Sunday, January 27, 2013

Holocaust Memorial Day 2013

With so much media, so much exposure to violence and awareness of the grotesque cruel inhumanity that people can inflict upon others, it is not altogether unsurprising that a few are blase about the Holocaust.  The most recent utterance being the "Liberal" Democrat MP David Ward, who wondered how "the Jews" could suffer under the Holocaust and then oppress the Palestinians, as if a lengthy essentially civil conflict between two groups over one set of territory is akin to a government engaging in a systematic programme of rounding up and exterminating a whole segment of the population.  

I used to make that error.  When I was much younger, I saw it as one of many grotesque mass murders by governments.  Of course, Mao and Stalin murdered, starved and oppressed many many more than Hitler.  It really is splitting hairs about how morally empty they are in comparison, but there is a whole context of the Holocaust that needs to be made clear to all.

It really was different.

1930s Germany was a modern society.  Most people went about their business untroubled by the state, although it was increasingly clear that opposing the government wasn't a good idea, there hadn't been wholesale nationalisation of businesses big and small.  While media and education increasingly glorified the Nazi Aryan ideal and Germanic culture, they also spread the poison of virulent anti-semitism, setting the stage for the removal of all state legal protections for Jews (and others deemed sub-human), encouraging private and state boycotts, harassment, vandalism and assaults, and ultimately the state organised labelling, deportation, incarceration and ultimately execution of Jews.

There have been incidents of mass pogroms against groups, incited by political or religious leaders.  Rwanda's genocide is of that nature.  However, no other modern society, otherwise seen as civilised, engaged in organised, efficient eliminationist genocide. 

Of course, Jews have throughout history faced orchestrated organised discrimination and genocide before, but this is still in living memory, and it remains distinctive.

Today Sunday 27 January is International Holocaust Memorial Day. It marks the day of liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. It is about remembering all those murdered by the Nazi state, from six million Jews to 200,000 disabled people to gypsies, Poles, Soviet POWs, homosexuals, political dissidents from socialist to liberal persuasions. The utter complete dehumanisation of all those effectively declared "unpersons" by the Nazis remains a horror unparalleled in its comprehensive efficient single mindedness.

That today is what we should all commemorate.  Those millions executed, starved and tortured to death by the state, seeking to remove those individuals it deemed were not human.

I should not be demeaned by those politicians who dare try to compare such events to anything less than a systematic eliminationist slaughter of a whole category of people, by a government in peacetime (for it is a distraction to imply that this was an event "of World War 2", as if Nazi Germany would not have undertaken genocide had there been "peace" in Europe between states).  

So I urge you to spend a moment in quiet reflection, of those who suffered, died, fought and resisted those who wanted them dead, for no reason than their ancestry, their education, their wealth or their private beliefs.   Bear in mind those today, who continue to deny it, who diminish it and who relativise it, and what you can do to keep the memory alive of the unthinkable.


Kiwiwit said...

Well said. You cannot separate the Holocaust from the position of modern Israel in respect of Palestinian Arab aspirations and the threat from the likes of Iran. While the roots of modern Israel pre-date the Holocaust, it was the latter that made the establishment of Israel inevitable. We cannot judge Israel without considering the context in which it exists - that in still-living memory the world stood by while a modern, European state tried to eliminate all Jews. What do people like David Ward not get about that?

The current position of the Palestinian Arabs is as much a product of their own lack of leadership and their use as political pawns by their Arab allies, as anything Israel has done. To equate it with the Holocaust is to deny the latter.

The Holocaust is also the most important factor when considering the response of Israel to the explicit existential threat from Iran. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that when presented with intelligence of a likely nuclear attack by Iran, the Israeli leadership will choose to strike first. Netanyahu's father is a Holocaust survivor - how could he choose any differently?

Anonymous said...

I read Ben Elton's new book "Two Brothers" which centres on some Jews in Berlin last week. It was an interesting read and the background at the end was interesting as well - its shows how personal the story is.

While there can be no excuse for the Germans to have done what they did that same logic can't excuse bad behaviour in Israel by both Arabs and Zionists. I like and respect Stephen Sizer who apears to have a balance in his views. It seems the extremists on both sides deserve each other which leaves, as always, the middle ground gnashing their teeth.

I'm not sure what the answer is but sympathise particularly with the Palestinian Christians who are abused by everyone and are being effectively locked out of their homes by both illegal settlement by Israel as much as by Islamic persecution.