Saturday, January 30, 2016

Europe: Because Jews' tormentors don’t look like the people in history books it won’t trigger any alarm bells

The Holocaust has been instrumentalised for political purposes for a long time, espcially to fight the Far right and conservatives.   It has become a powerful tool. It is often used to bash Israel, thus trivialising the Holocaust.  Two examples.  The first Belgian poet laureate Charles Ducal compared Jews in Israel to Nazis. Portugal’s Nobel Prize–winning novelist, José Saramago "drew a parallel between the plight of the Palestinians and Auschwitz, an Israeli journalist countered by asking him whether there were gas chambers in Gaza. Saramago replied, “I hope this is not the case. There are so many things being done that have nothing to do with Nazism, but what is happening is more or less the same.”"
This is not happening in Europe.
[...] Monday’s controversy over asylum seekers being made to wear red wristbands in order to receive free meals, because being asked to wear ID to qualify for things is exactly like being a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. A chilling echo, as many people commented. I imagine the reason for this policy is that it’s more convenient than asking someone with a not especially good grasp of English to walk around with a form for his entire family; either that, or it was part of a concerted effort by the Conservative government to pave the way for the mass extermination of refugees.  [...]

On the same day as this story broke Amnesty International put out an advert in the New York Times calling on European leaders to take in more refugees. The picture showed families behind barbed wire with the phrase ‘Leaders of Europe, it’s not the polls you should worry about. It’s the history books.’

Chilling, once again. Except for the fact that Germany’s policy right now is as far from Nazism as it is possible to get –  pathological altruism rather than pathological nationalism – and yet the minute a refugee is photographed near barbed wire we’re immediately back to Auschwitz.

Next door to Germany sits tiny Denmark, which has historically been one of the most ethical countries on earth (at least since the time of Canute the Great). It has now been compared to the Nazis after it told refugees that they must sell their assets to pay for their upkeep before the Danes support them. I agree they should have exempted special items like wedding rings, but how tenuous is that Nazi comparison? As James Lewishon wrote for The Spectator:
‘The Nazis took the Jews’ valuables as part of an industrialised process of genocide which ended with them stripped naked and murdered in the showers of Auschwitz. The Danes meanwhile organised the most successful rescue of Jews anywhere – 92 per cent of Danish Jews survived the war, including my entire family. It is true that today the Danes are proposing to take some refugees’ valuables as part of the asylum process. But the showers at the other end are safe and contain hot water paid for by Denmark’s extensive welfare state.’
The problem with history is that the most dominant subjects tend to crowd out all others, just as in any artistic sphere the most celebrated musician, writer or artist tends to become remembered at the expense of contemporaries. This has happened with Nazi Germany in our culture, which has become ubiquitous just as knowledge of large areas of the past has become confined to a few enthusiasts.  [...]

One of the reasons for Nazism’s ubiquity is that this era of the past has become a weapon in the culture war, a stick with which to beat conservatism. [...]

Many people will argue that the whole point of teaching so much of Nazi Germany is to avoid a repeat of it. Yet the history books are full of warnings and lessons, so focusing on one area does not give us a well-rounded idea of the human experience, nor especially guide us away from future tragedy.

Last year 8,000 Jews fled France for Israel, and I can’t imagine it will be long before the Jewish population in Germany starts to decline once more. But because their tormentors don’t look like the people in our GCSE history books it won’t trigger any alarm bells. Amnesty is right: our leaders should worry about Europe’s history books, but maybe they should be more concerned about Edward Gibbon [the fall of Rome] than William Shirer.

No comments :

Post a Comment