Tuesday 27th January 2015.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. There are no words, no images that truly comprehend the atrocities that hundreds of thousands of Jewish men and women experienced in that concentration (read: extinction) camp. That they suffered for us is often overlooked in this age of selfishness, online communication and self-indulgence. Without these unfortunate, brave men and women we might not still have means to the creative freedoms that we deem quite apparent and natural concurrently. Their survival, if but relatively low compared to numbers entering the camps, set a precedent that began a process that would eventually lead to a permission in exercising our rights to enjoy and partake in a number of critical media related activities. As a journalist, someone with a penchant for videogames, film and television, I find it incredibly humbling to recognise the importance of the liberation of Auschwitz, and moreover the survival of the Holocaust, in what I can freely experience and write about in equal measure. Who’s to say that without the stoicism exercised by Jewish inmates that we’d have drastically progressed past the point of wartime veils and conformist ideals. Maybe we’d all be living in a communist state without their willingness to survive? Such things of course are perhaps trivial and best left for more academic pursuits but it’s surely a fact that we would not be afforded the luxuries that we have today without the light at the end of the tunnel that inmates strived for with all their being.
To say that this is a poignant moment in our history undersells and understates the pertinence of the anniversary. More than ever, social media and the internet at large allows us to voice our opinions, good or bad, for all to hear and for all to engage in at a finite level. Videogames and mass media certainly fall under this jurisdiction. We nearly always take for granted our enjoyment of a product. Whether it be the damning social commentary of a South Park episode, the outlandish, faux-World War 2 design of a Quentin Tarantino movie or the ideological rumblings of Ayn Rand within Bioshock, they all owe a debt to humanity’s inclination to survive.
For better or worse, we seem to have completely forgotten our debt to the past, and in particular this period of inexplicable cruelty. Whilst on the surface it might seem quite damning to make the past so unrecognisable, considering what it meant for our professional and non-professional endeavours, maybe underneath it’s more complex. This is a period where people’s goal was survival and past that the exertion for future generations to suffer no such similar ills. Without wanting to make this a contentious issue, perhaps many of the survivors would like the fact that we give little notice to this period in history. That way they are doing a disservice to the men and women who swept over Europe force-feeding a mass populace propaganda and lies. Maybe that’s wrong, but either way it’s an interesting conundrum; whether to give a voice to the evil precedent set is an interesting proposal, but perhaps left for another day.
In mass media however, we have this inexplicable ideology that all creativity should be borne of the freedom to pursue any idea that we see as befitting of either entertainment or commentary. Videogames are some of the prime examples of what we’ve been allowed to achieve. Would a game like Papers, Please! be allowed widely across Europe if the inmates of Auschwitz had given up and died, thus allowing a ridiculously relative, skewed moral high ground for the National Socialist Party? Maybe? All we can be sure of is that this current strand of linearity in history led to the point where we could create a game designed around border control, terrorism and the state mentality. Certainly sacrifice brought us to this point as we currently know it, where, despite the occasional non-meaningful provocation by right-wing politicians, the Western world is granted freedom to play, watch or read whatever their hearts desire.
The liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps meant so much more for us then we’ll ever likely realise. Even on a non-physical level, the mentality of overcoming such claustrophobic and inhibiting shackles gave the world something meaningful to clasp on to. It brought together the Western world in a state of relative understanding and made permissible the many products that we lap up without thought.
This is but one avenue of freedom and integrity that has been granted to us by those men and women. It is based on my experiences being interested in mass media and journalism. There are many other paths one could take with this, perhaps indefinitely. A simple thank you doesn’t do justice, but we can all promise to strive for more.
You suffered so we can achieve.
Tuesday 27th January, 2015.