Extinction Rebellion UK has rightly denounced remarks on the Holocaust made by Roger Hallam, XR UK’s co-founder, in an interview with the German weekly, Die Zeit.
Hallam downplayed the Holocaust as “just another fuckery in human history” and “almost a normal event”. Hallam appeared completely ignorant of how his remarks chimed with fascists and Holocaust deniers.
French Nazi, Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the fascist Front National (now renamed National Rally), notoriously declared that the Holocaust was “a mere detail of history”.
Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the far-right party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), many of whose members and leaders are neo-Nazis, referred to the Nazi era as “mere birdshit” in a thousand years of Germany’s history.
In defence of his comments, Hallam went on to counterpose the threat of extinction from climate change, with the Holocaust. He argued that “the real outrage is not to speak about the Holocaust, the real outrage is the complicity in the global holocaust that is already underway.”
The Holocaust was the greatest race crime of modern history. It is not only a question of absolute numbers, which are horrific – six million Jews were murdered in the Nazis’ “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.
It is that the Nazis’ conscious aim, was to exterminate every single Jew in Europe. At the 1942 Wannsee conference in Germany, the Nazi leadership drew up a list of Europe’s eleven million Jews, country by country, for extinction.
It was the ideological character of the Nazi Holocaust that drove this horrific genocide. Two thirds of European Jewry were systematically slaughtered using the most industrialised means.
In Poland, where most of pre-war European Jewry lived, 95 percent of Polish Jews died in ghettoes and the gas chambers. The Nazis’ aim was to repeat this everywhere that Jews lived.
It is a mistake not to recognise this unique character of the Holocaust and of fascist movements.
The Holocaust is the most extreme example of the barbarity of modern, industrialised capitalism. This does not mean we should somehow rank atrocities and crimes against humanity in opposition to each other.
Slavery, the massacres in the Belgian Congo, colonial oppression, racism, ethnic cleansing and wars, whether past or present, are all rooted in the system that today threatens planetary extinction.
Far right and fascist parties are a rising threat across the globe. Some are in government, not least president Trump in the United States. These forces promote antisemitism, Holocaust revisionism and climate change denial.
Today’s fascists may not deny the Holocaust outright. Instead they often try to relativise the Nazi genocide by counterposing the fate of European Jewry to the suffering of other victims – or as just one example of suffering among many.
They do so because they aim to re-establish the same foul ideology that led to the Holocaust itself. Roger Hallam’s arguments can only play into their hands, not least in Germany itself.
A recognition of the horror of the Holocaust and its roots in the current system has never been more important.
We need to mobilise mass movements against the threat of fascism today. We also need to fight for an entirely different system and a different type of society, a society free of the threat of deliberate genocide or of planetary and human extinction due to uncontrolled, irrational, rampant capitalism.
We need a broad mass movement against climate change. That movement needs to be one in which we learn from each other and in which politics and the direction of the movement are discussed openly. It should not be left to individuals, however important a role they play.