo caldo e visi amici / And friendly faces when you return home.

Considerate se questo è un uomo / Consider if this is a man
Che lavora nel fango / Who works in mud,
Che non conosce pace / Who knows no peace,
Che lotta per mezzo pane / Who fights for a crust of bread,
Che muore per un sì o per un no. / Who dies by a yes or a no.

Considerate se questa è una donna / Consider if this is a woman
Senza capelli e senza nome / Without hair, without name,
Senza più forza di ricordare / Without the strength to remember,
Vuoti gli occhi e freddo il grembo / Vacant eyes, cold womb,
Come una rana d’inverno. / Like a frog in winter.

Meditate che questo è stato / Realise that this has happened.

Vi comando queste parole. / Remember these words.

Scolpitele nel vostro cuore / Engrave them in your hearts,
Stando in casa andando per via / When at home or in the street,
Coricandovi alzandovi / When lying down, when getting up.

Ripetetele ai vostri figli./ Repeat them to your children.

O vi si sfaccia la casa / Or may your houses be destroyed,
La malattia vi impedisca / Illness bar your way,
I vostri nati torcano il viso da voi / Your offspring turn away from you.

This poem, which is of extraordinary strength, focussed on the humiliation of the camps that sought not only to destroy people physically, but also – and especially – emotionally. People there were not to be people anymore. The key aim of the Nazis was to make these prisoners forget they were humans too, and, as such, had natural rights.

I wrote about this poem once before in my blog, when I was talking about racism against immigrants. You can read about that topic, here: This is Not a Man.

A year ago, I wrote a few lines about the 27th January, The Meaning of Life.

Today, people have lived like usual and people have been at work.

Yet, today, we need to stop and think…we need to remember what has been and why.
This has been and it could be again.

Please take a few minutes today to think, remember and understand that what happened can happen again. We are never to consider ourselves safe enough from humans’ folly.