Holocaust loses its Jew-hatred meaning
This posting is obviously not a contribution to Holocaust Memorial Day, which was on January 27. It is a look at how it was memorialised to glean what the Holocaust now means. 1) Bradley Burston’s angry article about Catherine Ashton; 2) what Catherine Ashton said on the day; 3) the UK Holocaust Memorial Day trust’s material, theme Journeys.
Euro MPs demonstrate on behalf of Roma people in the parliament in Strasbourg. They show placards which translate as ‘equal rights for all citizens’.The Roma, the EU’s biggest ethnic minority, scattered across a dozen countries, are Europe’s pariah people. September 2010
This year, to mark the Holocaust, the EU eradicated Jews. And gays. And Roma. There’s enough Holocaust denial already in this world. The last thing we need is to have the European Union contributing to it.
By Bradley Burston
February 11, 2014
A Holocaust survivor stands in front of entrance of the former concentration camp during a ceremony to mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, January 27, 2014. Photo by Reuters
Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day in an official statement, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton this week stressed the importance of remembering and honoring each of the victims, of keeping alive the memory of the tragedy, and of respecting diversity, which, she wrote, along with human rights, “lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for.”
So far so good. Except, that’s where she ends. An entire statement devoted to the need for preserving the memory and the meaning of the victims and the crime. Only, there is not one mention of the identity of the victims. Nor, for that matter, of the perpetrators. Nor of the fact that the Holocaust was a war to explicitly, mercilessly, genocidally, specifically and comprehensively annihilate Jews.
Jews, first and foremost, and also gays, Roma, Communists and others. To turn their unique identities into numbers, to rob them of their right to be individuals, to rob their collective identities of the right to continue to exist.
This year, in an inadvertently obscene effort to commemorate the Holocaust, the EU eradicated its victims.
But EU High Representative Ashton didn’t stop there. In language which is oddly passive – considering the cold fury and down-to-the-wire relentlessness in which the SS in particular, the Nazi German command as a whole, and large numbers of local collaborators across Europe, hunted down and killed the Jewish populations under occupation – there is a sense that the slaughter was something of a monstrous natural disaster, visited upon an undifferentiated civilian population by an unnamed and undifferentiated force.
“We honor every one of those brutally murdered in the darkest period of European history,” she writes, going on to cite the Holocaust as a reminder to “us all of the need to continue fighting prejudice and racism in our own time. We must remain vigilant against the dangers of hate speech and redouble our commitment to prevent any form of intolerance.”
She’s right. I looked up intolerance, and found this as one of the definitions: “The state of being unwilling to accept something.”
It’s reasonable to assume that considerable expenditures of seriousness, time, effort and consultation were invested in the EU statement. It’s reasonable to assume that High Representative Ashton wanted, above all else, to avoid causing insult and injury in commemorating the ultimate insult and injury to humanity itself – one which occurred on European soil, was conceived and executed by Europeans, and is still within the living memory of thousands of victims in Europe and in places as far away from Europe as they could get.
It’s reasonable to assume that her goal was to keep the memory of the Holocaust from fading, and to discern in it a lesson, for our own day, and our own Europe.
Or maybe it’s time to stop assuming.
Maybe what sounds like little more than lip service, actually is little more than lip service.
Granted, we live in a time when the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews has been ground down into small-bore rhetorical ammunition, used with insensitivity and thoughtlessness to buttress arguments against abortion, against Tea Party Republicans, against gun control, against President Obama, against the U.S. Supreme Court, against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
At the same time, distortion and trivialization and exploitation of the Holocaust have become a staple of incendiary discourse on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Few know this better than Ashton. In late 2012, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman equated current EU policies toward Israel, with 1940s-era Europe turning a blind eye to Nazi concentration camps.
“Mr. Lieberman’s reference to Europe in the 1940s in this context is inappropriate and offensive to Europeans,” Ashton’s spokesperson Maja Kocijancic said at the time.
The spokesperson was right. If any and all criticism can evoke the Holocaust, then the Holocaust is drained of all meaning.
By the same token, though, if the Holocaust is made into little more than some amorphously unfortunate past happenstance, its victims left unnamed even in the barest sense, it might as well never have occurred at all.
There’s certainly enough Holocaust denial already in this world. The last thing we need is to have the European Union contributing to it.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
January 27, 2014
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued the following statement today:
“Today the international community remembers the victims of the Holocaust. We honour every one of those brutally murdered in the darkest period of European history. We also want to pay a special tribute to all those who acted with courage and sacrifice to protect their fellow citizens against persecution.
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we must keep alive the memory of this tragedy. It is an occasion to remind us all of the need to continue fighting prejudice and racism in our own time. We must remain vigilant against the dangers of hate speech and redouble our commitment to prevent any form of intolerance. The respect of human rights and diversity lies at the heart of what the European Union stands for. ”
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
Journeys is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2014. On HMD 2014 we can learn how journeys themselves became part of genocide, and how the journeys undertaken were often experiences of persecution and terror for so many people who suffered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the subsequent genocides. We can also learn about the life stories of journeys that brought survivors to the UK and how, in many instances, journeys of return have been part of the experience of rebuilding.
Take a step – participate in the 2014 online action
The online action enables everyone to make a public pledge to take a step for Holocaust Memorial Day, by sharing the life story of a survivor of genocide with friends, attending an HMD activity, lighting a candle, or by making a personal pledge for HMD.
Download the 2014 theme vision
The theme vision explains more about why Journeys is the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2014, explores the different types of journeys experienced by people who suffered under genocide, and provides suggestions for resources and further reading.
Our Activity Organiser Pack is the main resource we provide to people considering organising an HMD activity. It contains a guidance booklet, a set of HMD 2014 posters, an example of our ‘About HMD’ booklet, a set of stickers and a metal HMD badge. Order yours today!
Download our 2014 educational resources
Our theme-specific series of lesson plans and assemblies are designed for anyone who wishes to commemorate HMD in the classroom, in an assembly, or in an education setting and are suitable for primary, secondary and SEN students.
Download our 2014 tailored resources
We have created advice for HMD 2014, tailored for your audience on the theme of Journeys. Our factsheets provide tips and ideas on how to mark HMD for the following audiences:
Survivor of the Holocaust
All those who were able to walk, we had to walk from Auschwitz to Gleiwitz… about twenty or thirty kilometres. It was January, -20°C with our pyjamas on… so many people collapsed and so many people ran away into the woods, the Germans surrounded us shooting.
As a ten-year old, my feelings on my journey were a mixture of trepidation, but also excitement – a feeling that my parents had encouraged – allowing me to firmly believe that they would be joining me in the near future. That, of course sadly did not happen.
My parents had been on the first transport out of Hanover, on 15 December 1941, to a concentration camp in Riga, Latvia. They never returned.
Hedy Klein and her memory book
Hedy was taken to Auschwitz from her hometown of Oradea, leaving her precious memory book behind. After the war Hedy was reunited with her memory book, providing a link to Jewish life in the town before the Holocaust.
Big barrels of what they called soup was brought to us… We didn’t eat for three days, four days almost… but it was not a soup that you ever thought of as soup, it was what we know as dishwater, some kind of a liquid that had twigs in it and sand in it and pebbles in it… it tasted terrible and then I reminded myself if this is all we get, if there is some nourishment in it, I must force myself and drink it and so I held my nose and I cried and I swallowed and swallowed and swallowed.
Gay Jewish man who survived the whole of Nazi rule living in Berlin, working for the resistance in the city.
“Gad, I can’t go with you. My family needs me. If I abandon them now, I could never be free.” No smile, no sadness. He had made his decision. We didn’t even say goodbye. He turned around and went back.
In those seconds, watching him go, I grew up.
Gad Beck describing the moment his lover Manfred Lewin chose to return to his family, to be deported to their deaths at Auschwitz
Dutch mixed-race family who sheltered Jewish people during Nazi occupation.
‘The story of my parents, which seemed to have been forgotten with time, is now told and I am grateful for that.’
Berge has learning difficulties. He was inspired to make a film about Aktion T4, the Nazi programme which attempted to murder German citizens who had mental or physical disabilities.
I wanted to go out there and improve lives for people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities.
Var Ashe Houston
Survivor of the Genocide in Cambodia
My family were evacuated… The train was packed like sardines… altogether 3,000 of us in one train. And it took three days… that was a nightmare in itself. People died on the train, and they wouldn’t stop for us to bury the dead.
Survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda
I stayed in Rwanda after the genocide, we tried to go back to work, to find others and make friends, to find out if you have some family members left. Then we tried to build the country again, to build a family again, to build ourselves again.
Survivor of the Genocide in Rwanda
Three months after the Genocide, I received a letter from my younger sister, Chantal. She told me, ‘All our family has been killed…Aunt Marie Rose and I are the only ones who survived. Why don’t you come back? I need you, please come back.’ My family was still alive. I decided to go back to Rwanda.
Survivor of the Genocide in Bosnia
It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, but we had no other option. We wanted to live.
Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE
Witness to the Genocide in Darfur who has campaigned for international action to be taken to stop it
Whole families had come on foot or partially hitching lifts on trucks, making the epic journey of 1,000 kilometres or more to escape the troubles … I knew that things had to be far more serious in Darfur. People only fled such a distance if there was some real, tangible fear driving them onwards.