Auschwitz of the Thais

For the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we visited Auschwitz to reflect on its history and how it ties to us as Thais.

We’ve all seen it; we’ve all seen the pictures. But it’s different when you’re here. There’s an energy, a sadness that is palpable but unexplainable.

1,100,000 people died here and countless more lost their innocence in this hellish place.

The killings weren’t personal, they were industrialised.

But walking through Auschwitz with the guides, reading the stories, you realise that each death was personal, each digit of the statistic had a tale to tell.

There were lovers, there were families, artists and artisans, politicians and carpenters that perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and we best remember them because it is not implausible that it could happen again.

That is why, I feel, as Thais, it is important for us to reflect and teach.  

We have all seen it, seen the pictures. Thai students with their Nazi chic, Thai students doing Nazi salutes, and not knowing what it means and why the world is outraged.

Auschwitz of the Thais

The writer Saul Bellow once asked “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?”, to which civil rights commentator Ralph Wiley replied, “Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus.”

Well, Auschwitz is the Auschwitz of the Thais.

We never think that it can happen here, that we are so far removed from the faraway battlefields of Europe. What is Srebrenica, what is Auschwitz, what is Dachau, who are the Tutsis to Thais?

Thai people simply don’t do things like this.  

Yet, one only has to look across the border to Cambodia or Myanmar to realize that genocide or ethnic killings are not limited by geographical constraints or racial characteristics.  

As Thais we should not think ourselves immune. We have and continue to flirt with an authoritarianism that demands the obedience and subservience of its people and a distorted perception of history.

Concentration camps are not built overnight.

Yet it begins with trade-offs and political calculations. A small sacrifice of liberty for added stability and security transitions into a long flirtation with authority, and a dalliance with dictatorship.

Then begins the small arguments separating ‘us’ into ‘us’ and ‘them’ into ‘them’. These small steps add up and eventually the train moves so fast that we are locked in and cannot get out.

If you told the Germans of the 1910s and 1920s about what their sons and daughters would do just two decades down the line, their reaction would probably be as incredulous as telling the Thais of today that their political bargaining and lack of historical education may lead to dark places down the road.

History repeats itself as echoes and if one does not listen to the faint traces of our past then those lessons would have been for nothing.

Today, world leaders gather in Israel to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. We would do well to heed their speeches and learn their histories.

(Reporting by Salisa Traipipitsiriwat, Writing by Cod Satrusayang, Editing by Diane Louys)

(Photo Credit: Salisa Traipipitsiriwat)

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