75 years. We remember.

I never want to forget. For memorising is a fluid act. International acts of memorising the dead can wither on the vine. Memories are so malleable. We owe it six million not to let ours' be nearly so fragile.

75 years today

Today marks the date, 75 years on, when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. This is a short blog-post. Many excellent books, articles, radio interviews and television broadcasts are available for a thorough insight into what today’s 75th anniversary means. Nevertheless, I too want to mark this date.

Just 75 short years ago, the world began to see the scale of the Nazi extermination camps. News footage provided the tiniest glimpse of the terror that had come to characterise Auschwitz. In monochrome detail, people came to hear about the new levels of depravity the Nazis were capable of.

Soon, though, not many people who survived the Shoah will still be alive to tell their story.

The act of memorising the Shoah has become rather politicised in recent days with reports of diplomatic disputes between Russia and Poland. I don’t want to tell that story, grating though it is.

Remembering the good that existed

I want to remember the undoubted good that existed during those exceptionally dark years. I want to think about the path the righteous ones took, to hide Jews, to help when only danger stared them in the face. I think for example of Dr Frédéric Pétri, whose remarkable tale was featured in this excellent BBC story.

I want to think about the countless lives. The lost potential. The memories, stories and opportunities lost to time.

The geniuses whose theories and works of art couldn’t breathe. Who themselves were murdered.

The anonymous heroes who acted with valour.

I want to remember the complicated stories, of children estranged from their parents; of people whose wartime experience led to a life of self-denial and compromise.

I want to above all remember the spirit of the original Mishnaic quote, later added to and amended, but which in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is expressed thus, ‘He who saves the life of one man saves the entire world.’


The malleability of memory

I want to remember the synagogues I have visited this past year, in Tallinn for example. And the empty spaces where synagogues were cruelly destroyed, for example the Golden Rose in Lviv, in the Ukraine.

I want to remember the irrepressible Ruth Barnett, who I once heard speak at a Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group event I attended. She came over to Britain with the Kindertransport, which saw the United Kingdom take 10,000 predominantly Jewish children as war was breaking out. I admired how active she was in campaigning against discrimination today, in particular against the Roma.

I want to remember Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who helped stop the western world from total collapse.

I want to remember the kindness of strangers. Of the kindly women who tended to Anne Frank in her father, Otto’s, office block.

I want to remember the stories we don’t see on television and in film. The flames that still burn at memorials in the Ile de la Cité in Paris. And in many places besides.

I want to remember the gypsies, the homosexuals, the communists, the trade unionists, the Poles, the Slavs, the Catholics, the priests, the blacks, the disabled.

I want to remember Richard Plant’s vivid account of the men who had to wear a pink triangle and felt a double injustice, shunned by the Nazis and shunned by other prisoners too, all of them forced into the most unimaginably cruel conditions.

I never want to forget. For memorising is a fluid act. International acts of memorising the dead can wither on the vine. Memories are so malleable. We owe it to six million not to let ours’ be nearly so fragile.

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