My first visit to Auschwitz was in 1976. It was then under (Russian) Communist control. In my early twenties, my understanding of the events of World War 2 were largely shaped by William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. On that occasion, the propaganda about Russia's role in liberating Poland and Europe from Nazi domination was very obvious. The Allies it seems had played little part in the defeat of Hitler.
Returning last weekend, 35 years later, it was still just as sobering to visit the two death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau as it had been the first time. As I walked the wire, it was sobering to reflect on how a democratic European country had so easily tolerated, aquiesced and then endorsed the ethnic cleansing of Jewish people, Gypsies and dissidents on such a vast scale.
This time, a Polish perspective and the role Europeans and American's played in helping to defeat Fascism was more evident. Russia's complicity in its alliance with Nazi Germany was faithfully recorded. Have we learnt the lessons of history? I think not.
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