Kraków is the most beautiful city I have ever visited. Its lavish architecture, expansive public open spaces, and sophistication fuse effortlessly to create the ultimate testimony to all that is positive and humanitarian. Approximately fifty miles due west is a town called OÅ›wiÄ™cim. During WWII, the Nazis renamed it Auschwitz. Over a million human beings were murdered at the death camps. Many were killed on arrival and the remainder were subjected to the hellish nightmare of slavery until their demise. I had seen many terrifying and moving documentaries about the holocaust. As I walked amongst the buildings and infrastructures of death I was completely overwhelmed. Mountains of human hair. Personal possessions. And shoes. Thousands of shoes. Children’s shoes too. This event had not occurred eons ago. Just two decades before I was born.
Discrimination is malevolent on any level and I still struggle to this day to comprehend what happened and worry that such instances of evil are still potentially within the gift of future regimes. The German people were not inherently immoral yet all it took was a movement of the few to create terror on an industrial scale. I wonder what type of society we would be living in now if it had been mandated that every schoolchild visit this place where the birds, contrary to the urban myth, still sing. Because nature is beautiful.
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The sheer beauty of the coastline of southern Bali has few peers. Here I managed to relax to my inner core and wasn’t expecting any jaw-dropping moments. Then again my life has been littered with sudden contradictions especially during a period of perceived calm. During a bike ride along a beach path, I gripped the brakes and came to a shuddering stop. The Hindu religious symbol denoting ‘Everything is Good’. The swastika looked completely out of place emblazoned upon the gate that surrounded a small religious enclosure. Yet that was its real place. The symbol had been stolen by the Nazi regime and turned slightly anticlockwise to create the familiar logo that represented the ideology of Adolf Hitler.
A powerful reminder that sinister groups rarely enter the consciousness of the wider population in tanks, brandishing weapons, or spouting violence. Populism will look and feel right. It will hit the buttons and legitimize the message by hijacking existing and stirring insignia and a carefully crafted dialogue. Short on evidence but heavy on innuendo, repetitive falsehoods and targeting vulnerable groups.
My instinct to delve below the headlines, test the facts and remain continually suspicious of vacuous claims propelled with venom was right.
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