The patriot game

“The great industries  and the skilled workmen who should have been our national pride are today …. submerged in poverty and despair. It will be our job… to enlist them in fighting the battle of the whole British people. Real patriotism: care and respect for every fellow citizen…a nation of Britons fighting for Britain. This is the hope… ”

That was Paul Nuttall, the newly crowned leader of UKIP. Well, OK, it wasn’t actually Nuttall, but it may as well have been. In truth it was John Beckett, a senior figure in Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, writing on 13 March 1936. He was introducing a significant change in their party’s orientation.

From its inception in January 1933, the Fascists’ weekly newspaper, Blackshirt, had carried a motto underneath its masthead: “Britain First”, which emphasised its cross-class, aggressively nationalist appeal. The following week’s newspaper, Beckett announced, would be larger –  and it would be “a paper for the masses.” He didn’t mention changing the motto but, from the next issue, the “Britain First” motto was ditched for one that illustrated much more clearly which section of the population they were particularly targeting and claiming to represent. The new motto was: “The Patriotic Workers’ Paper”. Over the next weeks and months the fascists were growing again – especially in depressed working class areas such as London’s East End and parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

UKIP never worried me too much under the leadership of Nigel Farage. He was an “ex-banker” who had made a fortune in the City, while hypocritically claiming to be “anti-establishment”, pretending to stand up for the “little man” against government bureaucracies and faceless corporate interests, dominating their lives. His anti-Europe nationalism could attract a certain kind of protest vote, – and UKIP amassed almost 4 million votes in the last General Election – but mostly  in safe Tory seats. If they were a threat to anyone in it was mainly more wishy-washy Tories. And while they certainly attracted an element with former membership of fascist organisations, they also shared with Britain’s far right an unerring tendency towards internally destructive factional fights. UKIP’s economic policies under Farage were so ultra-Thatcherite that their capacity for intervening and gaining lasting support in working class communities seemed limited.

But now it is all change. Their new leader, Nuttall, grew up in the working class district of Bootle, in Liverpool, with none of Farage’s advantages. Nuttall went to a state school, and his accent is the very opposite of posh and privileged.  As someone who has emerged from a family and community that has genuinely known poverty, he can speak to people in the same boat and can tap into a culture of scapegoating others for that poverty much more convincingly. That is dangerous for Labour and it is dangerous for minorities.

Nuttall made it crystal clear in his remarks on the day he was elected that UKIP under his leadership would be the party of “patriotic workers” and that Labour was in its sights as the enemy it plans to oust. On the day he was elected, Nuttall said: “…the Labour Party has ceased to speak the language or address the issues of working people. I want to replace the Labour Party. They have a leader who will not sing the national anthem, a shadow chancellor who seems to admire the IRA more than he does the British Army, a shadow foreign secretary who sneers at the English flag and a shadow home secretary who seems to advocate unlimited immigration.” The day before his election was confirmed, Nuttall  told his acquaintances on Breitbart Radio  that “Islamic fundamentalism” was a “greater threat than Nazi Germany ever was to the globe”.

If we can go by this and the tenor of his previously stated positions, we can expect Nuttall  to ratchet up racism against Muslims, to cast migrant workers and refugees as a “threat” to “indigenous workers”, and to rail against “elites”, whether it be the “Metropolitan elite” in London, or the “global elites” that his Breitbart friends use as code for “rich Jews”. And we can expect him to strengthen demands to bring back capital punishment and oppose abortion, especially among  working class voters.

With the BNP and other far right groups an electoral irrelevancy now, on that kind of programme we can expect UKIP to sweep up the 560,000 + votes that the BNP amassed in 2010 when it had been capable of a more serious political intervention.

Despite UKIP’s internal divisions and weaknesses, there are 44 Labour seats where UKIP stands in second place. And that leaves Labour and the anti-racist and anti-fascist movements with a serious challenge. Unfortunately the initial responses to the new situation were lacking. Labour spokesperson Jon Trickett homed in on Nuttall’s earlier statements expressing his desire to privatise the NHS. Trickett confirmed Labour’s total commitment to defend the NHS. “It is clear that we cannot trust UKIP and Paul Nuttall with the NHS. A vote for them is a vote against the health service as we know it.”  Good as far as it went, but why did he not add “…a health service in which immigrants have always played a pivotal role and will continue to do so for the benefit of everyone in multicultural Britain.” Just as we need the anti-austerity movement to be shot through with explicit anti-racism, we also need anti-racist movements to bind their critique of racism with anti-austerity politics.

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have both made several statements in recent weeks expressing their absolute commitment against racism and their concern to defend minority migrant communities. We need to hear that from many other Labour members beyond the circle of Left MPs. What we don’t need  are Stephen Kinnock’s remarks: “In Labour, we are patriots.” The right and far right will always play the patriot game better.
This week the stakes got a little higher.


The New Model Nazis

“It is clear from your internet and other researches that your inspiration is… an admiration for Nazism, and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds where democracy and political persuasion are supplanted by violence towards and intimidation of opponents and those who, in whatever ways, are thought to be different, and for that reason, open to persecution. Our parents’ generation made huge sacrifices to defeat those ideas and values in the Second World War. What you did, and your admiration for those views which informed your crime betrays the sacrifices of that generation.”
Many praise Justice Wilkie’s verdict but are angry that Thomas Mair was not charged under counter-terror laws, that he has not been described as a terrorist. They point out the obvious double standards in respect of individual Muslims who have taken lives in acts inspired by their adherence to a fanatical ideology. No, he wasn’t charged under terror legislation but the Crown Prosecution Service statement said: “…his pre-meditated crimes were nothing less than acts of terrorism designed to advance his twisted ideology.”
Although a trial under counter-terrorism may have involved more exploration of the motives involved, the judge made a very clear statement of the conclusions he came to about the political and ideological motivation that was present in this case, and used that to bolster his case for the sentence he passed.
I’m probably going to say something heretical here, but while we must continue to call for completely equal treatment of perpetrators of crimes, and for completely equal respect for the victims by the police, courts and media, the battle over language may not be the most important one, and maybe we need to start to liberate ourselves from it.
The language of “terrrorist” or “extremist” is, after all, their language not ours. And one word that seemed to be ours – “radical” – often expressed “Prevent” style, by politicians and media, as “radicalised” or “radicalisation” has been twisted and given a very different meaning. In the age of “Prevent”, more and more actions including many legitimate political actions will get labelled as extreme or terrorist-inspired. We need to make it harder, not easier for our opponents to maintain that control over language and control over progressive radical movements.

Another controversial area. We will resist being told that he was a “loner” or a “lone wolf” and will want to show that he was closely connected with fascist organisations, who are responsible. That is half right and half wrong. “Lone Wolf” and “organised fascist” are not mutually exclusive categories in 2016. The Far Right was once organised into tightly controlled, centralist organisations, and para-military movements with cells that operate collectively. To some extent the cell model still operates, but the overall  model has  changed significantly, and we need to catch up.

What we face now is perhaps more dangerous – a very decentralised fascist segment of society split into myriad groupuscules, which draw on and spread similar poisonous ideas and materials, but without much coordination. They inspire rather than command. The new model encourages more “lone wolf” activity – ie activity that seems to be by one lone person. Our task is to make that transparent, not to counterpose lone wolf (mad and bad) and chain of command (organised conspiracy). What we face is a deliberately disorganised conspiracy and that, in many ways, is harder to guard against and to combat.
One further thought about this case. Many anti-racists and anti-fascists, still operate as if, ideologically, fascist groups can only focus on one enemy at a time. It encourages arguments and slogans that say they used to be against  X but now they are against Y. We underestimate the versatility of racism at our peril. Fascists today accumulate rather than replace enemies. They can attack several enemies at once, and switch main enemies quickly. They also know their history. Mair shouted “Britain First” – the name of a recent splinter group from the BNP but also the logo published under the masthead of Oswald Mosley’s newspaper in the 1930s.

A look at Thomas Mair’s bookshelves, including his neatly-organised collections of National Vanguard journals, and his eagle memorabilia, suggests that classic Nazism/antisemitism were absolutely part of his mindset inspiring the action he took this year against an individual less know for statements opposing fascism than for supporting multiculturalism, migrants and refugees.


Political earthquake in America: Tremors in London

My talk as part of a panel at a public meeting of Walthamstow Stand Up To Racism on 19th November  2016


I’m very glad to be here today in Walthamstow, even if what brings us together are the troubled times we are living through.

It all felt more positive six weeks ago when anti-racists and anti-fascists from all over London and beyond, were marching through the East End to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street – the day when Jews and non-Jews in the East End refused to scapegoat their neighbours who were suffering from the same poverty, bad housing low pay,  unemployment and troubles as they were. On October 4th 1936, they took to the streets in huge numbers to implement the only  principled “Prevent” strategy. They physically prevented thousands of members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from invading the area. The unity, diversity and the spirit of solidarity that marked our commemorative event mirrored the unity, diversity and solidarity so present on that day in 1936. We wanted to show through our event that Cable Street was a living history of struggle and resistance to fascism, antisemitism and all forms of racism

We were remembering not only the 1930s. Before we marched we assembled and had speeches in Altab Ali Park. Normally you have to be royalty, aristocracy or a saint to have a park named after you. Altab Ali was an immigrant Bengali clothing worker who had arrived as a teenager in the East End in 1969. On 4th May 1978 he was walking home from work when he was set upon by three young men – two seventeen-year-olds and a 16-year-old – who stabbed him to death in what they admitted was a racially motivated attack.

What we did not know back in October is that just a few weeks later, people either side of the Atlantic Ocean would be discussing the 1930s, recalling the rise of populist racist demagogues, who combined vicious scapegoating rhetoric against minorities  with a fake anti-elitism to win people across classes in their quest for power.

The recent political earthquake in the last two weeks in America has made the 1930s feel all too recent. Its tremors are felt in continental Europe, and also right here in London.

Trump’s victorious campaign used racism, anti-migrant rhetoric, misogyny and blatant antisemitism – especially in its social media propaganda. One meme he shared about Hilary Clinton showed her face against a background of dollar bills, and a sign saying “most corrupt politician” inside a shape. The shape was a six-pointed Jewish star (after an outcry the shape was later amended to a circle).

The final ad of Trump’s campaign pushed the message of fighting “global elites”. It focused on three very wealthy individuals who all happened to be Jewish. An old antisemitic story.

And here I am reminded of a Cable Street veteran I knew, Charlie Goodman, who told me that Mosley’s fascists would shout about rich Jews in Park Lane then come and attack the Jews in Brick Lane.

Just a few days ago, in  Hackney, antisemites daubed swastikas on vehicles parked outside a Jewish school. The latest in a series of attacks in recent months in the heart of Stamford Hill’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community.  This morning, on Facebook, I received a very similar photo posted by a friend in New York, of swastika daubings yesterday in a children’s playground in a Jewish area of Brooklyn.

A few weeks ago a report on Antisemitism in Britain was published by the Home Affairs Select Committee. But because of Tory political bias it was looking in completely the wrong direction to understand antisemitism in Britain today; trying to blame it on the Labour Party and the most solidly anti-racist leader Labour has ever had, or trying to link it falsely to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Two things about that report were very telling. Firstly, they did not call any witnesses from the ultra-orthodox community who bear the brunt of most of the physical attacks. They are being regularly harassed and attacked for how they dress in a very similar way to young Muslim women having their hijabs pulled off. Secondly, one of the few witnesses they did call, whose opinions they took very seriously, was Jonathan Arkush, a right wing Tory, and right wing Zionst, who is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and was  one of the fastest out of the blocks to enthusiastically congratulate Donald Trump on his victory on behalf of the Board of Deputies. (There was an outcry about that too).

I witnessed some of this antisemitism at first hand very recently when I was coming back from Poland where I had been helping to lead a visit to Auschwitz of more than 20 trade unionists and activists. On the plane an orthodox Jew was sitting a few rows in front of me. As I’m putting my bag away and settling into my seat, I hear a loudmouth from the row behind, part of a large family group – all adults – making a remark about that Jew. He leaned over to say to the two people sitting next to me “Your mum has had to sit next to a ‘front wheel’ in all the gear. I couldn’t be doing with that.”. For the uninitiated “Front Wheel” is cockney rhyming slang: “front wheel skid” = Yid.

There is fear among Jews, though we know that in sheer numbers these kinds of troubles are being felt much more heavily and frequently by Muslim and Polish communities, and by refugee communities from many countries. But it is not a numbers game or competition in victimhood. An attack on one minority is an attack on all and demands our unconditional solidarity.

It is hard to see any positives in the American situation. The White House under Trump will truly be a “White” house. The Ku Klux klan and other neo-Nazis are excited not only by Trump’s victory, but also because he has appointed a white supremacist and antisemite Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, and another known racist, Jeff Sessions, as Attorney General.

But there is something very heartening in other responses to Trump’s victory. Trump wants to draw up a register of Muslims. Thousands and thousands of American Jews are signing letters and petitions this week saying that if such a register is brought in, they will register as Muslim too. That is true solidarity. Jews in America voted 70-30 against Trump – a figure that exceeded the Latino vote against Trump.

Trump did not win the popular vote. But  what should worry us on both sides of the ocean is that around 50% of trade unionists in America voted for a racist, sexist, billionaire.

Our job is not only to help bring minorities together in solidarity but also to build an anti-racist, anti-fascist majority. That means winning support among those who are apathetic and alienated and also among those who are starting to fall for racist narratives.

In 2015, UKIP won nearly 4 million votes. Although UKIP have members with a past involvement in fascist organisations, hard-core racists are a minority among their voters. They gained a large protest vote among people who have started to accept racist narratives, including many impoverished working class and economically squeezed lower middle class voters. We need to reach them too, to challenge the ideas they are accepting, and present progressive alternatives.

That means not just expressing moral outrage at racism but linking the fight against racism with the fight against austerity, for proper jobs, better housing, more services. It means exposing the fake anti-elitism of those like Farage and Trump who are part of the elite themselves, and turning our fire instead on a system that robs and scapegoats the poor and protects the rich. And it means promoting multicultural society and immigration as positives that benefit us all. We need to be changing hearts, changing minds, and building an anti-racist, anti-fascist majority.


Auschwitz 2016: who is over-running it and why?


On a side street leading to Krakow’s main square in its beautiful old town I’m pulled up short by the glowing sign on the Sycylia Hotel/Restaurant: “Cracow city tour  Auschwitz. Salt Mine. Zakopane”. It is just below a bigger sign advertising  “Pizza Pasta Salad”. Further down the street, an even more tasteless though no doubt inadvertent juxtaposition, makes me gasp. A protruding sign advertising tours to Auschwitz (and that salt mine again) is preceded two doors earlier by another similar one advertising tattoos. At Auschwitz, where one million Jews and and at least 23,000 Roma were gassed to death and cremated in an industrial process,  and tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war and Polish political prisoners met their deaths, those not immediately selected for mass murder were assigned a registration number. This number was sewn on to their prison uniform and tattooed on their left forearm.


The numbers of visitors to the Nazi’s largest-scale killing site has mushroomed over the last 15 years, from around 500,000 in 2000 to a staggering 1.72 million in 2015 – a daily average of nearly 5,000 people, though in summer it may be almost double that number on any one day. They crowd into the sturdy brick buildings at Auschwitz 1 camp, whose exterior remains largely unchanged, but whose interior has been converted into gruesome but informative museum displays.

From there, visitors are encouraged to continue their visit by moving on to Birkenau, a bleak expanse a mile and a half away from Auschwitz 1, enclosed by once electrified barbed wire fences. At Birkenau dozens of former Polish army barracks , built for 250 but often housing 700-1,000 in Nazi use, temporarily held prisoners before most were gassed. Visitors here see the railway track that brought deportees through the arch of a huge watchtower, right to the heart of the camp, where gas chambers and crematoria were built for the process of systematic murder, not far from the barracks,

Many visitors to Auschwitz come as participants in educational programmes and some 300 educators have received specialised training to guide visitors, between them,  in 20 languages). But larger and larger numbers are also coming  as casual tourists. After a hearty hotel breakfast, tourists can visit a horror show, a sickening theme park of torture and suffering, and return to their holiday destination (Krakow is just over an hour’s drive away) for a night, eating and drinking and sampling the entertainment that Krakow can offer.

I have just returned from my second visit, both in similar contexts. In 1995 I was part of a large group (70+) organised by the Anti-Nazi League, comprising  teachers, students, trade unionists and activists. We came by coach with our own guide, Leon Greenman, an Auschwitz survivor. He filled in much of the background to the Nazi occupation of Poland on the way and added the harrowing details of his own personal story as we walked around the camp, especially at the bleak expanse at Birkenau, where  his wife Else and three-year-old son Barney were gassed almost immediately after they arrived. At Birkenau we were joined by a local guide, who had been a youngster in the Polish Socialist Party during the Nazi occupation and was able to answer detailed questions about the situation of thee local population in the area at the time.

On that visit I felt we had time and space to begin to grasp and reflect on critical aspects of such an enormous and traumatic experience. Arriving this time – in a smaller group of 24  anti-racist activists and trade unionists, from their 20s to their late 60s, organised through Unite Against Fascism, the area between the coach park and the ticket office was teeming with people young and old from several countries. The atmosphere was noisy and chaotic. It was difficult to distinguish the educational groups from the tourist day-trippers being whizzed around the complex. All of us were fitted out with headphones as our guide valiantly tried to take us to crucial exhibits and patiently explain their significance before being overrun by another group entering the same room. The quality of educational experience, and the ability of group participants to take in what is there, is compromised by the sheer volume of people in each room.

Of course, the demand for educational visits is a good thing. The highest numbers who pass through are from Poland itself, in a time when Polish politics has shifted alarmingly rightwards. The demand by tourists, I suspect, has more mixed drivers and motives. After Poles, the highest number of visitors are from Britain and America. Some of these will be educational group visits too but I imagine that tour companies are making a good profit (I was going to say “a killing”) out of visitors from societies whose cultural values are increasingly dominated by sensationalism and are used to treating horror as entertainment.

There is undoubtedly huge demand from potential visitors, but why don’t they restrict numbers to  no more than 1,000 a day in the parts of the year when it is open the longest hours and at 700 at other times?  That would guarantee an experience that would enable visitors to truly reflect on what they encounter.

The displays at Auschwitz 1 are shocking and stomach-churning: huge stockpiles of reading glasses; suitcases labelled with names and addresses from all over Europe stacked up;  tonnes of human hair; maps showing the remote places all over the Continent where the Nazis rounded up Jews and transported them over many days to Auschwitz, no doubt diverting so many resources that they could have used for their war effort. But that war effort became a secondary concern to the attempt to annihilate all Jews.

Visitors need time and space to absorb these displays. At Birkenau our guide had far more physical space and our group more solitude for receiving information and reflecting on it, though our limiting factor there was that we got to Birkenau at 3pm and it would be dark by 4.30.

Birkenau had changed in some respects from my last visit. In 1995 I remembered many poorly built wooden bunkers as well as brick bunkers in which overcrowding, starvation, disease and every possible indignity was people’s reality. We walked among the ruins of the gas chambers then – the Nazis had tried not very effectively to destroy the evidence of them before the camp was liberated by the Russians, and one of the crematoria was destroyed in a revolt led by four women prisoners who were part of the Sonderkommando – a group tasked with helping to collect belongings and dispose of the bodies of those gassed to death.

The wooden bunkers have since disintegrated. Conservation work is going on in several of the brick bunkers, though some can be visited. In 1995 we were able to walk through the ruins of the largely-destroyed gas chambers and crematoria. Now after millions more visitors have tramped through, they are cordoned off and you can get a glimpse from a distance but not enter.

On this visit I was also disturbed by a less perceptible change to most visitors. Both at Auschwitz 1 and at Birkenau, display boards have been revamped and standardised. They are are in three languages: Polish, English and Hebrew. While the use of Hebrew is an attempt to demonstrate empathy with the fact that the vast majority of victims here were Jews (under the post-War Stalinist regime Jewish victimhood was obscured by reference to “Polish and Russian citizens”), the daily language of most of the those murdered at Auschwitz was none of these. It was Yiddish. On my earlier visit I am sure I remembered seeing some  plaques and information boards in Yiddish (often alongside Polish). This time I found just one. Others it seems have been removed or replaced with explanations in Polish, English, and Hebrew boards.

The one Yiddish plaque I saw was among 27 granite slabs side by side, with identical texts: “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men women and children mainly Jews from various countries of Europe”. One of the slabs was in Modern Hebrew (Ivrit),  the language recreated by Jews who settled from Europe in Palestine in the 1920s and ’30s to  serve the needs of Israel when it achieved statehood. However,  given that the Nazis did not reach Palestine to deport Jews from there, Hebrew was very unlikely to have been the mother tongue of any of the victims.


Many visitors to Auschwitz today come from Israel but in 2015, those coming from Poland, Britain, America, Germany, Italy and Spain, were more numerous. And Jews from those countries do not have Hebrew as their mother tongue. Even though the number of Yiddish speakers today is vastly diminished, precisely because of what happened here and at other death camps,  out of respect to the cultural lives of those murdered as well as their physical presence, their most-widely shared daily language – Yiddish – should surely be represented on memorial boards and plaques. And it is a shande (disgrace) that it isn’t.

From what I know of the growing number of one-day trips to Auschwitz from Britain and elsewhere, some of the crowds gathering noisily near the entrance as we arrived,  would have been back in their own homes in Britain that night, or the following morning,  immediately removed from the physical context of where these events  had taken place.

We returned a bit shell-shocked to our hotel and gathered in a circle in the corner of the bar to share our reflections from the day. People described  how shattering the time we spent at Birkenau was –reflecting especially on aspects of the indignities that women prisoners suffered which our guide had described. Others talked of the processes of desensitisation of the perpetrators, and marginalisation and dehumanisation of the victims, without which it could not have taken place. We reflected on parallel attitudes ranging from indifference to hostility towards refugees today. But we also talked about how those of us who devised this visit created a compelling narrative around information and experience within a wider programme that made the Auschwitz visit itself more meaningful and comprehensible.

If Auschwitz was the final piece completing a horrifying picture, those elements that illuminated the process leading to it were absolutely crucial. On the Thursday night I gave a presentation about the harsh daily life of Jews in 1930s Poland in a changing and ever more threatening political environment of economic discrimination and increasing fascist violence before the Nazis invaded. On the Friday morning we visited the old (and currently reviving) Jewish quarter of Krakow, in Kazimierz, south-east of the old town. We walked across the bridge – as the Jews had been forced to do in March 1941 – to the tiny walled ghetto area they were made to live within. Our guide that day, Mary, pointed to an existing fragment of the ghetto wall, showing how the Nazis designed it in the shape of Jewish gravestones. She described the way that the Nazis disciplined the Jews through creating a Jewish Council that was forced to implement and cascade down Nazi orders. In the afternoon we visited the square which served as a deportation point. Only a minority of Krakow’s Jews were sent to Auschwitz; the majority were sent to another death camp, Belzec, about 180 miles form Krakow. Mary told us, too, about the attempts at resistance.

In the afternoon we visited an extraordinarily detailed museum created in what was once Oskar Schindler’s factory. A profiteer and playboy, Schindler subverted Nazi commands to save the lives of some Jews through insisting on the importance of their labour. In the grand scheme of things his efforts were marginal – though obviously not to the people he saved. The museum itself treats his work as a side issue and concentrates much more on showing what happened after Poland was invaded, how they occupied Krakow and managed to control and subjugate both its Jewish and non-Jewish populations. Jews had comprised one in four of Krakow’s entire pre-1939 population).

That evening I gave a presentation about the biggest and most celebrated act of ghetto resistance, which took place in the Warsaw Ghetto, describing the cooperation of different left-wing tendencies – Bundists, Communists and left-Zionists – highlighting especially the role of Bundists such as Marek Edelman, the last surviving member of the Ghetto Resistance Command, who died in 2009, Mikhal Klepfisz, who made and smuggled weapons into the ghetto while being hidden by a Polish-Catholic family, and Zalman Frydrych, who with help from a Polish socialist railway worker, travelled clandestinely to discover the fate of Jews being deported. When many in the ghetto believed Nazi claims that they were being deported to the east “for work”. Frydrych found out that they were being deported to their mass deaths at Treblinka. After this information was published, the underground ghetto resistance stepped up its preparation for action.

As a result of this programme, we went to Auschwitz itself already immersed in an understanding of the processes that Jewish and non-Jewish Poles had been caught up in, rather than going in blind just to be shocked, or simply honouring the dead of  tragedy that seems to defy logic.

Some returned home on the Sunday. I went back late afternoon on the Monday which gave me time to visit two other locations in Krakow that convey more of the story.

On the corner of the Square inside the ghetto, from which the deportations took place, stood a pharmacy run by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish non-Jew. He and his staff were the only non-Jews allowed to continue working in the ghetto. They used this permission to help Jews in legal and many illegal ways. Today, the pharmacy has been reconstructed as a small but remarkable, interactive museum. Walk slowly through its rooms and open cabinets and drawers. Instead of medicines, there are photos and texts telling the stories of the Krakow ghetto, including tales of different forms of resistance that took place.

From there I walked back across the river into Kazimierz to the Galician Jewish Museum housed in an old mill that became a factory after the Second World War. Through an incredible set of  well-captioned photos,  it tells the story of Jewish life in Galicia (south western Poland) which goes back at least 800 years, and again provides vital context around the Nazi period and also reveals both ambivalent and openly antisemitic attitudes in the area after the Nazis were defeated. But it ends on a positive note with the efforts to rebuild Jewish culture in Galicia today.


Do visit Auschwitz. But don’t be a superficial, horror-junkie, day-tripper. Prepare yourself.  Spend time, as we did, in Krakow getting to know the life of the community that was there, and the processes through which its Jewish community was marginalised, isolated, and destroyed, and also find out about the ways people resisted. And for those who maintain the museum complex at Auschwitz – you need to reconsider your responsibilities. Don’t be carried away by the crass commercialised demand for visits. Go for quality not quantity. Limit the numbers, but expand and deepen the experience.