International Holocaust Memorial Day
By Lord Dolar Popat,
This week I will be joining my Jewish friends in observing the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Almost three quarters of a century on from the darkest chapter in Europe’s history, Holocaust memorial is as important as it has ever been. It is not just the indifference and complacency caused by the passage of time that we must resist. But the climate of denial and distortion that is permeating our society and polluting political debate. Complacency, denial and distortion are three forces we must fight against.
First, complacency: There are many people who associate the Nazi genocide with a disfigured past; an abhorrent historical event from which humanity has moved on, and which will never be repeated.
Then there are the deniers: those who claim the Holocaust never happened. Holocaust denial is pure hate masquerading as legitimate debate designed to spread more hate. Holocaust-deniers propagate deranged conspiracy theories, based on centuries-old tropes about Jewish power and influence, claiming that the systematic murder of 6 million human beings is nothing more than an elaborate myth.
And finally, the ‘distorters’ – those who employ the word genocide to describe various forms of state violence in a bid to spark emotional responses to perceived injustices. Some distorters are merely careless, but more often than not, the term genocide is used as a weapon to demonise people and countries, and to advance hostile agendas. Distortion is particularly troubling because it dilutes the very meaning of genocide as defined in international law.
We need to remember that genocide is not an event; it is a process. It is made possible when three things happen: Racist ideologies spread, dictators rise and freedoms collapse. Through psychological and legal measures, a new climate of hate is created, which over time legitimises the subjugation of a victim group, which in turn lays the ground for systematic mass-murder. It is salutary to point out that the final solution did not start with the Second World War: it was the culmination of many years of meticulous planning and hateful inculcation under Hitler’s Germany. In this process Jews were singled out as scapegoats for Germany’s ills. It normalised perceptions of Jews as having no place in society. But the objective was not only to intimidate, oppress, or even expel the Jews from Germany. It was to destroy them – totally, without mercy, and with no exceptions. Think about that for a moment: Over six million innocent men, women and children, rounded up from every corner of Europe that the Nazis were able to reach, and murdered. It defies comprehension. And yet history continues to repeat itself.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group of Rwanda, I plan to take a group of Parliamentarians to Kigali in April to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, which shared striking similarities with the Holocaust. While to some observers the Rwandan genocide looked like a spontaneous outbreak of frenzied killing, the scale of planning and preparation, which in many ways mirrored the processes in Nazi Germany, soon became clear: Totalitarian rule. Nuremberg-style laws of separation. Sophisticated propaganda which portrayed the Tutsi minority as subhuman ‘cockroaches’ who were not fit for society. The psychological and legal foundations were cemented long before a single shot was fired. The totality is crucial in understanding the difference between genocide and other atrocities. To this end Holocaust remembrance is as much about education as it is commemoration.
What can we learn? Around the world, the extreme right and extreme left are sowing division and hate. Insecure societies are looking for answers to their problems, and for someone to blame. The destabilising factors that coalesced to legitimise destruction are again being unleashed. So on this Holocaust remembrance, we must not allow ourselves to become complacent. We must combat denial and distortion at every turn. Because history teaches us that indifference threatens inaction. And inaction makes the unthinkable eminently possible