It has become customary and dutiful to commemorate the Holocaust.
We do it primarily for two main reasons.
One, and the most important is to remember and salute the memory of the victims, those who died the most horrible of deaths; innocent people who were exterminated only because of their faith, their nationality, their sexual orientation or because they belonged to the wrong national group, always according to the thinking and diktat of the Nazi dictatorship and the subservient officials ‘obeying orders’ from above.
The extermination of these millions of people is a historical fact, which however much some people try, cannot be erased from our conscience, the collective conscience of humanity, and from the annals of human history.
This phenomenon was unique in that these victims were selected. They were picked up and herded like cattle being sent to the abattoir for killing. They did not do anything wrong. They did not carry arms against anyone. They were not criminals: They were just ‘undesirables’. Most practically, all must have been law abiding honest citizens living their lives with family and friends.
They were not casualties of war or a pandemic.
They were listed, chosen, categorised and accounted for.
They were casualties of human decadence, casualties of the inebriation of power. Casualties of anti-Semitism, hate, and a perverted mind, acting through the blind subservience and blind obedience of officers down the line of command.
The killing of persons in large numbers is not a first for Europe.
I am sure that the ravages of Julius Cesar, in the Gallic Wars, and the destruction and deaths in Europe driving the Napoleonic campaigns, must have left an especially impressive number of victims in their stride. Similarly, the horrific number of deaths during the first World War and the ensuing Asian flu. Pliny the Elder accused Julius Cesar of a ‘crime against humanity’. Cato a Roman senator said that the tribes whose women and children had been killed should put him on trial. The same with Napoleon, and the ravages he caused in the European campaigns.
But the victims in these instances never had their names and addresses selected beforehand; they were never identified. They were never chosen and condemned to death just for being who they were.
This is the obscenity of this Europe wide massacre we refer to as the Holocaust. This is why it stands out in European history. It is not the decadence and the failure of any particular nation. It is the collective responsibility of so called civilised humanity, who at a time when it was supposed to be reaching out to the desirable goals of the ‘post illuminated’ period and on the onward journey from medieval fanaticism to liberal thinking and values about the liberty and the freedom that (humans) are born with according to the French philosophers led by people like Rousseau, in an unexplained twist of events shifted toward implementation of ideas of race superiority and the right to exterminate those that were labelled as inferior groups.
In Nuremburg, during the famous trials, the most common excuse brought forward was to invoke the ‘duty to obey’ to orders coming from above.
This is what happens when one tries to protect oneself from being pushed out, or from being ostracised, from the system which is in power and which is unassailable. All sorts of excuses are resorted to.
Besi,des such attitude also leads us to reflect on the dangers of mass indoctrination and the development of total insensitivity as shown by the Nazi officers to the atrocities perpetuated and the suffering, which was evident in their victims eyes, but to which they had become totally immune.
It is worth reflecting that all this happened when there were no methods of mass communication (to relay the message and recruit support), like we have today.
Participation depended on enforcement by a party system that engulfed and dominated the political and military structures and brought each and every one prostate on the ground, grovelling at its feet, pledging support and total unconditional obedience.
To be honest it has to be said that outside the Nazi machinery, not everybody knew what was happening.
Even within the ranks, it took quite some time for some officials to realise what was happening. Even then the heroic attempts of a select group of officials to change the face of history were unsuccessful. This much has to be acknowledged to the few that had the courage to try to stop Hitler’s megalomania and his demoniacal plans.
This is one reason we commemorate the Holocaust. to keep our eyes open for hegemony, megalomaniacs, unscrupulous leaders that are power hungry and thrive on racism, xenophobia, ostracism, anti-Semitism and all other divisive policies.
We commemorate to guard against the possible use of today’s means of communication to help achieve quicker and more widespread insemination of hate speech, racial discrimination, or theories of racial superiority, distributed under whichever guise, format or context.
We can relax in the thought that since the Holocaust, nothing of the sort, let alone magnitude happened again.
The Holocaust remains the culmination of human degradation. It remains for academics and psychologists to explain how the Nazi machine could have arrived at that, not forgetting the shameful role doctors had in making the system run smoother, as was amply proven during the Doctor’s Nuremberg Trials.
The second reason for commemorating the Holocaust has always been encapsulated in the phrase ‘Never Again’. By this we, well intentioned people around the world, always meant that we were hopeful that nothing, even remote resembling the Holocaust would ever happen again.
The question arises as to whether we make this statement as an assertion of fact, or simply as wishful thinking.
We all know that ‘never again’ is wishful thinking, because history has shown us that man has never really stopped treating fellow humans as if they were worthless chattel.
Even after the Holocaust, we did not learn anything, and there wasn’t one single day without such inhumane acts, though obviously on a much lower scale, being perpetuated somewhere around the globe.
We may not be all that impressed, because most of these events happen in less cataclysmic dimensions than the Holocaust. But it is still the humiliation, the degradation, the torturing and the killing of hundreds and thousands of men, women and children.
Conflicts have never stopped. Humanitarian problems have never ceased in which women and children, mostly bear the brunt of suffering, pain, violence, rape, starvation and death, all that comes with the domination of one group over another. We have got used to modern ‘siege’ methods where, during conflict, the old, the sick, women and children are starved to death due to failure of humanitarian supplies to reach them. Ironically, we never read that arms, armaments and ammunitions failed to arrive to keep conflicts going!
We can never hope to see a world free from conflicts, big or small with related suffering and humiliation of fellow human beings, in small or large numbers, as long as we have a global economy and an international political system built and supported on the supply of small arms and light weapons. Ironically it is not the much more powerful nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile that continuously create these sufferings. That balance of power actually prevents it. It is the billions and billions of dollars guaranteed by the sale of mostly small arms and light weapons that kept fuelling conflicts and sufferings around the globe.
If we really mean what we say when we say ‘never again’, let us take the bull by the horns and do our level best by beginning with the imposition of strictest of controls when it comes to the arms industry and arms supply.
At least that would be the beginning to lessen suffering and humiliation of fellow human beings. Millions around the globe are still denied their basic human rights, their fundamental freedoms, and their liberty. Millions are still wallowing in poverty.
The world has already seen enough of it.