Thoughts from Holocaust Memorial Day

I’d watched a TV programme, been to an event with asylum seekers, and they told me about a talk by a local historian on the Jews on Teesside.

Several things, apart from remembering the atrocities of the genocide of the Jews, struck me hard.

The role of “ordinary people” in the genocide.  I hadn’t realised before how those who had been friends and neighbours were going along to see the spectacle of Jews being shot and falling into the trench to be buried.  How harassed some of the children were by fellow countrymen were as they set off on the Kindertransport to safety.  When listening to Skimstone Radio | Skimstone Arts with the asylum seekers we heard also of more subtle ways of causing distress, adding to what people were already going through.

The gas chambers did not happen overnight, the climate for such builds up, and this link Holocaust Memorial Day Trust | The ten stages of genocide ( leads to a description of the ten stages of genocide.  I won’t go into the detail of those stages here, but reading them brings it home how many of those steps resonate with current attitudes fostered by Government and right wing media.  The whole country may view with horror what happened in the genocide, but can everyone look at those 10 steps and say that as “ordinary people” they are not part of it in any way?

Then there is the understanding that it isn’t just about what happened in Nazi Germany, it is what is, and has been happening world wide with genocides elsewhere.  The asylum seekers I was with in the morning were from many different countries, I didn’t need to ask why they had left family, friends, community and country on what were often treacherous journeys to seek sanctuary.  There is much we do not know, it is not talked about.  I organised an event when I was Mayor and was told how 5 Million had been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo by someone who had just managed to escape.  I wonder how often do we realise that atrocities are happening right now, but they are just not in the headlines.

The local history talk brought home how going back to when the refugees from the Spanish Civil War were welcomed in the UK, it was not with initial support from the Government, but the actions of “ordinary people”.

I was proud of the part played by people in Teesside in welcoming children from Spain and Nazi horrors, I am proud of those “ordinary people” who welcome those seeking sanctuary here today.  But how much have we learned from history?  I despair of the attitudes of our Government, and some of their followers, in their determination to demonise, and even turn back those seeking sanctuary with us.  Looking at those 10 steps to genocide, how far along the way are we already?


* Suzanne Fletcher was a councillor for nearly 30 years and a voluntary advice worker with the CAB for 40 years. Now retired, she is active as a campaigner in the community both as a Lib Dem and with local organisations and author of "Bold as Brass?", the story of Brass Crosby.

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  • Mel Borthwaite 29th Jan '23 - 12:51pm

    I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, many years ago and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Particularly impressive, I felt, was the way the story was presented in historical context with exhibits laying out the chronology of increasing restrictions and repression against Jewish people in Germany in the lead up to the War, and the final exhibit being a huge room with a map of Europe on the floor and flames burning to mark locations of concentration camps, with the estimated number of those murdered recorded at each location. I could not hold back tears.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 29th Jan '23 - 1:20pm

    @Mel Borthwaite, I can imagine how it struck you seeing the historical context, as that struck me through the TV programme and local talk. There are too many (although just 1 is too many) things that are in the that resonate both in this country and world wide right now. “when will we ever learn…”

  • The role of “ordinary people” in genocide is the difficult part to comprehend. Is it the ten steps of genocide that makes people so indifferent to the suffering of their friends and neighbours?. We have seen it in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Congo and the former Yugoslavia among others. We can see it today in the indifference of a great many Russian people to the suffering of friends and relatives in Ukraine.
    Is propaganda so powerful that it can turn even the meekest among us into snarling bigots of the worst kind?
    We all have a role to play, not just government, in recognising and countering efforts to stereotype and demonise groups of people based on differences between ‘us’and ‘them’.

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