Should history be left to nature?

In writing this week’s story, I was reminded of an article I read several of years ago in graduate school for a class I took on museum archives. It concerned a debate regarding the remains of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, essentially what should become of the camp, as many of the buildings are in bad condition and costs to preserve them are extremely high. One side of the argument feels that all efforts must be made to preserve the camp for future generations to see and experience the modern-day atrocities that took place in the Western world. As long as one can still walk through the barracks and see the deplorable conditions inmates were forced to live in, and see the crematorium that burned the bodies of thousands of individuals who had been murdered, one will never forgot the horrors of the Holocaust. The other side of the debate feels that what is left of Auschwitz-Birkenau (it was bombed heavily during the Second World War) should be left to nature, reclaiming the land it once was before the unimaginable horrors that took place there. Let it no longer be a spot on the tourist route where visitors come in buses, purchasing materials in the museum store, snapping away pictures. I see the merits in both sides of the argument, but do lean more towards the side in support of preserving the camp’s buildings. I feel that as much as one can read about the camp and see pictures of it in books and in media, it’s not the same as being there, standing in the barracks, seeing the barrels of the deadly poison that was used to murder so many men, women, and children.

What would the world be like if some of its most important ruins had been left to nature, never to be discovered by the Western world? What would traveling be like if the ruins of Machu Picchu had never been “found” by Hiram Bingham III in 1911? (This is another huge debate, as many Peruvian people dispute Bingham’s discovery, saying they always knew of the mysterious ruins high up in the Andes Mountains). Would the buildings of Angkor Wat in Cambodia be in as much risk of losing their charm and mysterious allure if the droves of tourists there weren’t significantly altering its “makeup”? Would we in the Western world have reason to visit such far flung places if such incredible ruins had never been “discovered”, if they were still underneath hundreds of years of jungle? Would we journey to a place just for its food and culture? Or does our travel almost always involve an attraction, a tangible edifice?

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