Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Reflections from Auschwitz-Birkenau

Conservative Home - January 28th 2010

I'm just back from my first trip to the concentration/extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which I visited to commemorate the 65th anniversary of its liberation by the Allies.

It was a grim and solemn occasion in the bitter cold of -18C of the Polish winter which made me wonder how people so famished and underclothed could ever have survived this horrific place. But I met two survivors, who accompanied our visit, and I was moved by their sheer moral courage and determination to make something of their lives even after such a terrible experience. This restored some of my faith in humanity, having earlier seen at first hand the horrors of what humans can do to each other in certain conditions.

But what really upset me was seeing a photo of a family "resting" before being sent en masse to the gas chambers shortly after it was taken. The little girl in the photo was the same age as my two precious daughters and reminded me strongly of them. I cannot begin to conceive how anyone could carry out such a chilling crime on an innocent child.

The oft-repeated phrase "whoever forgets the past is condemned to repeat it" sprang to mind as I walked around the camps. But of course the world has not necessarily learned the lessons of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It's extraordinary that in our current timeframe enormous barbarities albeit not on the scale of the Holocaust still occur from the genocide of Darfur, Cambodia and Bosnia to the insanity of Rwanda.

Yet impunity still prevails for those criminals behind these atrocities and in the same way that in the past the vast bulk of those Nazis and collaborators who executed the Holocaust got away unpunished. Most of these war criminals are now dead although some may still be alive but very old. That does not justify allowing them to live out their days in freedom. There are many people in this world even today who go unpunished for what they have done both in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity since and this is something the world must address for the future.