Phil Wilson, MP for Sedgefield, recently visited the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland as part of a cross-party Parliamentary group. Here, he reveals his experiences – and explains why it strengthened his stance against the BNP.
Unlike Treblinka, Majdanek is not hidden away in a forest, or like Dachau behind a high wall. Majdanek was built metres from the city of Lublin, where people could see and hear what was happening. Children, walking past the barbed wire fence on the way to school could see the prisoners making their way to the gas chambers.
The crematorium still stands on a hill overlooking Lublin, where 40,000 Jews once lived. A Jewish community had lived in Lublin since the 14th Century. In 1944, that history came to an end. The Nazis had murdered them all.
Majdanek is a sorrowful place. 500,000 people from 28 countries, including US, British and Soviet POWs passed through the camp. 360,000 perished. One prisoner called Majdanek the “Kingdom of Death”, where death reigned and life was slaughtered. As we walked round the camp, with its rows of wooden huts, each once holding hundreds of slave workers sharing their foul mattresses with typhus and cholera, we saw the small, but once efficient, gas chambers.
Then the journey took us to the crematorium with the autopsy table. All victims were ordered to hand over valuables as the arrived at the camp. Many were reluctant.
There are records of people swallowing wedding rings or other personal mementos. If spotted, they were murdered by the SS; their bodies taken to the autopsy room, their remains cut open and their valuables removed. Like many of those murdered at Majdanek, their bodies would be cremated and their ashes used as fertiliser.
When the camp was liberated by the Russians, heaps of human ashes were found all around the crematorium ready to spread over open fields. The Russians collected the ashes and eventually placed them under the cover of a giant dome: a mausoleum to the dead. Beyond the mausoleum is a field. In 1943, the order was given to exterminate the remaining Jews in the area. Over November 3rd and 4th 1943, the SS shot dead 42,000 people. The slaughter took place in the field before me. The massacre at Majdanek was the worst ever recorded.
I find it impossible to understand how anyone could do this. But they did, and in other parts of the world they still do. As I write, Radovan Karadzic, the ex-Serbian leader, faces trial for crimes against humanity. At least he will have a fair trial. The victims of genocide never do.
The day I returned, a town council by-election was held in Newton Aycliffe, in my constituency. The BNP were standing. The BNP’s founding father, John Tyndall, said Hitler’s Mein Kampf was his “bible”. The present leader, Nick Griffin, has denied the Holocaust ever happened. He does so because if you can convince someone to deny the undeniable, you can convince that person to believe anything. If the past can be denied, history can be rewritten and ultimately repeated.
I left the country where Nazis perpetrated the most profound crimes against humanity to see them seeking election on the streets of Newton Aycliffe.
Last year I visited Auschwitz. The BNP compared the death camp with “Disney World”. Unlike a pleasure park, I never want to visit Auschwitz or Majdanek again. But until the echoes of Nazism are defeated on the streets of my constituency, and elsewhere, I know I will have to.
Mr Wilson’s visit was facilitated by the Holocaust Educational Trust and the All-Party Group against Anti-Semitism.
The Northern Echo