Holocaust Memorial Day matters more than ever

I must have been about four when my Grandma told me about the Holocaust, about the millions of Jewish people taken from their homes and families, starved and subjected to the most brutal treatment in concentration camps. The utter horror of the mass executions shocked me and helped spark in me a lifelong regard for human rights and commitment to making sure that nothing like that could ever happen again. Later on, I realised that Roma, gay people, trade unionists, disabled people and pretty much anyone else whose face didn’t fit were also persecuted.

My Grandma had lost her Dad, who had been on HMS Courageous, in the first fortnight of the War. She ended it in Germany, where my Grandad was a doctor with the forces and where my Dad was born in December 1945. The horrors of the Nazi atrocities were very real to her and she was keen to make sure that future generations understood the dangers and horrors.

It’s worrying that 1 in 20 UK adults, according to a poll reported by BBC News think that the holocaust didn’t take place and 1 in 8 think that it has been exaggerated.

In an article for the Guardian last November, Hope not Hate’s Joe Mulhall looked at how holocaust denial is changing as the alt-right rises. It’s belittled, mocked and joked about on social media.

For many young far-right activists the Holocaust is shorn of historical significance, diminished by time and absent from their collective consciousness, as it was not for previous generations throughout the postwar period. Far-right Holocaust denial is changing and if we are to be ready to fight back against those who seek to rewrite history for their own political ends, we have to understand how they are trying to do it.

So what can we do about it? As ever, support education about this grim moment in human history and stand up when we see people being targeted with prejudice and discrimination based on who they are. We can’t ever put up with anti-semitism, islamophobia, transphobia, misogyny, prejudice against immigrants, attacks on disabled people. All of these are increasingly prevalent in our society.

This video from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust sums it up:

Senior Liberal Democrats have been marking Holocaust Memorial Day:

In a Commons debate marking Holocaust Memorial Day, Jamie Stone recounted the visit of an orchestra to the Highlands back in 1987:

Mr Deputy Speaker, I wonder whether I might crave your indulgence and that of the Chamber and share an anecdote—a memory. Thirty-two years ago I was, believe it or not—it was a long time ago—the youngest councillor in Ross and Cromarty in the highlands. In those days, the link between the arts and local government was not particularly there to be seen, but we had a very forward-looking chief executive called Douglas Sinclair, who is sadly no longer with us. He really did catapult Ross and Cromarty into having a really enlightened arts policy. He was a great supporter of the Labour party. I put that on the record with some pleasure, because a man like that deserves to be remembered in Hansard.

Mr Douglas Sinclair got Julian Lloyd Webber to come and play in my hometown of Tain. He got in place a writer in residence and a poet in residence, and the arts flourished in the far north of Scotland. I particularly remember one cold winter’s night, when we were bidden through to a concert in the town hall in Dingwall, the county town of Ross and Cromarty. When we sat down, the first thing I noticed was that there were two Mozart piano concertos on the programme, but for some reason the old upright piano in the town hall had not been exchanged for a rather more splendid grand. The upright piano had probably only ever had “Chopsticks” played on it for the previous 20 years. Nevertheless, in came the orchestra. If my memory serves me rightly, they were called the International Orchestra of New York, and they played with considerable verve. The poor old upright piano did not know what had hit it: moths came out of the top and we thought the sides were going to fall off. They dropped the odd note and the odd chord was wrong, but by gosh they put their hearts into it.

At the interval—it is not the way in the highlands to have posh glasses of champagne as they do in London or these splendid places down here; in the highlands we have egg sandwiches, shortbread and tea—the whole ​audience mixed with the orchestra. Within minutes of my talking to the orchestra—you can guess what is coming, Mr Deputy Speaker—it became apparent that they were survivors of the camps. They told me that they had played for their lives in the camps, and now they were playing for us as a celebration of life. One of them rolled up his sleeve—he was wearing white tie—and showed me his tattoo. In those short minutes over our eats and our tea, we were all moved by these people being with us, and having come to the north of Scotland.

When we sat down again for the second piano concerto, which I remember very well was Mozart’s 23rd, we hung on every note. Every mistake—they were rather elderly—was ignored. We cheered them to the rafters when they sat down at the end of the last movement and we encored them furiously. Somehow, our enthusiasm caught on with them and they responded. That piano has never since recovered.

That is my anecdote. In just one event in my life, the very people who had survived were there, and that brought home to me, more than anything else probably could have done, what the holocaust was. Those good people are probably no longer with us, because it was a long time ago and they were elderly then, but that is my memory, and it serves me strongly when it comes to remembering, as we shall do, the horrors of the holocaust, and never forgetting. I tell you this, Mr Deputy Speaker: I cannot listen to Mozart’s beautiful 23rd piano concerto without remembering those good, noble and brave people.

As we lose those who have first hand recollections of just how brutal the Holocaust was, we reach a dangerous point where it is not taken so seriously. It is so important that we don’t forget and we recognise and deal with the building blocks of hatred so that nothing like this can ever happen again. As liberals this is a core part of our mission.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • David Warren 27th Jan '19 - 11:37am

    Excellent article Caron.

    WW2 is a fair while ago now and those who remember it first hand are dying off.

    It was talked about in my childhood by my parents who grew up in the war years.

    My maternal grandfather was in the parachute regiment and according to my Mum took part in liberating one of the concentration camps.

    He died when I was 12 but I often think about him and his experiences during 5 years of war service.

    The poison of organised fascism which he and others fought against is always present even when it appears to be on the fringe.

    As Liberals our task of building a free, open and tolerant democracy is ever present.

  • The holocaust is a long time ago but should not be forgotten. For it to be remembered we must add The Balkans genocide, ISIS (deash) and ALL other atrocities where mans inhumanity to man has shown that being ‘different’ is an excuse to punish.Holocaust memorial day should be expanded to show how man can be inhuman to man so that we can remember it does not take much to tip the human race into barbarism .

  • n hunter …

    Sorry, but I disagree. The Balkans, Isis, Myanmar etc. are horrific but the Holocaust is a significant remembrance, and repugnance, of how a ‘civilised’ society planned and carried out the deliberate extermination of those it deemed ‘undesirable’. It wasn’t just Jews but gypsies, communists, the disabled, etc. and was carried out with a cold, calculating methodology that was chillingly effective; even Stalin’s population transfers are haphazard by comparison.

    It is ‘special’.

  • Mick Taylor 27th Jan '19 - 2:17pm

    As the son of a holocaust survivor I believe it is vital to keep the true horror of this dark part of history alive. On both sides of my mum’s family there are victims of Nazi genocide including my great aunt Toni and her son Hans. LibDems must continue to remember and fight against those who would blame Jews or immigrants or refugees for all the ills of the world, those who fire bomb synagogues or mosques or churches in the name of religion.
    All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing or to utter mealy mouthed platitudes about ‘understanding where you are coming from’

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Jan '19 - 2:54pm

    As usual a fair non partisan piece from Caron, on such things, and personal heartfelt description.

    The quote from the source was not as fair though, to mention only the alt right is to ignore the frightening trend that sees the far left join the far right in its antisemitism.

    Today Rachel Riley is in the news , she needs extra security at the tv studios, a direct result of extremism from the left she experienced and does now, online, including threats to her, anyone who properly studies the increased antisemitism , and I have, finds out here and abroad, left is as bad as right, on these extremes and extremist positions.

    We owe it to the victims of hatred to not be selective, Hope Not Hate need to say it more.

  • Ever since Tony Blair decreed that we should initiate Holocaust Memorial Day it has been a commemoration which people come to with a variety of emphases. For some years I fronted the local event (always on Friday). It is a tricky one to get right. Simply choosing a venue can be a complex decision. Over the years we have used the Interfaith Centre, our Art Gallery and the Banqueting Room in City Hall.

    Some people come seeing it as almost entirely about the Nazi Holocaust, others (following the guidance from the Holocaust Memorial Trust) give due weight to subsequent genocides.

    Over the last few years some of us have reflected on the echoes of 1930s fascism in our own time – seeing the Nazi Holocaust as the culmination of a process lasting nigh on a decade and a half.

    In some ways it may be easier to “get it right” in an obviously multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-cultural city.

    Come what may the contribution of schools is crucial and in our commemoration, with the participation of students of different ages and different backgrounds, the contribution of young Muslims helping us to reflect on genocides including the murder of six million Jews encourages us to think about relationships within our city as well as in the Middle East.

    Yes it had a strange beginning and respecting a variety of sensitivities can be a tricky balancing act – but we still need to do Holocaust Memorial.

  • The 6 million figure is an estimation. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust) a study by Wolfgang Benz suggested a figure between 5.29 and 6.2 million. Wikipedia has a table from Peter Hayes listing the number per country which adds up to 5,896,577. In the text it states that the number of Jews killed in the Soviet Union was “1-1.1 million”, which is a million less than the Peter Hayes figure. If someone thinks the figure is closer to 5 million than 6 million are they included in the 1 in 8 (12 according to the BBC figures) of people who think 6 million is an exaggeration?

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Jan '19 - 1:45am

    @ expats,
    I agree.

    The holocaust is of particular significance, because it was industrial scale murder perpetrated within, and by, a so called civilised society, i.e. people like us.

    As those who can provide first hand testimony die out, it is up to each and everyone of us to keep alive the memory of how a so called civilised society can descend into such unimaginable barbarity. At every stage, we must stand solid against the processes that allowed and enabled the descent.

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