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Most Roads Lead Back to Poland

This is a guest post by Fiyaz Mughal of Faith Matters

There I was on Thursday the 27th of August standing outside Radegast station in Lodz in Poland. For this was no ordinary station nor stopping off point. It was the last railway stopping off point before Jews, gypsies and homosexuals were transported to the concentration work camps of Auschwitz Birkenau. Standing outside of the rebuilt station, I was taking part in the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto by the Nazis and indeed, 15,000 Jews from the ghetto were transported through this little unassuming railway station. Now rebuilt in wood and looking just as it would have 65 years ago, I listened to the documents of Nazis that were read out, one of which was from the resident doctor of Lodz. His directive to authorities in the Lodz and to Jews in the ghetto was that anyone from the ghetto who escaped was personally responsible for spreading typhus and the punishment for trying to escape from the ghetto meant death.

After the brief ceremony at Radegast, the crowd gathered in a nearby Park where speeches and tributes were paid to the Righteous Poles who saved the lives of so many Jews. (It is also a little known fact that the highest number of Righteous People that saved Jews were Poles. Within that number of Righteous People there were also Muslims). Also, it became clear to me that a distinction has to be made between what took place in Poland and those who perpetrated the crimes. Obviously, there would have been some collaborators in Poland who made the butchery possible. Yet, there were many, many others who stood up and with their conscience, took a stand against what the Nazis did. That distinction must be consistently made and the collective guilt of what took place in Europe six decades ago should not fall heavily on the shoulders of Poland. It was planned and executed by the Nazis.

After the moving ceremony, I walked back to Radegast station. I stood by the cattle trucks that hauled their human cargo to the end of their lives and I spent over 30 minutes looking and thinking of the pain and misery that people endured in those enclosed cabins. The small window bays for air were covered by barbed wire and the heat in those trucks would have been unbearable in the summer months in Poland and equally cold in the winter months.

I walked around for what would have been an hour and then I came across them. The actual rail tracks that went off into the distance and which provided the backbone for the cattle trucks. Whispering to the man next to me, I asked him whether the tracks were the same ones which carried the load of the human cargo. His response confirmed that they were since they had double wooden planks at some points and this was the construction of the time. I look off into the distance past the fence that closed off the tracks and thought that not may people made it past Radegast station and into the distance.

The more people that I meet within Jewish communities, I come to realise that there is always a Polish connection somewhere along the line. Some 3 million Jews perished in Poland and Radegast station was the stopping off point for more than 140,000 Jews. The connections continue and today, there is a small but growing Jewish community in Poland. Some believe it their mission to come back, others never want to return. I for one, know one thing. I as a Muslim, will return to Poland again and continue to learn more about its rich history.