This week marks the 70th Anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Auschwitz. The dynamics behind the Holocaust, perhaps the greatest human disaster in history, (and let’s face it we aren’t short of choice) have plagued humanity for as long as we have been around. It could be argued, and has been by Fernando Rozzi, of Paris’s Centre National de la Récherche Scientifique,(1) in 2009 that the first “genocide” occurred when the Neanderthals were hunted to extinction by homo sapiens a mere 30,000 years ago. And the Holocaust was not a coda. These acts did not stop with the Instrument of Surrender signed by Nazi General Jodl on Luneberg Heath in May 1945.
We need to be careful about language here; the term “Holocaust” was first used in 1942 during a debate in the House of Lords (2) regarding allegations of mass atrocities in Europe. The term means, “to burn whole” (3) and is a very pertinent choice of word because that’s exactly what the Nazis set out to do; to destroy the whole of European Jewry in a very precise, accurate and efficiently recorded way. It is virtually impossible to find a parallel anywhere in history. Therefore for me the term belongs specifically to this crime against the Jews. That may provoke controversy because up to 5 million non Jews perished including the disabled, gypsies, homosexuals, Trade Unionists and others. The Final Solution was aimed specifically at one group, the Jews.
The sheer forensic cold bloodedness that was set out at the Wannasee Conference (4) in January 1942 simply beggars belief. Frank Pierson’s 2001 film, “Conspiracy” (5) is a masterpiece in depicting just seemingly well adjusted, intelligent and erudite men spent a weekend at a country retreat planning the most appalling crime in history as if it were an industrial project. Wine, cigars and finest food added to an air of sheer incredulity around the situation.
What is it in us as humans that permits these spasms of absolute savagery that led philosopher John Hobbes to comment in 1651 that life without legitimate Government would be, “nasty, brutal and short” (6) due to humankinds predilection for mindless violence? Otherwise sane human beings seem eminently capable of performing epic acts of evil and then return to normality, whatever that is.
In March 1988 two off duty soldiers were pulled from a car in a large UK city, stripped, beaten and murdered by a frenzied and blood thirsty mob. Granted West Belfast was a dysfunctional environment, and it could be argued that Cpl Wood and his colleague David Howes had no business being there, but the actions of those involved beggared belief. Following the murders the community closed ranks hampering the investigation at all turns. The local Parish Priest came under threat for daring to administer the last rites.
On 10th August 2007 Garry Newlove of Warrington in Cheshire saw some young people attempting to break into his wife’s care. He challenged them. Garry Newlove was subjected to a horrific attack and died of his injuries two days later.
We could list case after case of such incidents taking place in a random and chaotic way. What they all have in common is a breakdown of societal norms resulting in despicable acts. Yet if you questioned the perpetrators in advance (bear with…) and asked them what their response would be to hearing of such things, especially if the victim was known to them, they would react with revulsion.
When the German people went to the polls in November 1933 the 39.6 million who cast their ballot for the Nazis could never have envisaged that 11 years later 20,000 souls a day were being systematically murdered every single day in Auschwitz. They could not have imagined themselves as civil servants drawing up lists for deportation or imagined their brothers arresting Jews and putting them in wagons, kids, mothers, grandfathers notwithstanding. None could have foreseen their sons in uniforms herding people into cattle wagons or their cousins sorting through confiscated clothes, spectacles and gold teeth extracted by force. What if they had known that their daughters would be in SS details shaving hair and stripping women and children in preparation to be gassed? Would they have supported a regime where they would find themselves working in chemistry labs to produce the most efficient type of gas? What about the engineers who poured over drawing and draughts of the ovens used to incinerate those gassed? Then there are the train drivers, guards and rail staff plus the bystanders who watched it all unfold. Would they have endorsed Hitler in 1933? Far from it.
And therein lays the rub. People are appalled and outraged when things are pointed out to them in black and white. The footage of German people shot by Allied cameras as they were walked around Belsen shows how desolate these people were by what they witnessed at first hand.
How would Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have responded on a human level had they been forced to witness at first hand the effects on 1.5 million children in Iraq killed by their regime of sanctions? UN Under Secretary Denis Halliday took charge of supervising humanitarian aid in Iraq in 1997. By 2000 he had stomached more than he could bear as cancer drugs and even children’s toys were embargoed as the US/ UK axis sought to destroy the brutal regime of Saddam by punishing the innocent. Halliday quit saying he could, “no longer support a regime of sanctions which amount to genocide” (7).
In everyday life we hear about dreadful acts such as relentless domestic violence, bullying which leads to suicide and just seemingly random acts of cruelty. On Monday a guy came up to me and asked me how many fingers he was holding up, (I am blind and have a Guide Dog; he wasn’t seeing how drunk I was). Why? What possible motive for that is there?
I am sure psychologists would have plenty to say on the matter but I think that you need a combination of factors to come together.
For me the biggest impact we could have to negate and eliminate such behaviour would be to create a Society which is mutually supportive, tolerant and values difference. In addition we need to ensure everyone has a sense that they matter and have a part to play. Part of the problem is people’s need to big themselves up, to feel that their lives are important. It is reckoned that 1 in every sixty East Germans was a Stasi informer. (8) This often involved validation that what they were doing counted in Society, as well as feeding a need to feel superior to others.
Upbringing and what people are exposed to at an early age is crucial. If a young person sees violence as a means to either dispute settling or getting what the person wants then they will act this out in later life and not really see anything inherently wrong with what they are doing.
Then there is the tone set by the ruling classes. Jesse Owens was once asked about how he felt about being snubbed by Hitler following his four gold medals the Berlin Olympics. His reply was, “‘Hitler didn’t snub me – it was FDR who snubbed me…, I came back to my native country and I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus, I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. What’s the difference”? (9) This was at a time when lynching of black Americans was still raw in the psyche. Harper Lee’s masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1960) sums up just how ingrained attitudes were, and how many white Americans genuinely did not believe there was anything wrong with overt racism.
Today this is true on White Australia’s attitude to the original inhabitants. This nation is an openly racist one and has been named as such by the UN. To read more click here: https://dermotrathbone.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/apartheid-did-not-die-it-is-alive-well-and-flourishing-in-australia/
In our own Society we see the Tory led Government create a situation where the public are encouraged not to care about what happens to people on Social Security or suffer long term disabilities. This is extrapolated by the media who actively seek to demonise others via grotesque gawp fests such as, “Benefits Street” and other “reality” shows. Tory MP Phillip Davies declared that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage; obviously we are less valuable members of Society and deserve to be treated as such. (10)
While the Bankers wreck the economy and are in receipt of £385 billion of state aid via quantative easing (11) (the “deficit” is less than 1/3rd of that figure) we see posters plastered all over Hull which urge residents to inform on benefit cheats. This is part of a general background hum which encourages total strangers to ask a disabled person, “How can you afford Nike trainers?” The conclusion being that this person is not deserving, or somehow the questioner feels he has paid for them via his taxes.
The Sun stooped to a new low when it questioned the rights of those on Social Security to enjoy Christmas. “Dough Ho Ho! Dole Family Splurge Paid For by You!”(12) Imagine how a child in a household with one chronically ill parent and the other on a minimum wage job is meant to feel?
What to do, what about the here and now? Let’s look to our history.
This city was one of the most bombed outside of London, but we carried on and those who perpetrated the Holocaust against anyone who was different were defeated. We did that. Our grandparents did that and we owe it to them to protect that magnificent legacy of standing up for what is right and what is just despite terrible and unimaginable sacrifice and suffering.
We then went on, with a deficit five times what it is now to rebuild our city and our country. An astonishing one million new homes were built, the welfare state became the envy of the world and the jewel in this nation’s crown, the NHS opened its doors.
We waged war on poverty, not poor people.
We sacrificed, we cared for each other, we looked out for our neighbours, we passed laws for the common good, we made massive technological advances such as TV, radio, and penicillin and we built great structures across our city and across our nation that we can be proud of. We cultivated the greatest artists, musicians, writers and scientists. We aspired to intelligence and education for all. We did not belittle each other for that; being educated was something to be proud of. We fought prejudice and discrimination wherever it reared up. And we put the hopes and aspirations of our young people first with free education for all for as long as our youngsters wanted it.
We were able to be all these things, do all these things because we were informed. But above all we were not scared. The first step in solving a problem is admitting that there is one. We have become scared. Of immigrants whom we are told are at fault for the crisis in the NHS. What rubbish! If you were to make a list of the top 100 things that need fixing, this would not make it. This big bad “fraud” is less than 0.001% of the NHS budget!
We are made scared of criminals when crime fell by 40% under the last Labour Government. We are told about millions of people ripping off the welfare state when four times more benefits go unclaimed, than are falsely paid out. There is the impression created by the right wing press that there is a life of unadulterated luxury of offer if only you can con your Doctor to sign you off as sick. That if you don’t work it’s all free beer and pizzas at the taxpayers expense. We know or know people close to us who are genuinely and rightly scared of what dastardly deeds this foul and putrid Government have up their sleeves.
We are scared because this is precisely what the ruling class, our so called betters, want for the working class. Because then we are not asking why the deficit is a big fat lie, why there is £750 billion of OUR money sitting in the Banks un invested, or why £120 billion is avoided in tax every single year, or why billions of pounds of tax goes uncollected on assets held by the rich. Charles Windsor’s Duchy of Cornwall is worth £700 million earning him £18 million Tax free. Why on earth do we allow it?
We need three things to stop being scared. We need properly paid jobs for all who need them. We need a mass house building programme to provide homes that we can afford and can be proud of, and we need democratic control of all our public services where the workers run things for the benefit of the people, not fat cat public sector bosses or private companies.
This includes Parliament which needs to look and sound like the country it is meant to represent rather than be stuffed with privately educated middle aged men. I don’t want my MP to represent Virgin Healthcare, or a hedge fund in the city. They should be of, and for the people because this country belongs to us, not the Cabinet of millionaires in London, Barclays Bank, Starbucks, or those multinational companies that are holding our country to ransom.
Socialism is about solidarity, values and making sure people feel part of something worth believing in. It won’t be overnight but we need to create a sea change in our Society and in our world so that casual and organised spasms of brutality become things of the past.
From the pre historic acts, via Genghis Khan, the bloody slaughters in Europe over religion in the 14th Century to the Holocaust, Rwanda and the abuses in North Korea and IS territory we must come together to put it all behind us. Step by step, year by year together, for as long as it takes.
2)Hansard 5th December 1942.