‘I ask that this never happens again’

In this edited extract, Richard Keagan-Bull recounts visiting Auschwitz. His autobiography covers many other travels, living in a L’Arche community for people with living disabilities and growing up in the 1970s as people were increasingly being given a voice.

In an extract from Don’t Put us Away: Memories of a Man with Learning Disabilities by Richard Keagan-Bull, the self-advocate and university research assistant describes a disturbing trip to Auschwitz.

I went to Poland with two other people with learning disabilities and three assistants from our community for our summer holidays. I had heard about Auschwitz and really wanted to visit.

Jacek was visiting his family in Poland at the time and joined me for the visit to Auschwitz. It was just me, one of the assistants and Jacek who went.
I found it very moving. Just walking around and looking at some of the things there.

What shocked me the most was that everyone had labels pinned to their prison uniforms and I asked Jacek, my friend, what label I would have had.
I don’t think I would have been here today, nor none of my friends. I think that if I were there they might have decided to do some tests on me in their so-called “hospital room”.

And I was just so pleased that there was me from England, Jacek from Poland and the female assistant who was from Germany all standing there – together, and I just ask that we try and learn from our mistakes and that this never happens again.

It made me quite angry it did, and I wanted to kick something I did, but with a lady being there I felt I shouldn’t do that.

I feel quite angry inside now I do – about the way they were treated like cattle – like they weren’t worth anything. I can see now why people who lived through that, when they see those uniforms, they feel sad and angry.

I think in life we should try and understand each other and work things out and never want war – just be happy with what we’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white, if you can speak or if you can’t speak – it’s what you can give that counts.

Don’t Put us Away: Memories of a Man with Learning Disabilities by Richard Keagan-Bull is published by Critical Publishing, 2022