The Holocaust is impossible to truly take in: 6 million Jews methodically hunted down and slaughtered, but worse than that, tortured before death in all kinds of horrendous ways, used for medical experimentation, for forced labour by companies still flourishing (some of whom have STILL not apologised, let alone made reparations) dehumanised to the point that their skin was used for lampshades. I firmly believe we need a memorial day: talking to my stepson, then 13, now 24, I found out he thought the lampshade item was a sick joke. Seeing his face as I explained it was real, and that as a child of dual heritage, not Jewish, but with a mother of African heritage, he would have been in the camps too, it could have been him…that I would have been in on 4 counts, as the daughter of a Jew, as an anarcha-communist, as a degenerate artist and bi-sexual, that his father would have been there with us, as an artist with bi-polar affective disorder…on some level, he didn’t realise it really truly happened, that ‘Schindler’s List’ is based on real events even worse than it shows, that Oskar Schindler was a real man, a lot more of a rogue than the book and film portray, but that he existed, unlike Logan in ‘Logan’s Run’ for example…

The Holocaust happened to real people, all kinds of people:

Irene Klepfisz’s poem Bashert is one of the most powerful pieces of writing I know, she refuses to simplify, she stands for all who lived and died, genocide is always wrong, the ones who survive did not have to be deserving to be saved, being human is sufficient.

9.7 million European Jews became 3.6 million, and of the female survivors of the camps, many had been sterilised as part of the erasure of the Jews. The Nazis were an unimaginably effective killing machine. They also killed 5.1 million non-combatants in the camps, including Rom (Romany gypsies) ; lesbians and gays; non-whites, particularly those of African descent (Asians from the subcontinent of India, which included Pakistan at the time, were Aryans, and safe); political and religious dissenters, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Communists and trade unionists; the “degenerate” (artists/ creatives/free thinkers/petty criminals); the disabled (physically and mentally, including those with ‘minor’ disabilities, as they abhorred physical imperfections, also those with mental illnesses) and prisoners of war, mainly Russians.

It is important to remember the prisoners of war: these were the only people in that list whom the Red Cross sought to help. The Red Cross have been asked to explain their failures to alert the Allies to how bad the situation was for the others, but they still have never given a heartfelt apology…justifications that their remit only covered non-political prisoners, that they were never shown anything like the real extent of the horror are true, but insufficient, even offensive.  As is Winston Churchill’s position: he could have saved MILLIONS of Jews by allowing transit visas to America, which was willing to take them, but even though Jan Karsky, the Polish Resistance hero, made his way to London TWICE to beg for help, Churchill would not overcome his prejudices. There are other shamefaced leaders too…

What is incredibly important to remember in the face of this appalling human tragedy, is that some people did stand for their OWN integrity and took action: to know more of these ordinary and extraordinary heroes:

– the righteous are the people who often made a decision in a split second to shelter and support Jews, but also organised the Resistance underground railroads to smuggle people to safety, at risk of losing not just their own lives, but those of their entire families or communities – the Nazis would massacre entire villages if one person was found to be involved. The Jews are often portrayed as passive victims, but there was an armed Jewish Resistance and had the British sent more plastique and other weapons, the railway lines carrying the death trains would have been blown up far more often…back to the just… I read ‘The Book of the Just’ in my 20s and wept…sometimes such small actions made a difference. The Danish were incredibly supportive of their Jewish citizens…when the Jews were ordered to wear the yellow Star of David emblems, it was said the Danish King wore it too, which is not so. However, just as importantly, in 1933, he attended the centenary celebrations of the Copenhagen synagogue, even though the Chief Rabbi said they would understand if he did not, to which he replied that now was the most important time to show solidarity. Acts like this are a call to citizens to stand up for the community and not abandon their friends and neighbours, themselves…this is the point I try to get over to the young people I’ve talked with, that it is yourself who is lost when you allow another to be persecuted. And I learnt it from the just and the Jewish faith:

Rabbi Hillel (born 110 BCE) :

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, then when?

Whoever destroys someone, it is as if an entire world were destroyed; and whoever saves someone, it is as if an entire world were saved.

A Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward, has just been reprimanded for criticising the Zionist Israeli actions against the Palestinians, and particularly because he chose to do it so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day. But surely this is appropriate: at a time when we should be looking at preventing systematic persecutions of peoples, this 61 year old campaign of hawkish invasion needs to be examined. I will be interested to see what Return (the Jewish campaign for the right of Palestinians to a homeland) says about this. I looked up Irene Klepfisz yesterday to send a link for a comment on Soraya’s blog (she posted on how it is for her, having been raised in South Africa where the Holocaust was denied and was struck how Irene had the courage to criticise the ‘hawks’

– sorry, you have to scroll a long way down to the section between footnotes 10 and 11, but the important bit is where she asks if we are only going to object to Israel’s conduct when they act as complete fascists, not partial?

The Israelis are not Nazis, but they are acting illegally and immorally, and because the state of Israel was created in apology to the Jews and in reparation for the Holocaust, there is an uncomfortable entwining of circumstances. Any other nation that had broken so many UN agreements would be vilified, so why are we so uncomfortable criticising Israel? Perhaps because we cannot cope with the huge, unimaginable wrong that was done, we cannot bear to think about what has arisen in the decades since. There are uneasy parallels to the slave trade here: substitute Britain and America for the the Nazis, and see the ongoing discomfort at discussing the problems caused by erasing the rights of many peoples, causing them unimaginable harm, moving them thousands of miles and still discriminating against them and wonder why some of those affected by this, even now, over a century later, are angry and bitter or disaffected and alienated? Most Israelis are not Zionists, many are ‘doves’, many actively campaign for the rights of Palestinians and justice for all….but some are baying for blood, demanding blanket bombing of the strongholds of the intifada. America has a President of part African heritage, who is incredibly inspiring in his commitment to fair treatment and opportunities for all, for care and compassion. Britain has amazing citizens of dual heritage and history and I think Dianne Abbott’s speech against the pornification of society is the best stand for a return to integrity I’ve heard for ages. Both countries also have areas of heavy gang culture, knife crime and lost black youth….there are communities on both sides of that heritage with huge wounds and self harming behaviours. I do wonder if the buried shame of being slave traders and empire builders (read genocidal invaders) has caused some of the problems Britain and America have in adjusting to no longer being world leaders. They are no longer the winners writing the history, and reading what the rest of the world thought and thinks about it all is not at all comfortable. The gun crimes in America seem to be committed by individuals who can’t cope with the old order being overturned, who want the right to bear arms as though they are still invading someone else’s country and need weapons for ‘self protection’ against the rightful inhabitants…

I include these examples to be clear I’ve thought about this a lot and know it’s very complicated. And that I have lots of thoughts going on about the consequences of major historical events…and I apologise if it’s muddled or muddling…

But it’s also very simple:

Survivors of difficult histories are as varied as everyone else, and the choice to be just must be made daily. To save ourselves.

Please light a candle for all those affected by injustice, and take a moment to think what you can best give to the world. And pledge to do it! That is the best memorial we can make for those who have died unfairly: to live well, to be just and to remember.