Late one afternoon, wandering a back street of a town in Romania, I saw it.
A memorial remembering the transportation of the Jews. It was in a weed infested area near the railway station.
After 1942, every railway system in occupied Europe was connected up to the death camps in Germany and Poland. Quite a feat of organisation.
From this railway station alone, 38, 000 Jews were transported.
At least, I mused, as I got my camera out, someone here had made an effort to recall that dark past.
In most of the nations comprising Eastern Europe, no attempt had ever been made.
There was no guilt.
No recognition of complicity in that great crime.
When the Nazis came, millions of people all over Europe helped them to round up the Jews.
In many cases, they didn’t wait for the Nazis to appear.
They jumped the gun so to speak. Herded the Jews into their synagogues and burnt them alive. And took their houses and their businesses of course.
It was worst in Eastern Europe.
But after the war, there’d never been any attempt at remorse.
Not like in western Europe where post war reconstruction had implied a lot more than buildings and infrastructure. Reconstruction was accompanied by a long and terrible journey into the soul. Novelists, journalists, movie directors, opinion makers: they were constantly cross examining the national ethos.
Complicity was openly acknowledged, guilt freely admitted, lessons learnt.
But not in Eastern Europe.
Not there. No guilt, no qualms.
Anyone who publicly tried to shame the nation by citing the historical facts was courting trouble. In Poland, that person could be prosecuted. Gaoled. There was a law against admitting guilt.
‘The Germans did it’.
The old convenient cop out.
It was a similar situation in the other nations of Eastern Europe.
I’ve travelled in this part of the world a lot.
See it all the time: villages and towns where before the war, there had been large communities of Jews and afterwards, not one Jew remaining.
No memorials, no contrition.
Jewish graveyards ploughed under and the land sold.
Well, in this Romanian town, there was a memorial.
And a chain on the gate to prevent the local racists from vandalising the monument.
Seen that too.
Anti-Semitists in countries where there were practically no Jews left.
Blind hate looking for a target.
‘America is controlled by the Jews. All the big corporations are owned by Jews.’
And so on.
What a weird world. Hard to contain your rage sometimes.
Hard to live with your sorrow sometimes.
Leaving the monument behind me, I walked to the city centre.
There was a square surrounded by historic buildings.
Sunday afternoon. Women selling flowers. People going to church. People walking around aimlessly. Others going to a restaurant or a pub.
Sat down on a bench seat.
Stared into space as the last of an autumn evening’s sun illuminated the statue of a local hero.
Waiting for nightfall and the chance to hide from the darkness.