Holocaust Day reminds us of dark forces
ATROCITIES and mindless slaughter arising from conflicts and intercommunal tensions have been a recurrent scar on the story of humankind. But in the earlier part of the 20th century our forebears thought that at least in Europe such primitive tribalism had been swept away by the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Enlightenment.
This complacent belief was shattered by the revelation of the Nazi Holocaust. In one of the world’s scientifically, technologically, and culturally most advanced countries a ruthless and systematic programme was undertaken to exterminate whole sectors of the population.
This accounted for six million people of Jewish descent and hundreds of thousands of Roma and Gypsy people, and members of other despised groups such as the disabled, the gay community, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Scientific rationality had not provided a defence against barbarism, instead it had enabled evil to become more efficient with a merciless bureaucracy industrialising murder.
The Nazi Holocaust provides a dreadful warning against allowing a dripfeed of whispered hatred to go unchecked and unchallenged for centuries, and alerts us that terrible things can happen in times of social stress when stories designed to divide communities have been allowed to take root. It warns us this can happen anywhere.
What would the Buddha say about the persecution of the Rohingya by members of the supposedly Buddhist community in Myanmar? But such things have happened here as well: in 1190 the entire Jewish community in York was massacred – in “Christendom.”
March 19 next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar by British troops under the command of Colonel Dyer. This episode and, more particularly, the disgraceful support accorded to him for his action, served to destroy the moral authority of British rule in India. In Derby we are privileged to house the Sikh National Holocaust Museum.
The Sikh community in Derby is one of many communities with immigrant or refugee roots which contribute to the strength, resilience, and diversity of our city. The city council is to be congratulated for giving official recognition to the Armenian genocide and the Ukrainian Holodomor as two 20th century genocides predating the Holocaust.
During the week surrounding Holocaust Memorial Day many of our refugee communities share their stories and celebrate their defiant survival in song and dance. It is particularly striking that, having been given refuge after the horrors of Srebrenica, the Bosnian community now extends its generous hospitality to new friends. It is only by sharing stories and seeking mutual understanding that the human family can combat those forces which drive division and hatred.
Derby’s HMD organising group has a website, derbyholocaustmemorialday.org, which explains the programme and how to get tickets for the special evening at Quad on January 28.
Emeritus Professor Jonathan Powers, Church Road, Quarndon