Sunday, 27 January 2019

We CANNOT Be Blind To The Past

I was a child when I first heard about the Holocaust.  My world was filled with imaginative games, bike rides in the sunshine and books to be read.  The horrors of places like Auschwitz or Belsen were impossible to fathom.  I heard about children as young as I was being imprisoned and eventually gassed to death.  It was too awful to think about and yet for a while after I first learned about the Holocaust, that was all I did.

A few years later, I read the diary of Anne Frank.  I read it when I was at a similar age to hers when it was written.  I recognised the frustrations, the passions and the dreams she filled her pages with.  But there were aspects that were shocking; a world away from the one I knew.  The fear of capture.  The horrors of war.  The hatred faced by people for no reason beyond their creed. 

Just like when I was a child, first hearing about the Holocaust, for a while after I finished the diary, it was all I could think about.  

Slaughter on a mass scale.  Camps that became machines of death.  Hatred that spilled over into atrocity.  I read the words.  I saw the photographs.  I thanked my lucky stars that I was growing up in an altogether different world.  

Or so I believed.

Photo credit: Auschwitz-Berkenau Memorial & Museum

A recent study showed that a shocking 1 in 20 adults in the UK do not believe that the Holocaust actually happened.  The study also revealed that 1 in 12 adults in the UK either have no idea how many Jewish people were systematically murdered during the atrocities, or that they were prone to grossly under-estimating the figure.

It could be seen as easy to write this off as a failing of our education system, or to casually blame it on the fact that 74 years have passed since the liberation of Auschwitz.  But neither excuse is good enough.  

There are countless stories to be found, written or told by survivors of Nazi death camps.  We have photographs of emaciated prisoners in their striped outfits.  Mountains of shoes, pairs of glasses and even locks of human hair can be seen upon visiting Auschwitz itself.  Then there is the fact that the Nazis themselves were detailed record keepers and despite their attempts to conceal what had been happening at their now notorious concentration camps, the world quickly discovered the grim truth, once the war was at an end.

In the face of such harrowing evidence, to deny that the Holocaust ever took place can only happen due to one of two things: sheer determination to keep one's head in the sand and avoid the worst of the world's horrors, or - far more frighteningly - a continuing, hateful level of anti-Semitism.

Photo credit: Getty images

Last January, The Guardian newspaper reported that antisemitic incidents in the UK were at an all-time high.  By last Summer, The Independent were reporting that there had been over 100 antisemitic incidents per month in the UK, during the first half of 2018.

Last year also saw a huge surge in street attacks on Muslim people in the UK, as those whose bigoted views are usually kept under the radar become more and more emboldened, thanks to the likes of "Tommy Robinson" and his ilk.  

Today, as we commemorate the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, there are antisemites on Twitter, continuing to perpetuate hateful stereotypes.  There are people writing similarly vile comments about Muslims.  In fact, it doesn't take more than a couple of minutes of digging (and we're talking shallow levels of digging) on social media, to uncover not only antisemitism or Islamophobia, but racism, misogyny and homophobia being broadcast far more openly than ever before.  Indeed, on one single page (a Twitter user who I have obviously reported for their despicable behaviour), I found not only Holocaust denial, but open racism against black people, homophobia and a vocal insistence that "hate speech" shouldn't be a crime.

People with these views no longer feel they have to keep them quiet.  Donald Trump's election in America - much like the UK's Brexit vote - undoubtedly emboldened far-right men and women, who suddenly believed that their opinions were no longer as unpalatable as they were once perceived.  

And yes, there are people who probably voted for Donald Trump who are not inherently racist or misogynistic, just as there are people who voted for Brexit who are horrified by the rise in racist incidents since the referendum.   The trouble is that those people are being drowned out by a louder, far nastier faction.

Getty images

The holocaust did not start with concentration camps or gas chambers.  It began with words.  It began with hateful rhetoric, aimed at "othering" a section of society.  Back then, it was predominantly aimed at the Jewish community.  Nowadays, with the world seemingly so much smaller and with our words capable of reaching so many more people, it is not only Jews, but Muslims, the LGBT+ community and countless other sections of society who are targeted daily by messages of hatred.

We cannot be blind to the past.  We cannot pretend that hateful ideology does not have the capacity to snowball into slaughter.  We've seen it happen, not only at Auschwitz, but in terrorist atrocities and racially motivated murders in far more recent history.

ANY message of hate is ridiculous, pathetic and undeserving of a place in the modern world.  ANY individual, group or organisation that seeks to undermine or even harm other people, based on nothing but their ethnicity, faith (or lack thereof), gender or sexuality needs to have their platform removed in order to prevent such toxic messages from spreading further.

No individual faith, ethnicity or sexuality is better than all of the others.  The colour of one man's skin does not make him any more or less important than the person next to him.  What an individual believes as part of their religious faith should not have any impact on anyone else's life.  And who you or I choose to have a romantic or sexual relationship with is nobody's business but our own.

We are all humans, all capable of doing right and wrong.  So let's stop turning a blind eye to the most horrific wrongs of the past and work together to prevent them from ever happening again.

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