by Dom Anderson, Social justice campaigner
I live in Derby, a city with little or no Jewish community. Whether or not that is a good excuse for my ignorance around the Holocaust and anti-Semitism is questionable, but it is safe to say that until Monday last week everything I knew had come from reading books and watching documentaries.
A good friend of mine who works for the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) told me that they were putting on a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference and I volunteered to help them flyer and promote the event. I had heard about the great work they do at HET and was keen to help out.
I was looking forward to learning the story of Sir Nicholas Winton and the Kindertransport and also hearing from Lord Alf Dubs, a man whom Nicholas saved. I was also interested in seeing the work that HET does to educate people across the country about the Holocaust.
In terms of my knowledge of the Holocaust, my main education of it was brief discussions about it at school and some reading I had done independently. I had never seen a survivor speak.
My grandma visited Israel when I was a child and always used to talk to me about her visit to Yad Vashem. She was clear it was truly essential that everyone understands the sheer horrors that were imposed on six million human beings just 50 years ago (at the time she went). She told me she would never feel the same having seen the accounts of the suffering that human beings were put through at the hands of others.
Prior to the event, I was shocked to witness anti-Semitism first-hand. I innocently tweeted about me ‘looking forward to the event’ and as soon as it was retweeted by HET, the Holocaust deniers started. I was completely blown away.
The thing that shocked me the most is that the people I was with didn’t seem all that surprised. In fact, I suspect that such things are perhaps a regular occurrence to them.
I started to think about another Jewish friend who had told me of needing to book security for a family wedding and another who had recently posted on Facebook about doing security at a synagogue.
Both of those things sounded really strange to me, but were discussed as if they were normal by my friends.
I must admit I then started to feel upset by the incident. I thought about my Jewish friends and how their families had lost loved ones to the Holocaust.
I thought about the look on my friend’s face earlier that day as she explained that nearly every Jewish family had lost people; I saw pure sadness in her eyes.
Holocaust denial was happening on my Twitter feed. I felt so much guilt that my Jewish friends would have to read this.
I never told anyone, but when I got back to my apartment that afternoon I cried. I could not believe that people have to go through this on a daily basis.
The event itself also touched a nerve. Lord Dubs was interviewed by Jewish News editor, Richard Ferrer. Lord Dubs is such a modest man and the point that resonated with me from him the most was that ‘he was lucky’.
It was a point well made. That said, I could not get over what this man had seen and gone through and that he was still able to go on to achieve all of the things he had done in life.
I’m eternally grateful to HET for putting on such an event and continuing to educate people, despite facing the sort of hurdles that no charity should have to.
Something I have taken away from the whole experience is that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Unlike other forms of racism that I as a black man have experienced, it is prevalent across the political spectrum.
If people in this country cannot remember past tragedies, get married, bury loved ones or worship without the fear of insults or violence, then I simply cannot rest with that knowledge.
I want to give my word to the readers of this newspaper, regardless of the path my career takes, I will always stand up against anti-Semitism and stand together with the Jewish community.