THE FIRST words on the Holocaust Memorial Day’s website are these: “The Holocaust and subsequent genocides took place because the local populations allowed insidious persecution to take root.”
In the UK today, we tend to think these “local populations” are far-off tribes, indoctrinated societies or illiberal states.
But the Holocaust happened in the heart of rich-world Europe, perpetrated by the educated and secular. We know better than anyone that it can happen anywhere.
Not only do schoolchildren need to learn this, but adults need to re-learn it, especially today, with Muslim refugees left cold and homeless on our doorstep and jihadists trying to start another Holy War.
These terrorists want to breed intolerance, so Muslims will feel persecuted in their homeland. Knowing this, we are being asked on Holocaust Memorial Day not to stand back from it.
As Labour MP Wes Streeting reminds us this week opposite, the Nazis’ victims included political prisoners, Romanis, Slavs, gays, Jehovah’s witnesses, Russian prisoners of war and many others.
And as his parliamentary colleague Lucy Powell, also writing on the opposite page today, says: “The Holocaust and subsequent genocides were facilitated by those who stood on the side-lines, cowed by hate and allowed their fear or indifference to seal the fate of innocents.”
Their boss Jeremy Corbyn added to the message. “To remember the Holocaust is a vital way of saying to all generations that the tragedy, brutality and loss must not be repeated,” said the Labour leader. “We must ensure all understand this and we can all play a role in preventing future tragedies.”
He may be in a position to help. Thousands are dying in Yemen, tens of thousands in Syria and Iraq, and all the while, terrorists dream of killing millions of Jews all over again. He, like other political leaders, cannot stand back. They cannot let persecution take root.
This HMD, as the prime minister prepared the ground for a permanent memorial to where this persecution leads opposite Parliament, we echo Israeli historian and Shoah scholar Yehuda Bauer, who said: “Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
But amid all the quotes and words, this year’s theme has perhaps best been expressed by Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel, who swore never to be silent when people face suffering and humiliation. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim,” he said. “We must always take sides… Silence encourages the tormentor.”