Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Holocaust Memorial Day

To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, the BBC Archive have posted up a selection of incredible, brilliant and awful materials from the liberation of the death camps. Reporters are barely able to get the words out but desperate for the world to know what's happened.

Some might question the wisdom of this, given the BBC drawing fire for declining to show the appeal for humanitarian aid in Gaza. What with this, and then airing a dramatised version of Anne Frank's diary, isn't it too obviously picking sides?

But I don't think it quite works like that. There's an argument that guilt and horror over the Holocaust led to the creation of Israel. That doesn't mean the Holocaust in any way justifies or excuses the policies of that country now. They are judged not on their past but their actions today. And there are plenty of Jews who object to the Israel's treatment of the occupied territories. These things are complex; the country should be able to defend itself.

More than that, the Holocaust can't just be a black-and-white opposition of monstrous Nazis bullying innocent Jews. There were also homosexuals and communists and political dissenters in the death camps, and their guards weren't just the party's most faithful. There might be a lesson about what ideology can do to people, but it isn't about any specifc ideology. What makes the Holocaust so appalling, so worthy of memory, is that people - ordinary people - did this to other, ordinary people.

But we should not remember the Holocaust to just despair at the terrible, awful things that our species - that we - can do. There's an argument the values of the United Nations, of universal human rights, were the result of fighting the war: by opposing the Nazis we defined our own position. Or there's the example of Black GIs who liberated the death camps returning to America determined to fight for their own civil rights. Whoever the victims were, whatever their race or religion or politics, there is no excuse. We should know better. We have to know better.

Which is why it's all the more pertinent to recall the Holocaust in the current circumstances.


Adaddinsane said...

And Poles and Romanies (Gypsies), disabled, mentally handicapped etc.

Nyssa1968 said...

Sage post. Thank you.

I am fascinated by how other genocides seem to get forgotten or buried by current politics. Take what happened to thousands of Armenians in what was the remnants of the Ottoman Empire as one example, Pol Pot's rampage against his own people in Cambodia, the awkwardly remembered horror of Rwanda, and arguably the current destruction of various peoples in Congo and Darfur, etc, etc.

It always makes me feel a little odd when I hear the words, 'never again', when it just keeps happening.

Le Mc said...

Thanks, Adaddinsane, I was going to add that too.