Sunday, 27 January 2019

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. From Wiki:

"(it) is an international memorial day on 27 January commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust that occurred during the Second World War. It commemorates the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jewish people, 5 million Slavs, 3 million ethnic Poles, 200,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. "

A few years ago we went to a talk by the great pilot Eric 'Winkle' Brown. We expected an entertaining talk about his experiences in the air, and that is what we got. However we also got a long section on his experiences near the end of the war. As a German speaker and pilot, he interviewed Hermann Goering after his capture, and also was one of the first people to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

He spent a fair while talking about the horrors he saw in the camp, and his feelings about the people who staffed it. Wiki has the following: "he soon interviewed the camp's former commandant and his assistant Josef Kramer and Irma Grese, and remarked upon the experience by saying that; "Two more loathsome creatures it is hard to imagine" and further describing the latter as "... the worst human being I have ever met."

The very powerful and upsetting talk made me realise one thing: I'd never actually heard a first-hand account of the camps before. I'd seen plenty of TV interviews with survivors, but whilst horrific, they lacked the impact that first-hand testimony holds. And as old age takes those who suffered in the camps and survived, and those such as Eric Brown who helped liberate them, first-hand testimony will evaporate. We shall be left only with recordings, and like pictures of emaciated survivors, or of diggers bulldozing piles of bodies into graves, they are easier to deny.

And this is a reason why we should all pause for a minute today to remember the Holocaust and to consider man's potential to inflict mass suffering on his fellow man. The Holocaust was not the first such atrocity, and sadly it was not the last. I fear to say there will be more in the future. The people affected my be different, and it may be rooted in different causes, but remembering the horror and saying "Never again," are good baby steps in preventing their recurrence.

Denying the Holocaust - especially because of dislike of the groups who were killed - is the first step to allowing something like it to happen again.

So pause and think. If you are religious, offer a little prayer. If you are not, think how you'd feel if it was your mother and father in such a camp, or your son or daughter.

For the people who died in the holocaust were not statistics, nor were they nameless bodies in a black-and-white photo. They were real people, as real as you or I.

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