Holocaust Memorial Day 2019

The story in this morning’s Guardian/Observer that around one in twenty (5% if you prefer) of British adults doubt the undeniable truth of the Holocaust* is an uncomfortable finding that makes the remembrance of the truth all the more vital.

At least six million Jews and millions more Roma, Poles, Slavs, homosexuals, trade unionists, academics, disabled, people with learning difficulties and others who failed the warped criteria of Hitler and his white supremacist racial ideology were dispossessed, enslaved, experimented upon and murdered by the Nazis in death camps and ditches all over Central and Eastern Europe.

The ‘greatest generation’ and their children were sufficiently close to events to have understood the horrors bearing witness the accounts of their contemporaries who survived, liberated the camps and read the detailed bureaucratic documenting of systematic murder, pseudo-scientific papers and business plans of murder on an industrial scale created by the Nazis themselves. Nobody doubted the reality and few voiced their denial thereby revealing their own Nazi sympathies.

My school, progressive in such matters, found ways of teaching the reality of the Holocaust though not through the formal history curriculum. In later years the UK came to teach the history formally to all children. This approach was strongly backed by Susan Pollack MBE, a survivor of Auchwitz and Bergen-Belsen, now 88 years young and living in London, she still shares her testimony with school children around the UK. Soon, however, there will no survivors to tell first hand of these horrors. Soon we will rely on history of events becoming a distant memory as the hatreds and ideological lies that brought catastrophe to Europe re-surface, emboldened by distance.

Susan Pollack told the European Parliament’s commemoration event on Wednesday last** (above) that the approach of compulsory education was vital to ensuring the understanding of the Holocaust, its origins and consequences and advocated its rolling out across the rest of Europe while Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and former Israeli Labor Party Leader, Isaac Herzog, warned of the recent rise of anti-Semitic activities across Europe. In the keynote address, Timothy Snyder, a History Professor at Yale, set out the parallel conditions in today’s economic and social affairs that reduce humanity to numbers and are but a few steps removed from the business plans of genocide pursued by the Nazis.

There is nothing inevitable in today’s events, there was nothing inevitable in the 1930s. We cannot afford that the Holocaust becomes lost in the mists of time. We cannot allow truth to be forgotten. We cannot afford to allow the truth to be disputed. Today the truth of the Holocaust must be defended and constantly re-told.

* This disturbing finding is part of research carried out by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It is in line with findings of similar research around Europe. Cynics, or rather in this instance Anti-Semite apologists, would doubtless say that this is simply the Trust justifying its own existence. I prefer to see it as a fact of the research that demonstrates exactly why the educative work of the Trust is essential.

** The Parliament calendar means that Holocaust commemoration takes place in the week in which Holocaust Memorial Day falls - the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army on 27 January 1945.