Daily Archives: 19 December, 2009

Auschwitz sign ‘irreplacable’

The theft of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” – Work Sets You Free – sign that hung over the entrance gate to the Auschwitz camp was nothing less than a desecration, writes Rabbi Andrew Baker on the BBC News website.

The announcement came on the same day that the German Government announced that it was planning to contribute 60 million Euros towards the upkeep of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Whether this was a coincidence remains to be seen.

Auschwitz has become a representative symbol for the Holocaust as a whole. Although Jews and other oppressed groups were murdered in other places – Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Madjanek, and many other places – there is something about Auschwitz that remains in public consciousness. The anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz serves as International Holocaust Memorial Day. The main camp at Auschwitz is actually much smaller than Birkenau, the much larger camp, but there is something about the ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign that acts as a stark warning of where you are, that you are walking in the footseps of evil and suffering.

The Auschwitz State Museum, responsible for the preserving the site, had recently embarked on a major campaign to raise more than 100m euros to ensure the permanent protection and preservation of the site and its contents – from victims’ suitcases, and inmates’ graffiti, to wooden barracks, barbed wire fences, rail platform and crematoria.

But all this is really secondary. The visitor to Auschwitz knows he is walking along that same platform where half a century ago Dr Mengele was directing victims to the gas chambers. He is looking at the same electrified fence that had imprisoned countless slave labourers.

And he is walking through the same gate and beneath the very same sign that cynically offered hope, but in reality promised only destruction. Or at least he was until Friday.

Apparently the people who stole the sign broke into the camp through a drainage channel, removed the sign, and then made their escape by cutting through the barbed wire. Surely I am not the only person who thinks there is something particularly disrespectful about people breaking IN to Auschwitz and then cutting through the wire to get OUT. Just how many thousands of people would have wished every second to escape that place back in those dark, dark days?


Leave a comment

Filed under debate, News, World War Two

The Admirals by Andrew Lambert

Britain achieved un-paralleld global dominance for hundreds of years, through one factor more than any over – her naval power. And Island nation, surrounded by potential enemies, will always have to develop a powerful Navy for self defence. And naturally it is but a small progression from using a Navy to defend your island homeland, to asserting your dominance around the world.

Culturally, the Royal Navy has grown to become a very part of the fabric of Britain, and this is very much thanks to the importance that it has had in British history. Eminent naval Historian Andrew Lambert looks at the men who shaped the Royal Navy into one of the most succesful fighting forces in History.

One crucial – and I would argue positive – ommission is that of Lord Nelson. Too often Nelson has overshadowed some just as crucial Naval commanders in British history. More than enough has been written about Nelson, and this approach makes a refreshing change.

Lambert starts off looking at the career of Lord Howard of Effingham, the Admiral who led the British Navy’s fight against the Spanish Armada in 1588. This reminds us quite usefully that there was a British Navy before Nelson. We then have interesting chapters on Anson, Hood, Jervis, Parker, Fisher, Beatty and Cunningham.

There are some brave issues of selection – focussing on Beatty instead of Jellicoe. A modern perspective might also be interesting – to look at figures such as Henry Leach, John Fieldhouse and Sandy Woodward. The Royal Navy is smaller, and command has changed – but the same ethos and tradition still remains. People such as Captain David Hart-Dyke of HMS Coventry, and Captain Bill Coward of HMS Brilliant during the Falklands are of the same lineage as the sea dogs in this book.

This book is a useful reminder of a statement that Cunningham once made:

‘it takes one day to lose a battle, but two hundred years to build a tradition’.


Filed under Book of the Week, Falklands War, maritime history, Napoleonic War, Navy, World War One, World War Two

Flying Officer Roy Cooper

How did the son of the original owner of much of Portsmouth come to be buried in Uganda?

Flying Officer Roy Cooper, 29 and from Paulsgrove, was serving with an unknown unit in the Royal Air Force when he died in Uganda on 28 October 1945. Exactly what he was doing there is unkown, but at that time much of Africa was still part of the British Empire and British forces were still serving in many places.

Before it was purchased by the council for the building of a Council estate, Paulsgove consisted of a few houses and several pig farms, the largest of which was owned by George Cooper, Roy Cooper’s father.

Flying Officer Roy Cooper is buried in Jinja War Cemetery, Uganda.


Filed under Local History, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, World War Two