Auschwitz. In popular culture the term has become an archetypal symbol, a metaphor for ultimate evil. So mind-bending were the actions undertaken at this, the largest mass murder factory in human history, that Auschwitz has become ground zero on the moral landscape.
It was only last week that we for the first time visited Auschwitz. On three different mornings I arrived before dawn to film and photograph in and around what has become the very symbol of Europe’s determination to purge itself of Jews.
And yet, while our visit to Auschwitz was deeply disturbing, it has not been the most impactful aspect of our visit to Europe. Rather, it has been the overwhelming impression that much of Europe has not, and probably will not, take responsibility for the Holocaust. While the Nazis were the drivers, their work would not have been so devastatingly successful but for the active (or passive) cooperation of vast numbers of ordinary Europeans. There seems little acknowledgement of that reality. Instead there are too many cases of active denial and, increasingly, an aggressive rewriting of national histories.
So, what is Europe to do with its ancient hatred now that most of its Jews have been murdered or have since departed?