On 27 January 1945 advancing troops of the Russian army came across the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau where over 1 million deportees were murdered or allowed to die from neglect. The anniversary of that date falls next Friday, designated National Holocaust Memorial Day by the British government since 2001, and since 2005 as International Holocaust Memorial Day by the United Nations General Assembly. Many pious words will be uttered by the great and the good.
Right from its inception in the UK, HMD was criticised by other groups who considered that atrocities committed against their minorities had been overlooked. Indeed the Muslim Council of Great Britain effectively boycotted the event until 2007 on the basis that the event ignored persecutions in Palestine, Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Previously the UK government and its tame quango, the Holocaust Memorial Day Steering Group, had reluctantly bowed to intense political and media pressure to extend the coverage of HMD to recognise the genocide of between 1 and 2 million Armenian Christians by the Ottoman and Turkish governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was suspected, probably with some justification, that the British government did not wish to strain relations with its NATO ally, Turkey. More of this later.
Mankind is one of the very few species on this planet known to routinely carry out massacres of its own kind. The list of mass murders and fatal exploitation of inconvenient populations is depressing in its length – under Pol Pot in Cambodia, in the Belgian Congo, and going further back the extermination of local people in North and South America. Closer to home we have only to look at the serial violence over many centuries between different Christian faiths in England and Western Europe to realise that no communities can assume the moral high ground when it comes to indifference to human suffering.
Perhaps this is the most worrying aspect of recent political events in the West. Donald Trump was elected president on a wave of xenophobic hatred directed against Mexicans, Muslims and more generally against other convenient non-American targets that crossed his sights. Back home in the UK the Brexit vote was above all a denial of immigrant rights. Similar movements in France (Marine le Pen of the Front National), Holland (Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party) and Germany ( Frauke Petry of the Alternative for Germany Party) are gathering momentum.
Does this matter? I think it does.
” When a Holocaust conference was to be held in Tel Aviv in 1982, the Turkish government objected to the inclusion of material on the Armenian slaughter.