In case you missed it, today is the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and thus it is Holocaust Memorial Day. At 8 PM tonight we will light a candle at the Welsh Hovel as I hope that you all will wherever you are. It is important that we remind the younger generation of the sheer horrors of what went on, so that man’s inhumanity to man cannot be expressed in such a vile way again. The problem is that people are forgetting or perhaps just don’t know at all.
We see that in the way that language is debased. It is now normal for those on the left, especially younger folks, to use words such as fascist and Nazi as a simple term of abuse for those with whom they disagree, especially those who support Donald Trump, Brexit or aren’t so keen on their teenage daughter being thrashed on the basketball court and then sharing a shower with a six foot bearded girl with a penis called Barry. Such language fails to grasp the idea that real Nazis killed six million Jews, 20,000 LGBT folk, 50,000 Roma and millions of slavs. Among the six million were almost the entire families of two of daughter Olaf’s godparents. The Nazis also killed my great uncle Francis Cochrane who volunteered to fight evil and died in the deserts of Egypt.
By calling those they disagree with Nazis, folks diminish the perceptions of the true evil of the real Nazis. And the level of ignorance about what those real Nazis did is horrifying.
A survey of Americans aged 18-39 came out last Autumn and showed:
48% could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto established during the second world war, not even Auschwitz
23% said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure.
63% of respondents did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and 36% thought 2 million or fewer had been killed.
11% believed that Jews had caused the Holocaust.
Would the UK statistics be vastly different? I would hope so. The US has always been a little insular. But I suspect that far too many young folks here would give incorrect answers.
For what it is worth I tested my wife who is an intelligent academic and she was able to name just one camp ( Auschwitz). My teenage daughter did twice as well as she also came up with Belsen. When I said that there were 40,000 camps and ghettos both were shocked. Shocked at the scale of what went on but also at the clear implication of national guilt. If you have one camp or ghetto for every 2,000 people in Germany, the idea that the people of Germany could have been unaware if not in some way complicit in what went on, in the disappearance of 2 million of their neighbours, is just inconceivable.
But then, of course, the Allies were also aware. It was mentioned in parliament. We knew and shamefully we did almost nothing to even slow down the process of genocide. Partly that was because far too many of us were not so much anti-semitic but just not terribly bothered about the Jews. And in occupied Europe far too many locals assisted the Germans with the holocaust, some as they were just obeying orders, others – usually in the East – with some degree of enthusiasm.
Few folk emerge with great credit from what happened. The sheer numbers are not the true horror it is the individual tales and pictures. Vist the website of somewhere such as Yad Vashem and you will see faces of little boys and girls the same ages as my youngest two ( 4 years and 2 months respectively), faces with names attached and places of birth and you learn that they went to Auschwitz or another camp on a given date and “did not survive selection”. That means they were walked or carried from the train straight to the gas chambers.
I can barely bring myself to look at those sort of pictures any more. It is just too dreadful to think about and raises just so many questions.
But we must look. We must remember and teach our kids all about it and why this sort of thing must never be allowed to happen again. Light your candle at 8 PM tonight.