In this modern age we are constantly bombarded with symbols to the extent that we ignore most of them or at best only register them subliminally. But there are a few, a very select few, which comply with the requirement that a truly striking symbol should be 'seen once but never forgotten'. What makes a symbol unforgettable will vary, perhaps its incredible beauty, its striking aptness or, in this example below, it's ironic horror.
Today is the 70th annniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. If the infamous gates with their despicable motto are not symbolic enough then the very name - Auschwitz - is enough drop the emotional temperature in any setting. It freezes speech and thought. The term 'there are no words' becomes almost literally true. But of course there are words and there are thoughts and it is necessary to force oneself to think and say and write them. Perhaps the first thing is to remind ourselves that Auschwitz and the entire Nazi programme was a mere ripple in the huge ocean of Man's inhumanity to man. The history of Stalin and Mao shows that Hitler was a dilettante when it came to the grim business of mass murder. But then, symbols rarely do show historical exactitude, at their best they go to a deeper truth.
The name of Auschwitz and the visual symbol of the gate should give us pause. If they do then don't fight it. Take the pause, use it, if only for a few minutes, and ponder on the hows and whys and wherefores, not of Man's inhumanity to Man, that's too abstract, but instead concentrate on how individual men and women, like some of the people in our offices, living on our streets, drinking in our pubs, can be capable of ushering men, women and children into gas chambers?
Yeah, well, you're right, you can't think about it for too long. The mind or the imagination simply slams shut in a reflexive response. Still, on today's 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, at least give it a passing thought.