Comment: Remember Auschwitz by not turning your back on today’s victims of tyranny

We look back and say we would have ‘done more to stop it’ when posterity will judge our own age unflatteringly

Today marks 70 years to the day since the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops.

Aside from the sheer obscenity of the Holocaust, the continued ability of the death camps to shock is heightened by the fact that the genocide was set in motion by a literate and advanced civilisation. As Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote when it was still fashionable on the right to see National Socialism as some kind of ‘bulwark’ against communism: “Today, not only in the peasant homes, but also in the sky-scrapers, there lives alongside the twentieth century the tenth or thirteenth.”

Those who view the west’s battle with the Islamic State as a ‘clash of civilisations’ should take note: the Holocaust demonstrated that ‘civilisation’ contains its own kernel of barbarism – and vice versa. The most advanced society can in a few years become the most barbaric; and it will often be ordinary men and women who stand ready to acquiesce in atrocity. “Monsters exist”, as Auschwitz survivor and 20th century moral titan Primo Levi wrote, “but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

It’s quite common today to ask whether we have collectively ‘learned the lesson’ of the Holocaust. In some ways the question is a foolish one: we can never really stop taking stock of such a giant catastrophe because there will always be new examples that emerge of the depths to which humanity sunk during the Shoah. But it is a worthwhile question all the same; not least because when confronted with human suffering we still seem ready to turn our heads resolutely away.

In Britain we are at present experiencing what might be called the ‘Ukipification’ of politics, with government asylum policy often dictated by the spluttering bore in the pub. Across the continent hard-right parties are equally in the ascendant and as such the word ‘foreigner’ has become as toxic as salt is to a snail. Several European nations, including our own government, recently made it government policy to let refugees perish in the sea.

And then there’s the public indifference to the war in Syria. Despite being bloodier even than Iraq during the darkest days of 2004-2007, the British government has tried its utmost to wriggle out of any firm commitment to take in a meaningful number of Syrian refugees. It’s allowed to get away with this largely because there isn’t enough pressure from below for a change in policy. Amnesty International certainly haven’t minced their words, describing as “absolutely shameful” the fact that Britain has failed to provide refuge for more Syrian asylum seekers.

So it does seem appropriate to ask: is there not something mawkish about Conservative politicians paying tribute to the horrors of the Holocaust while slamming the door shut on today’s victims of genocide? Being compassionate in hindsight is after all one of the easiest things in the world precisely because it requires so little effort or sacrifice. We look back 70 years and say that we would have ‘done more to stop it’ when posterity will judge our own age unflatteringly.

This is not to relativise Nazi crimes through the prism of competitive suffering. Indeed – be very wary of that. But it is to politely ask whether, when today’s politicians stand in front of lecterns to boldly proclaim ‘never again’, they really mean it. For if they did they might be show a little more compassion toward the unfortunate people who still wash up on British shores.

James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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12 Responses to “Comment: Remember Auschwitz by not turning your back on today’s victims of tyranny”

  1. littleoddsandpieces

    Europe has had many holocausts again and again in Pogroms against entire Jewish communities living amongst us throughout history. The Germans did the biggest one in recent history in 1930s – 1940s.

    But the people forgotten in the Nazi tyranny were ethnic German on ethnic German state killing of old people and disabled.

    Today some old dear will be freezing to death tonight on a state pension the lowest of all rich nations, with no other income in old age. £500 a month is called 4 per cent lowest income by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and many old people have less than the £113.10 per week state pension. The flat rate pension wil not grant the tiny top of the Category D pension to an even tinier part state pension to someone turning 80 on and from 6 April 2016.

    The flat rate pension has forecasts for those retiring next year, of any race or creed, as low as £55 per week with no tops up as the National Insurance and State Earnings Related Pension Scheme being merged together, and used to reduce or remove the entire state pension from new claimants on and from 6 April 2016.

    So if you are living alone, disabled, chronic sick, old enough to retire on and from 6 April 2016, suffering the huge austerity job cuts leaving workers on £60 per week works pensions, total welfare cuts to disabled and chronic sick, the cruelties of the Jobcentre just to sanction you off Jobseekers into starvation for months (takes about one month to starve to death), then the nation wants your death.

    I can’t see the difference myself between now and then, other than we are not herded into cattle wagons en masse.and individually commit suicie or starve to death inside a home or under a bush in a frozen forest.

    Today, just as then, the death toll is to many races and creeds, but includes the native English and Celt in their own country, just as it did in Germany with native Germans and Austrians.

    I ask Jews to sign my petition, just the same as all races and creeds, as we are suffering the moral theft of state pension with little or no other income in old age:

    Why is it that only The Greens are offering us all a full Citizen State Pension, without any conditionality of NI record, to save our lives? And stop killing the old with the lowest state pension of all rich nations.

  2. Cole

    Clearly we haven’t learned much. Rwanda, Sudan, Syria: no-one much gives a damn.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    Asking Jews to support a pro-Hamas site is sick and twisted of you, and the Greens policies mean there will be less money after their energy bill rises.

  4. Jeanne Tomlin

    Take one look at Gaza and we KNOW we have not learned.

  5. damon

    I can’t agree with the general thrust of the OP at all. You may not like UKIP but that doesn’t mean the view of ” the pub bore” isn’t also a valid one. The asylum process was basicly broken because there were so many false claims that it ground to a halt. Just because a lot of the stories were in the Daily Mail, doesn’t mean they were all untrue. Just look at Calais today. Those guys trying to get on the lorries are flouting the asylum process and damaging it to the point where it loses public confidence.

    And I can’t remember there ever really being a proper discussion as to what asylum means.
    Should everyone in a majority of African countries have some possible claims to asylum in Western Europe?
    Anyone from the Middle East who says they are gay or an apostate?
    Or like in the USA where there are migrations coming up from Central America to try to claim asylum.
    Should the US be obliged to take them all?

    We decided to not get involved in Syria because there was little we could do.
    Maybe we should have armed the Free Syrian Army before things got so bad, but we didn’t because adding more weapons to a civil war doesn’t always work out how you want it to.

    There are perfectly good reasons why some parts of the population don’t get behind opening our doors ever wider to take in millions of people from war zones. The banlieues of France are just one reason why some are so cautious. Are Jews in Sweden really suffering at the hands of intolerant Muslim migrants and their children.
    Maybe it’s been exaggerated.

  6. Guest

    Yes, you didn’t learn how to give access to Hamas to Israel for more bombings. Right.

  7. Guest

    No, primarily they’re suffering because of actions taken by anti-Jewish Swedes.
    Also no surprise you’re for blocking asylum seekers, though, when even Farrage is strongly pro-asylum.

  8. Jeanne Tomlin

    How horrible for the Palestinians to want to defend themselves as the Jews did in the ghettos of Poland. Shocking.

  9. Guest

    Ah yes, to you murdering Jewish children and kids in Israel, completely different to the self-defence of Jews against the Nazi regime…

    You’re a good terror-supporter and anti-Semite, no more, and your lies are obvious.

  10. damon

    You’re being disingenuous by calling them anti-Jewish Swedes when Jews themselves have described their tormentors as people of Muslim immigrant descent.

    That some of them or even most of them might be Swedish citizens is not the whole story by far.
    There is a difference in the antisemitism from different quartets. The older fascist skinhead type being a lot less now than from Muslims who are so pro-Palestine that they take their hatred out on any Jews they see.

    Just google the words ”Arab Jew Malmo” and see what you get.
    A Swedish reporter just did a film about what it’s like walking around Malmo wearing a kippa.

  11. Antony Webber

    I couldn’t agree more, to see David Cameron saying we musn’t forget these atrocities and then Inflict the very same through benefit sanctions, and reductions to those eligible for the state pension form 2016 Is absolutely disgusting.

    I am In no doubt that IDS Is without shadow of doubt a clone of Adolf Hitler overseeing the very same beliefs as the Nazis

  12. Cole

    Rather more people slaughtered in Rwanda, Sudan, Congo. But maybe that doesn’t interest you.

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