Auschwitz Memorial Day
Monday 30th January 2017
I visited Auschwitz in October, 2016 and walked the railroad track into the camp and stood on the ramp where the notorious selections took place. Immediate gassing and cremation for most and for those who were selected to enter the camp a slow death from starvation and hard labour. It represented a deliberate attempt to murder the entire Jewish race but also other minority groups who were deemed not to share Nazi Germany's Ayran culture e.g. socialists, trade unionists, homosexuals, the mentally ill, Roma, intellectuals, writers, artists, Jehovah Witnesses, Pacifists, Poles and Slavs and the catch-all category of 'asocial' designated by the wearing of a black triangle. The Commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, confirmed that the highest number gassed and cremated within a single day was 9000. In total 5.75 million Jews were murdered 1939-45 representing 55% of the entire Jewish population of Europe and millions more across the other categories marked for extermination. To place this in context Great Britain lost 375,000 troops and civilians over the entire war 1939-45. Auschwitz is a testimony to man's inhumanity to man. Unfortunately in recent years the names Darfur, Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda have joined Auschwitz in the lexicon of mass murder and today 'so called Islamic State'. The adherents of 'so called' Islamic State single out Jews, Yazidis, Christians, Kurds, Shia, Ahmadis and the gay community for murder and like the Nazis employ their own catch-all category of 'unbelievers' and in an echo of Nazi policy and Cambodia's Year Zero destroy all books, art, music, newspapers, television, schools, universities, museums and wider culture not in keeping with their own ideology. The outcome, along with the tragic civil war in Syria, has been the largest refugee crisis in the world since the end of the Second World War. We are all perhaps becoming de-sensitised to violence. Images of executions, starvation and bomb blasts are becoming commonplace and with no obvious solutions in sight. We must remember that those caught up in these events are real people. They have been marked for death - ordinary men, women and children- because of what rather than who they are.
Consequently it is more important than ever to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January - the date Auschwitz was liberated in 1945 - as a day to standstill and to pledge that we will, as a world society, never accept another Auschwitz. We may disagree with other people but we will never accept the mass murder of people simply because of their race, religion, political beliefs and/or sexuality. This can never go unchallenged. The 27th January is the day in the year when we should reaffirm our democratic values, reject extremism and celebrate diversity.
If you wish to know more about this history I included two chapters, 'The Final Solution' and 'The Holocaust' in my textbook 'The Second World War: Ambitions to Nemesis' published by Routledge in 2004 but for a much more detailed account Martin Gilbert is the preeminent historian.
Holocaust Memorial Day should not be ignored and I would encourage all schools and colleges to mount relevant displays and promote reflection and discussion. To discover more and to obtain teaching and display materials do visit the Holocaust Memorial Website www.hmd.org.uk .