I have just finished reading Caroline Moorehead’s new book, A Train In Winter, a devastating, compelling, horrific, wonderful and haunting account of the 230 French women who were shipped by the Nazis to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 1943. Less than a quarter survived. One knows the facts about the camps, the statistics, even the details, but seeing it through the eyes of a group of women brings it alive in a new way. The idiots who think it is clever to dress up in SS uniforms at parties ought to be made to read it, every word. While I was researching Amateurs I read up about the war in the Mediterranean and the Near East – the Balkan horrors especially were new to me – but it’s terrible to be reminded of the obscenity of the camps going on at the same time. It occurs to me that my generation, the one born in Britain in the decade just after the war, has had in so many ways a charmed life, free of war and horrors, but at the same time we were the first generation to grow to adulthood with the knowledge of the concentration camps, what humans are capable of, and the nuclear bomb. I can remember precisely the moment that I first saw images of Auschwitz in a television documentary, just as I can remember exactly when I learned about the cold war and the bomb. A kind of rite of passage, a loss of innocence. May we never cease to be shocked by it.
- Gallery on