I’ve not seen much in the press or online reminding us that today, the 27th January, is Holocaust Memorial Day. I know it’s the same date every year, but am surprised that there’s not been much about it in the media. Yes, there have been other stories, other news items, other events, but surely there should be more said and done to mark this day?
I’d like to ask you to take a moment or two to read this story from the BBC website today. It’s short, it’s simple, and it is a stark reminder that now, over 70 years after the event, there are still people alive who not only witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust but also survived them.
I visited Auschwitz in 2014: what I saw there still haunts me to this day. I’ve visited the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, and I’ve visited the Holocaust centre in Oslo. I’m not Jewish, and I’m not using these visits as some sort of voyeuristic endeavour. I’m just human, trying to figure out how one person or group of people can treat another like that. I read about those times, about the events and the actions of men, to try to understand, to make sense of it all, and I can’t.
I also can’t understand why more isn’t being said or done to stop such actions taking place again. There’s a plaque in Auschwitz which says:
He who cannot remember the past is condemned to repeat it
I believe that was originally said by Santa Ana after The Alamo, but in these days where a US president is talking about building a wall to keep people out of his country, where there’s a suggestion of having a register of muslims in that supposedly secular country, that statement is more powerful than ever.
From this side of the Atlantic, what we’re hearing from some in the US is similar to the rabid nationalism that emerged in the 20s and 30s and which finally gave the world the Holocaust. Far from looking to embrace the rest of the world, to be more inclusive, some in the US government seem to be moving to a more isolationist stance of “America first and stuff the rest of you”. I’m worried by this apparent approach, that the lessons of history, that the events which unfolded at Auschwitz and other camps across Europe, are being forgotten or ignored.
The voters in the US elected an outsider, someone without any of the political baggage that many of the other candidates on both parties had, and that choice cannot be changed. But those same voters (and those who voted the other way) can and should hold their administration to account, can speak out when policies or actions are being decided on which are not in the best interests of the world or which, worse still, disenfranchise, alienate and segregate others purely on religious, political, gender or other grounds.
Just because someone doesn’t hold the same beliefs, or have the same ancestry, or skin colour, or whatever else, that you do, does not make them a bad person. Whatever happened to “love thy neighbour” and “innocent until proven guilty”?
Today, perhaps more than any other day, we must not forget where that road leads. We cannot allow the Holocaust, or anything even slightly resembling it, to be repeated, ever.
Remember the past: do not repeat it