Have we learnt nothing? Holocaust Remembrance Day 2020

When I was at Holy Trinity, every year History and German students would have the chance to go on a school trip to Berlin, a city which as much as any other has the history of the past century written on its streets. As part of that trip we would be taken to visit the Wannsee Villa, a beautiful building a short distance from the city where, on 20th January 1942, high ranking Nazis met to agree the ‘Final Solution’.

78 years on, Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated annually around much of the world. Yet, for all the platitudes given at this time of year, you wonder how far the lessons of the past have really been learnt, does ‘Never Again’ really means that such events could never happen again.

In recent years, we’ve seen antisemitism become scarily widespread once more, with such racism even coming to infect parts of my own party.

The re-emergence on the Left seems largely to stem from a combination of the complexities around Israel-Palestine and a strong attraction to the idea that there is a rich elite preventing the movement’s success through their control of business and the media, rather than the more obvious answer that we just aren’t very good at doing the things you need to do to win elections. While such conspiracy theories exist in non-racial forms, all-too-often they have an antisemitic focus.

Ignorance clearly plays a major role in the re-emergence of this scourge, but were ignorance the only cause then we might rely upon traditional community cohesion interventions to counter the myths and bring greater understanding. Unfortunately, ignorance is not the only reason for antisemitism’s growth.

The truth is that political strategists on the Right have in various countries been busy resurrecting the old antisemitic tropes in order to build populist support for nationalistic candidates, starting with Viktor Orbán’s demonisation of George Soros in order to better secure his powerbase in Hungary.

We are far from free of such tactics in the UK, with similar depictions of Soros making their way into mainstream newspapers in reaction to his anti-Brexit viewpoints. It was in England that the word ‘Holocaust’ was first coined following a massacre of British Jews under Richard the Lionheart, we have a duty to be better than this and not only in tackling antisemitism.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, immigration controls did not exist in the UK. In 1905 this changed, with the Government introducing restrictions to prevent Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe from taking refuge in Britain. In the run-up to the Second World War, there were the Kindertransport, but the UK still turned around ten times as many Jews as were admitted. For all the social and technological progress over the years which have followed, today it seems our hearts remain hardened to the plight of refugees.

In 2015, Crawley was one of the first councils in the country to say that we would do our part in addressing the refugee crisis. In the end the Government agreed to place about a dozen families in the town phased over around five years. For a town approaching 45,000 properties, the impact of this is essentially nothing. Nonetheless the public reaction was largely hostile, with my parents even being told at a friend’s funeral that I was to blame for people not being housed due to my “letting all the refugees in”–and that was before a single family took up refuge here.

Given how little support there is for helping refugees amongst the public, is it any wonder that our populist Tory government reflects such attitudes, even shooting down attempts to reunite children with their parents?

Today we remember the Holocaust. No doubt there will be speeches and events publicly commemorating the lives lost due to the actions of Nazis and the complicity of far greater numbers. Yet, despite such public declarations of sorrow, it appears that as individuals and as countries, we have in truth learned nothing.

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