Part of my family was wiped out for the crime of being Jewish in what has become known as the Holocaust. The German Nazi regime strove to create a racially pure, authoritarian society where dissent or difference was not to be tolerated.
My parents’ generation rarely spoke about the Second World War or the Holocaust, almost as if to do so would somehow breathe life back into the dead body of Nazism.
With Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday, we should remember what we are commemorating and why doing so is necessary.
It is over 65 years since the end of the Second World War. The Nazi regime in Germany embarked on the mass slaughter of Jews, Roma people, disabled people and homosexuals. The Nazis called them “sub-humans”.
Alongside Communists and trade unionists, over six million Jews were slaughtered in the extermination camps whose names have haunted my life—Auschwitz, Birkenau, Sobibor, Treblinka, to name just a few.
The pictures of emaciated corpses and testaments from witnesses and survivors tell the true story of the camps and the logical outcome of fascist ideas.
“Never Again!” was the cry thrown up after the Nazis were defeated. Many believed that the Second World War was a “good” war to defeat the evil forces of fascism.
Such was the extent of the reaction against the crimes of the Nazis, many believed that their abhorrent ideology had been defeated for good. Yet this is not the case, as again we see the rise of fascism across Europe again.
Openly racist and fascist organisations are on the march in Eastern and Western Europe.
These include the Jobbik Party in Hungary with its openly antisemitic and anti-Roma ideas, the Freedom Party in Austria, the Sweden Democrats, the National Front in France, the Swiss People’s Party and the Northern League in Italy.
In Britain we face the British National Party and the English Defence League (EDL). What unites all of these organisations is a deep hatred of immigration in general and Islam in particular.
Marine Le Pen has recently been elected as the leader of France’s National Front, succeeding her father, the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Showing her Islamophobia, she compared Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation of France.
If this kind of anti-Islamic thought becomes acceptable across society, it is a short step to another group becoming the next targets, be they Roma Gypsies, Jews or disabled people.
Given people’s knowledge about fascism, how have these parties built up support? Fascism is a complicated phenomenon, but at its heart it can provide a simple message—there is a scapegoat to blame for your problems.
No jobs to be had? Blame the immigrants for taking them all. No houses? Blame the asylum seekers.
These dangerous ideas are at the heart of the ideology that drives the EDL and other organisations. But they ignore the real culprits—the rotten system that throws up economic crises and does not meet ordinary people’s needs.
Perhaps the Second World War was not quite the “good” war we like to think it was. While seeing the defeat of the German Nazi regime it did not lead to the destruction of fascism.
That task still confronts us. It is the duty of all trade unionists, socialists, activists, Muslims and Jews to unite to fight the poisonous ideology of fascism. In the process of doing this we need to transform our society into something much more equal and fair.
Holocaust Memorial Day is an important event that we need to embrace and become involved in. But at the same time, this day should go beyond the act of purely remembering.
It must provide a rallying point against the dangers of racism and fascism and a point from which to organise to defeat these ideas once and for all.