I can very clearly recall the day that I decided to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. I was sitting with friends at an outdoor garden party on a beautiful day in June 1998 when someone said to me: “If you are interested in history, you should go to Auschwitz as soon as possible and see the exhibits because the hair cut from the heads of the Jews is deteriorating rapidly.” Right then, I decided to drop everything and go to Poland; if I delayed my visit, I might never get to see the hair since it was deteriorating rapidly. But wait a minute! Hair doesn’t deteriorate. My grandparents had hair in frames, hung on the wall in the parlor, and it was still in perfect condition many years later. I decided to wait until October to go to Auschwitz.
What does this have to do with anything? Today, I read in the news here about yet another trip to Auschwitz made by British students. This quote is from the news article:
HUMAN hair, once sleek and dark, is now grey.
It has aged, unlike the men, woman and children – victims of the Holocaust – who had it brutally cropped from their heads as part of the dehumanisation process nearly 70 years ago.
The hair is not grey because it has aged. The hair has turned grey because it was subjected to chemicals, probably Zyklon-B, to kill any possible lice lurking there.
The hair was cut from the heads, not to dehumanize the prisoners, but to get rid of the lice that spreads typhus. These students should have been told the truth: that the hair was cut in an attempt to save lives.
The article continues with this quote:
In other cabinets are piles of shoes, glasses, hairbrushes, suitcases, false limbs and crutches which belonged to those arriving at the former Nazi concentration camp (now a museum) in Oswiecim. [...]
But it is the hair, which we are told was turned into blankets, clothing and mattresses, which is the most personal and shocking.
The sinister display is entitled Exploiting The Corpses. Our Polish guide explains how gold teeth, watches and rings were also removed from bodies and sent to Germany in the early 1940s. [...]
Billy Myles, 16, from Trinity School in Aspley, didn’t expect the hair to disturb him as much as it did.
“When you read about it, it teaches you the knowledge but it does not get you on a personal level. The hair really shocked me,” he says.
Many of those who died or were forced to work in labour camps were younger than Billy. Can he imagine it?
No, Billy can’t imagine it because he was not told the facts. He was not told that there were two typhus epidemics at Auschwitz-Birkenau in spite of all the efforts to prevent typhus.
This website tells about how human hair was used in the Victorian days:
Hair art was common throughout the Victorian era. Complex wreaths, simple lockets, elaborate bracelets, toothpick holders, earrings and every other manner of decoration were made from hair. Hair art was used for a variety of functions from recording family history to tokens of affection exchanged between lovers. Naturally, hair art also became a popular means to memorialize loved ones who had passed on. Mourning jewelry created with hair was intensely popular because it did not violate the strict code of conduct Victorian society imposed upon the conduct and dress of grieving persons. In this capacity hair art is best remembered. The hair of individuals and sometimes entire families can still be found intricately crafted and solemnly tucked behind glass frames or behind jeweler’s cases at antique stores.
In the Victorian days, hair was not disinfected with Zyklon-B, so it did not deteriorate. A Victorian frame with hair behind glass should be displayed at Auschwitz beside the huge glass case of hair, so that the British students can understand that human hair does not turn grey with age. The students should be told that 4 million people died from typhus in Poland in World War One, but in World War II, cutting the hair saved many lives.