HAVE you ever noticed how everything looks a bit like Auschwitz? I hadn’t, not before I worked in local newspapers. Ugly archways, big chimneys, spiky fences – it’s not uncommon for someone to tell a local newspaper or a public meeting of their resemblence to the architecture of a concentration camp. This week it was the turn of Alexandra Palace overground station where they’ve built a new platform and installed fences. True enough, it seems like a pretty messy effort – but a concentration camp? That’s a fairly emotive comparison. The track running from King’s Cross to Hertford North framed by the gates of hell.
Of course, it’s not just Ally Pally station with an appearance likened to a killing camp. In Camden Town a few years back they put up an archway to mark the start of the struggling Inverness Street market. It was a pretty half-baked, if well-intentioned, freshen up. You could have called it ugly or cheap, but it didn’t take long before the stronger criticism came back – from Sir Jonathan Miller no less – that the new look resembled Auschwitz. Now, I walk down that road most days, maybe you do too… what do you reckon? Auschwitz?
There are Auschwitzes everywhere: A holiday camp in Dorset, a housing estate in Tipperary. It feels the same vein as the way people suffering from eating disorders or conditions which cause weight loss are sometimes crudely likened to those who suffered at Belsen.
I don’t pretend to know the frame of references for everybody who reaches for the concentration camp comparison when they see an ugly archway or a protruding fence. Maybe they’ve visited Auschwitz, felt the sense of horror all around and are able to detach that to make a simple visual comparison. My hunch is that most Holocaust survivors are unlikely to make the link between a curved archway leading to a parade of stalls in Camden Town to a death camp. If asked, they would probably find one of the hundred alternative ways to say something is ugly, intruding and oppressive.
Maybe the ease in which people compare things we see everyday to concentration camps helps fuel the desire of the Holocaust Memorial Trust to get as many people to Poland as possible. I’ve never made the trip, but the reports from Pavan Amara in the Camden New Journal and Tim Lamden in the Ham and High this week are a useful measure of the horror that await any visitor to Auschwitz. Schoolchildren from north London (pictured above) were flown there by the Trust last week. You can see in their swollen eyes that this is something of the like they’ve never seen before, not in Alexandra Palace or Camden Town, or anywhere else. Of course, the tears are for what went on behind the fence and not the appearance and the camp’s architecture, but it makes you think about how we use the language of Auschwitz.
You can digest in Pavan’s dispatch that there is probably nowhere in England that really has the feel of a concentration camp: “There is a room in Auschwitz where human hair has not been touched, stroked, tugged, or caressed in nearly 70 years. Two kilograms of chestnut brown plaits, hair grips fixed in blonde waves, red messy curls – they lie dead in a heap behind glass. They’re for the wide-eyed spectators only. But once those blonde ringlets were for her husband to run his fingers through, for her son to tug at when he needed comfort, that pigtail was maybe pulled in a playground, definitely stroked while she was put to bed.”