Holocaust Memorial Day every year is a sombre day of remembrance for those who suffered under the Nazi regime, as well as the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The Holocaust represented a devastating blow to freedom. It must remind us to fight for liberty, not only for ourselves but for those who cannot do so.
The Jewish people of Europe had their civil liberties curbed long before the Final Solution began. Rampant antisemitism allowed the Nuremberg laws to pass in the 1930s with little opposition. Jewish businesses were boycotted, non-Aryans were banned from working in the civil service or legal professions, and marriage between Jews and non-Jews was banned.
The government involved itself in all aspects of Jewish life. Entrepreneurship was discouraged, the ability to provide for your family was banned, and the choice to marry who you wanted was removed.
These changes came about at a disturbing pace. Many were wary of the shift from the everyday antisemitism which permeated the streets of Germany to the antisemitism which was built into legislation. Jews could no longer exist freely in Germany.
British author Judith Kerr’s father was one of them. Alfred Kerr and his family fled Germany on the morning of the 1933 election after being warned that he would be arrested for criticising the Nazi party. His books were burned in Germany after he had left. Realising the dangers of this new Germany probably saved both his and his families lives.
For the rest of the Jews still living in Germany, the horrors did not stop there.
The Nazi regime stripped the Jewish people of any sense of individual identity. In the streets of Germany and its occupied territories, Jews were reduced to a star-shaped badge which they were compelled to wear at all times.
In the ghettos, Jews were isolated from the rest of society. They were given no purpose, no concept of the normalcy which we take for granted today. In the concentration camps, Jews were reduced to nothing more than a number tattooed onto their arm. All body hair was removed, and standard-issue pyjamas were made compulsory. Any trace of individuality was destroyed.
It’s difficult to imagine a world in which we do not decide what we wear, what we do or where we go. I think many of us would like to imagine that we would do our best to resist and fight against such oppression.
Forms of Jewish resistance varied, from the Warsaw ghetto uprising which saw an armed Jewish revolt against the Germans for over a month, to the Sobibor extermination camp rebellion in 1943. Anyone who attempted to fight back knew that death was likely to await them.
Frank Blaichman was a leader of the Jewish partisans in Poland who wanted to fight against Nazi Germany and its collaborators. He was one of up to 30,000 Jews who fought the Nazis from hideouts in eastern Europe. He was credited with helping over 200 Jews hide in a forest. They subsisted in bunkers where he and his platoon defended them.
These acts of courage show a level of bravery which most of us will never be able to comprehend in our own lives. However, the conventional method of resistance was not the only one. The goal of the Nazis was to murder all the Jews of Europe; they failed. By definition, mere survival under the regime was an act of resistance.
Our commitment to remembering the victims of the Holocaust must be taken seriously.
Antisemitism contradicts fundamental neoliberal beliefs and values. There is no place for such discrimination in a movement that advocates so strongly for a free society. If it is ignored, we risk losing the very liberalism that we treasure.
There is no justice for what happened, but Germany has done its best to confront its terrible past. Other occupied territories have tried to skirt blame.
A monument was erected for the 70th anniversary of the Nazi occupation of Hungary in Budapest. Hungary is depicted as the Archangel Gabriel being attacked by an imperial eagle, representing Nazi Germany. It attempts to absolve Hungary in any blame for the Hungarian Holocaust. In reality, there was active participation by both the state and its citizens in the looting, deportation and massacre of roughly 550,000 Jews.
Such horrific erosions of civil liberties are not something to be taken lightly. The rights to peaceful enjoyment of property, freedom of speech and life were all denied to Jews during the Holocaust. Their memory is necessary for our future freedom.
As we remember those who suffered under the Nazi regime, it is important that we remember not only those who perished, but also those who were forced to survive in a world where their freedom was taken away from them.