However, and you knew there would be a ‘however’, just as we were leaving, there were two people getting bags of ice from an outside location by the exit door. One was a man in perhaps his mid to late forties, somewhere in that age range, and the other person was a young man in very late teens or very early twenties. The younger man had a black hoodie that caught my husband’s eye. On the front of the hoodie were the words “Camp Auschwitz” and a skull and cross bones and under that the words “Work Will Make You Free”; on the back was the word “Staff”. Just repeating this description is nauseating. After we went on to the car and unloaded our groceries from the cart, my husband was gone longer than expected to return the cart. When he returned to the car he was very upset, actually trembling with disgust, and he described the hoodie and that he, a very non-confrontational man, had confronted that young man. He asked the young man if he really thought the shirt was cute; he also asked the young man if he realized that people were roasted in ovens in Auschwitz. The only reply given was a mumble. When the situation and the hoodie were described to me, I wept. I wept for my husband’s pain, I wept for all the suffering that the one word, “Auschwitz” represents, and I wept for the appalling ignorance of that young man and the venality of whoever created such a garment.
There was nothing illegal about the shirt. We live in a country where freedom of speech is one of our many rights. Where disgusting statements such as what is described can be made. Perhaps these two men consider themselves white supremacists and felt pleasure in my husband’s being upset. I decided to be very grateful for three things: that we have a country where even something such as that disgusting shirt can be displayed with impunity; that they didn’t pull some sort of weapon and hurt my husband for confronting them; and finally, that I share a life with a man who expressed so decently his horror and revulsion.
And finally I thought of the terrible, terrible price paid by those who lived and died in Auschwitz and the other camps, because unlike the young man wearing that hoodie, all of those people, all of the people caught up in the Middle East ‘Arab spring’, all of our military, and so many others, all of these know what freedom is for.