Saturday, September 25

Seen one, seen all

I was having coffee on a sunny morning in Prague, while at the next table two girls talked about what they had seen in and around the city. One commented that her friends had gone that day to see a concentration camp that was not far away, but that she had already gone to one and “seen one, seen all,” she told her partner, who nodded.

I do not judge them, among other things because no one should be judged by a few words, even less if they were obtained furtively, although listened without the need to listen. In the same way, we should not judge anyone for a tweet, although it is done every day, sometimes with very summary trials and sentences to life imprisonment and without the possibility of even review. But I can’t resist giving an opinion on what these words can mean.

The Nazis built more than 15,000 concentration camps during World War II. Nine out of ten of the more than 1,300,000 prisoners died in the Polish death camps at Auschwitz. Each of these prisoners was a person and not simply the number that was sewn onto their clothes or tattooed on their skin. Each person, one by one, was a life to respect and defend. Or perhaps, seen a prisoner, seen all?

A concentration camp is not buildings, barracks, crematoriums, fences, watchtowers, roads leading to them and streets running through them. They are not train tracks by which the convoys full of terror arrived and left full of silence. They are people who were unjustly imprisoned, who were tortured, who were subjected to inhuman treatment and experiments of unimaginable cruelty, even when it was described in detail in the diaries of those who carried them out. People who were finally murdered with the sole precaution of not staining their hands and retinas. Each one of those millions of people who passed through the thousands of concentration camps deserved the respect of the entire humanity. That is why we cannot say that I have seen a concentration camp, seen everyone. We can only think that if we are going to see iron, bricks or wood, but not tears. We can only think that if we are going to see and not feel.

Many Spaniards were sent to the Austrian camp of Mauthausen, partly fleeing the Civil War. More than seven thousand, according to the records. That is why it was called the “field of the Spaniards.” Our fratricidal war also left thousands and thousands of dead and the disappearances of the Franco regime far exceeded one hundred thousand. Even so, we are a country that has not investigated the crimes of the Franco dictatorship as it should. Despite the Law of Historical Memory, the graves of our war and its postwar period are still full of more anonymous people even because of our insensitivity than because of the land that covers them. Perhaps we think that by closing our eyes the guilt is atoned for or that there were even no guilty parties.

I would like our young people not to grow up thinking that they see one grave, they all see them. But for that they have to learn to feel and not just to see. And without memory there is no possible learning, including the memory of history. That is why I hope that the Democratic Memory Bill that the Government has just sent to the Cortes will go ahead. It may not be enough, but it is necessary.