Thursday, January 27, 2005

(Parenthetical Genocide)

Sunrise,photo:Willie LupinToday is Holocaust Memorial Day and also the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Yesterday the Guardian's leading article included this: '(Roma, communists and gays also suffered and died in the camps)'.
I don't want to be churlish: nice that they got a mention for once.

But why the brackets?
Today is a day for remembrance but it's all too often a selective remembrance and remembrance without understanding.

There were five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. These included:

Three million Polish Christians
Half a million Roma Gypsies
Up to 15,000 homosexuals
Many thousands of people with disabilities

Jews, with six million killed, were the single largest group. But morality and arithmetic are two different things.

At least some of the BBC reporters on the radio this morning managed to mention gypsies and homosexuals in passing. It wasn't always so.
Even Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, in his Cliché Thought For The Day managed to mention 'gays' as fellow victims. But it was the same Jonathan Sacks who joined forces with the batty Baroness Young in her campaign to retain the odious Section 28 on the statute book, in the course of which Dr Sacks argued that homosexuality had no moral equivalence with heterosexuality.
That, of course, was Uncle Adolf's view. Once you deny 'moral equivalence' to a fellow human being or group of human beings you embark on a road that leads ultimately and inexorably to the gas chambers.

The handy labelling of victims of the holocaust, besides allowing selective grieving, creates another kind of nonsense. For the different categories are not mutually exclusive. There were undoubtedly many gay Jews, gay Polish Christians and gay Roma Gypsies herded like cattle to their deaths. Unfortunately for the Nazis they could only kill them once but in many cases they would have been unaware they were scoring a double whammy. Before you can pin a pink triangle on someone they have to be identifiably gay. So the Nazis faced the same difficulty as the queer-bashers on our city streets and the bullies in our schools: most people's sexuality isn't outwardly obvious.

One reason that five million people have, for most of my lifetime, been the forgotten victims of the Holocaust is that continuing discrimination against these groups makes people uncomfortable. When I was younger it wasn't uncommon to hear people say that in some respects Hitler 'had the right idea' - most notably in gassing queers.
Ah, but we've moved on since then, you say. Well, up to a point. It was only last year that David Morley, the gay Soho barman who had survived a pub bombing by a neo-fascist nutter was kicked to death on London's South Bank. And it was also very recently that a village in England decided to make the focal point of their fireworks display the burning of a gypsy caravan - complete, I believe, with children's faces painted at the windows.
So whilst the Holocaust was a uniquely horrible mass slaughter, the prejudice, the hatred, the denial of moral equivalence from which it sprang are still all around us. That should be the real message of Holocaust Memorial Day.


At 4:10 PM, Blogger peter said...

Totally agree. Well said.

Gordon did one paragraph, with links, but that apart, you're the only member of my sidebar who's written. Much argy-bargy in my comment box, but I'm deliberately not participating. Right or wrong (or both in parts), I don't want to gloss or dilute my post on the matter.

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

You'll see I've returned to the fray both here and in your Comments.
I think some of the criticism you got was based on a misuderstanding of the point you were making.


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