By Tyler Goldberger ’19

I came to Spain ready to gather research, but things started off a little bit slow because my boss, Óscar, broke his phone and could not meet until he had it fixed. Therefore, it gave me a few days to explore Madrid in the summer, an experience for which I have been eager to undergo. I reacquainted myself with the city I am fortunate enough to call home by walking for miles and miles. I stumbled onto the 62nd annual international rose bush competition (who knew!) and spent the afternoon reading by these beautiful flowers — a reminder of the natural beauty all around us.

 

This period without work also gave me the chance to check out a fairly new exhibition in Madrid called Auschwitz. As my topics of interest include how Spain confronts the Holocaust, I was very intrigued to see how this city would represent Auschwitz and more broadly, the Holocaust. In a very quick history lesson, Spain and Hitler had a strong relationship, but Spanish Jews were not specifically targeted during the Holocaust (maybe because it was too far from the German Empire? Maybe because there were few Jews after being expelled in 1492?). In such a crucial part of Spanish History, the Holocaust, and specifically concentration camps, served as a threat for Republicans who had lost the war and were unwilling to live under a Franco-ist regime. There was an extremely brief section in the exhibition covering the Spanish victims who were transported to these concentration camps, but I had wished for more personal details of the victims. They had only been able to display the identities of about 50 Spaniards in a group of about 9,000 who were estimated to have been sent to these camps.

 

Entering the exhibition, the first portion covered the end of the Holocaust and the heroic efforts of liberation. I was definitely disappointed to view this telling of history before educating the public on why liberation was necessary. Next came sections about the history of Auschwitz as a city and about the Jewish people. I quickly went through these portions until reaching the area relating what actually transpired in the Holocaust, reading selected testimonies from a small number of the estimated 200,000 survivors of the camp. However, Auschwitz constantly recycled both portions of testimonies and survivors who told the testimonies, which to me displayed a lack of engagement on the exhibition’s part. For example, Primo Levi was quoted at least five times in this fairly tiny space, and a testimony relating the importance of cigarettes as currency was copied twice.  There were certainly redeeming portions of the exhibition, such as the extensive collection of artifacts, but as a whole, I was not impressed. The exhibition got lost in these historic pieces, however, focusing too much on life before the Holocaust without discussing how the Holocaust impacted victims and survivors. The museum ended in 1945. However, the importance of recognizing the Holocaust for what it was had just begun.

 

I was not impressed because what was lacking in Auschwitzis also missing from the telling of Spain’s history: how the past impacts the present. As I mentioned prior, the exhibition started with liberation, and therefore did not cover it extensively at the end. Instead, the museum ended with coverage of the death marches and had the visitor walk along a long path to leave the space… I felt very uncomfortable when walking a long distance after learning about these horrific marches. There were no lessons that related the importance of remembering the Holocaust in the future, no conversations that showed the life of a survivor today, no memories from family members who had to live without their parent or sibling or loved one.

 

Similarly, the so-called “transition to democracy” that Spain has undergone has many people neglecting the continued impact of Francoism in a contemporary context. There are few questions being publicly asked today about disappeared family members. There are no voices in the government speaking up to provide reparations for victims and families of victims. The Spanish Civil War and Francoism appear to be problems of the past, forgotten about in a Spain still run by those who perpetrated the suffering against those who believed in Republic ideologies. When we cannot take lessons from our past and apply them to today’s world, we risk repeating the same histories filled with injustice, pain, and suffering. Spain, in its light of covering the history of Auschwitz without connecting its consequences with the repercussions of tomorrow and in its silence regarding the impacts of the Spanish Civil War in today’s Spain, must wake up to realize the importance of using past histories to guide policies and life today. If voices are not raised and victims are not honored, Spain could very well be on the track to forgetting these past human rights injustices and passively allowing these horrible atrocities to occur again.