"The martyrs of Majdanek and Oswięcim...will arise from flames bringing with them the acrid smoke and deathly odour of scorched and martyred Europe" The Intense Humming of Evil, Manic Street Preachers (1994)
in a song inspired by the band’s visits to former WWII concentration camps.
As a teenager I listened to the album a lot though never quite related to this track and its message of the ‘sounds’ of evil, from industrial clanging to “screaming souls” – all seemed a bit heavy-handed even by the Manics’ then standards.
It was only when I went to Poland for the first time last month that I finally, unwittingly, visited the ‘Oswięcim’ mentioned in that quote – the Polish town the Nazis renamed Auschwitz and where they built their biggest death camp complex, Auschwitz-Birkenau, responsible for the murder of at least one million people, 90% of them Jews.
After reading and watching so much about it over the years it doesn’t feel real until you’re physically there, amid the grim smokestacks and barbed-wire fences sprawled over hundreds of acres of barren land. Despite summer being a popular time to visit, when the surrounding fields might approach picturesqueness, it felt more fitting to visit when winter was closing in.