Tuesday, 22 December 2009

A Sign of the Times

You may have heard on the news this week that the sign from the entrance to Auschwitz "Arbeit macht frei" translated as Work sets you free, was stolen although it has now been recovered. The initial reaction I had was of anger that an historic artifact had been stolen, instantly followed by a pause as to what the sign actually was. It was a cynical and evil lie that those entering the camp would be released through their own endeavours: instead they would simply be worked until dead. However despite the natural revulsion that the sign engenders, it is a tangible link with an abhorrent past that should be remembered for two reasons: firstly to remind us of the evil of Fascism and that it must not rise again, and secondly that it is a memorial to all those who died in the camp, and all the others the Nazis ran.
I've never been to one of the death camps, although I know people who have, including a padre who was at the liberation of one. I feel that I should go to one, not just as an historic site but to remember those who died there and why. The Holocaust is definitely a joint European heritage issue, one that we all need to bear in mind to so as to prevent it from happening again, although we have failed in that when we saw similar camps in the former Yugoslavia spring up for ethnic cleansing.
So I am glad the sign has been recovered and although a representation of pure evil, it should be reinstated for the reasons given above.
On a totally different note, I was in Uxbridge at the weekend, nominally to meet my brother and nephew from Paris and spending a mini-Christmas with my Aunt and family. However the snow and ice in Northern France crippled Eurostar and prevented the visit - our Christmas will have to be rescheduled! But it meant I had longer to talk to my aunt and discuss some of our family heritage and history. I know most of the history on my father's side of the family up until my Great Grandfather, especially as I met him. He died just before his 102nd Birthday when I was about five.
But I didn't know that one of my Welsh relatives in the mid 1800's had been awarded a bardic chair for his poetry at the local Eistedfordd. We have no idea where the chair is now, sadly. I also learned more about the French links we have, with my Great Grandfather on the French side being Harbour Master of Marseille. It is interesting how families seem to genetically migrate salmon like back to their roots. My brother has moved to live in France and while recently looking at houses myself I found that I was looking for properties in an area where my mother's family used to own a great deal of farmland, between Chepstow and Lydney.
Sometimes heritage catches up with you, but it is nice to know one's own roots to appreciate where we came from, and possibly why we ended up where we did. It is also the case that heritage doesn't have to be "good" to be important or necessary to our development, nor should we shy away from the reminders, and warnings, of the past. However, occasionally one comes across a gem of personal history, such as my relative's bardic chair. I suppose I'd better start writing poetry.
"There was a young lady from Stoke....."

Tim Davies


Heritage to Entertain, Educate & Inspire

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